This article was originally published by Ryan McMaken at The Mises Institute.
Back in May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order designed to partially repeal some of the legal shields provided for social media firms by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Essentially, Trump accurately sees that large social media firms like Facebook and Twitter exercise editorial control over the content on their sites and are thus not public platforms in the manner required for the Section 230 protections.
From a general policy standpoint, Trump is right to do so. Section 230 is an artificial, arbitrary legal protection granted to huge media firms that push their own editorial positions just like any newspaper or broadcasting operation. Yet social media firms receive these legal protections because they masquerade as neutral public platforms.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Contrary to Trump’s claims, his executive order does not “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history.” When it comes to threats to free speech, Facebook is a joke compared to the United States government. How many people has Facebook jailed? How many people face federal prosecution because they said something executives at Twitter didn’t like? The answer, of course, is zero.
Meanwhile, Trump tried to portray himself as a great defender of “free speech,” explicitly claiming his executive order would “uphold the free speech rights of the American people.” But this is a man who has done nothing to protect the free speech rights of real journalists who expose real evils committed by the American regime.
I speak of course of Julian Assange, and so long as Trump refuses to pardon Assange, we’ll know that any of Trump’s claims of being a defender of “free speech” are utter nonsense. Claiming that Facebook is “one of the gravest dangers” to free speech while simultaneously working to keep Assange locked in a hole in a British prison should be regarded as darkly comedic.
Yet journalists like Julian Assange face imprisonment for merely making factual statements.
Ron Paul helps us understand the stakes:
Assange is now literally fighting for his life, as he tries to avoid being extradited to the United States where he faces 175 years in prison for violating the “Espionage Act.” While it makes no sense to be prosecuted as a traitor to a country of which you are not a citizen, the idea that journalists who do their job and expose criminality in high places are treated like traitors is deeply dangerous in a free society.
To get around the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press, Assange’s tormentors simply claim that he is not a journalist. Then-CIA director Mike Pompeo declared that Wikileaks was a “hostile intelligence service” aided by Russia. Ironically, that’s pretty much what the Democrats say about Assange.
The same “deep state” bureaucrats who have long attempted to destroy the Trump presidency also seek to destroy Assange. Yet many of the same people who proclaim their undying loyalty and support to Donald Trump also continue to drink the deep state Kool-Aid and repeat tired bromides about how Assange (and whistleblower Edward Snowden) supposedly endangered American lives or American spy operations by exposing the blatantly unconstitutional and immoral operations and war crimes carried out by US personnel.
Trump hater and former CIA director John Brennan couldn’t ask for a more helpful gang of “useful idiots” than these pro-Trump defenders of the unaccountable security state.
Of course, the Espionage Act itself is unconstitutional and immoral. It’s the product of Wilson-era prowar hysteria. There is no exception in the Bill of Rights for government limitations on the information that embarrasses the American regime. The act of journalism is most laudable when it does precisely this. And unlike most American journalists, who spend their time celebrating the regime, Assange actually exercised real free speech.
Trump still has time to redeem himself, however. Before he leaves office, he could pardon Assange, Snowden, and even Chelsea Manning (who only received a commutation from Barack Obama).
If he takes free speech seriously at all, Trump will do this. But if he does not, a great opportunity will be missed, and we’ll know that for Trump, free speech is really little more than a campaign slogan.
Moreover, if Trump really is an opponent of the deep state that sought to destroy him, he will seek to assist those who have exposed its crimes. As Paul reminds us:
Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are not criminals. They are heroes for telling us the truth about what criminals in government were doing in our name and with our money.
The fact is we were lied into war over and over again. While those wars were profitable for the military-industrial-Congressional-media complex, they snuffed out the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people overseas and robbed our own children and grandchildren of trillions of dollars wasted on neocon lies. And meanwhile, as Ed Snowden showed us, the intelligence community declared us the enemy and set up an elaborate internal spy network that would make the East German Stasi green with envy.