The Trans-National Pollution of Anti-Free-Speech Policies

The WSJ for 8/1 has a front-page headline: ‘US Tech Scrambles to Abide by New EU Rules.”  What kind of rules?

The new EU laws aim to push big tech companies to better police online content and to open them to more competition–with regular oversight from regulators empowered to issue fines.  The article refers to “hundreds” of provisions in the new regulations.

Note that word better, referring to the policing of online content. The implication I would draw from this is that the article’s author regards top-down content control as a good thing.  Maybe that’s unfair, perhaps just a matter of phrasing that doesn’t have to be as implying approval–do you think?

In any case, I’m reminded of a passage from an old science fiction story:

The intellectuals had been fretful about the Americanization of Europe, the crumbling of old culture before the mechanized barbarism of soft drinks, hard sells, enormous chrome-plated automobiles (dollar grins, the Danes had called them), chewing gum, plastics…None of them had protested the simultaneous Europeanization of America: bloated government, unlimited armament, official nosiness, censors, secret police, chauvinism…

16 thoughts on “The Trans-National Pollution of Anti-Free-Speech Policies”

  1. David,

    I’m not sure if any ody in our administrative state would need encouragement for content control given what we’re seeing in the Missouri v. Biden court case.

    Late the other night on the plane, I was re-reading part of Sowell’s Applied Economics (as well as Hornfischer’s new book) and reflected on his comments regarding health care. The European health care system and many of their social democratic programs in general have had a large, though indirect, impact on us by legitimizing the Left’s injection of those ideas into our political debate, sort of an international version of the Overton Window (“If the Swedes can have , why can’t we?” ) In fact that’s probably a pretty good way of seeing how the Left views fringe ideas and the political extremes.

    Europe has been after social media content control for years and Democrats have been trying to intimidate the social media companies through political intimidation long before COVID. Of course for those companies to meet what EU regulators propose would also have an impact on US content whether we like it or not.

    So some ideas. First I would like one of the House committees, say the Commerce & Energy, to hold hearings on this and start subpoenaing agencies to see if there is any communication between our bureaucrats and the EU on this matter. That would be fun. Too bad we don’t control the Senate because I would get whatever committee Elizabeth Warren sits on to hold the hearing just so I can get tape of her being anti-1st Amendment. Second, I would try and get Warren or Markey (what is it with Massachusetts?) or one of the other “misinformation” cretins to do a long-form interview with somebody like Fox or the Washington Examiner but make it friendly enough to get them to talk at length and then ask them a question or 2 about the EU and content moderation because you know they will be all for it and say we should do that here. Then on the principle of “kill the chicken and make the monkey watch” I would make sure that tape would follow them for the rest of their political lives and then whoever would be dumb enough to defend them I would get tape on them too.

    You know what somebody should do if the Democrats ever again hold hearings and go anti-1st Amendment in order to intimidate social media? Get Elon Musk to do an Otter from Animal House and tell Elizabeth Warren or whomever “Well, you can do what you want to us, but we are not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!” and then walk out. Get a picture of Warren or whatever pretentious authoritarian Senator is chairing the hearing and then meme it. Rule #5 “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating” or “” Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it”

    I never did like Warren, but after what she tired to do with Crisis Pregnancy Centers she should be deemed a threat to the Republic. What a person.

  2. The German word gehime means secret, but it also means private. I am truly alarmed that the FBI has been Europeanized into the Private State Police of the Democratic Party. We have our own Gestapo.

  3. I don’t know how much of a free speech absolutist you think you are, the truth is that neither you nor I are in reality. I will do us both the favor of asserting that without trying to turn your stomach by providing an example. Beyond that, there are layers of risk, each more complex, expensive and personal that the various platforms will have to deal with.

    The American platforms first have to comply with American restrictions. Setting aside the illegal censorship for the moment, that is probably the least restrictive requirement. Legally, they are required to take down child pornography and copyright infringing material, and that’s about it.

    Those operating outside of America have to somehow accommodate all the laws in all the jurisdictions, with many trying to impose extraterritoriality. This seems to be an existential threat to any platform trying to operate on a transnational scale. Most of the Western platforms have been forced to withdraw from China and I wonder if they will be able to operate in most of the rest of the world now.

    The most extreme danger though, comes from their own customers (advertisers). After the Bud Light debacle, advertisers are going to be even more sensitive to what content their ads appear next to. Considering the friction between cat lovers, dog lovers and bird lovers; will even cat videos be acceptable? The question then becomes attracting eyeballs with content that is so relentlessly banal that it satisfies their advertisers. Who is going to supply that content? We’ve already seen where X had its revenue crippled by advertisers fleeing that platform.

    It’s long been clear that none of these platforms have any sort of good faith commitment to free speech. My conclusion is that it really doesn’t make any difference since neither their customers nor the governments would allow them to do more than pay lip service to it anyway. This should not be surprising, they are businesses after all and those providing their content are simply along for the ride. So it would seem that these platforms are in the clear as long as people are willing to keep providing content for free and and eyeballs willing to consume that content with the accompanying ads. So far, the public in general has also not shown any support to free speech and seems willing to countenance nearly unlimited, unaccountable and heavy handed suppression without any consequences to the platforms.

    So, for the platforms, where is the problem? One is the risk from fines likely to be imposed for failing to meet the various nebulous, ever changing standards from every jurisdiction that they do business in. Another is the considerable, ongoing cost of somehow vetting each piece of content to try to adhere to those laws. The third is whether Facebook, for example, will be able even allow content from the U.S., with our lack of restrictions, be visible in the E.U. or Great Britain which would greatly reduce their reach and impair their value to advertisers. And finally, an increase in extraterritoriality, where various governments claim the right to control any statement that they find disagreeable regardless of where it is made or by whom. If the executives of these platforms aren’t keeping track of the counties they should not enter for fear of not being allowed to leave, they should be. It probably complicates vacation planning no end.

  4. MCS…”If the executives of these platforms aren’t keeping track of the counties they should not enter for fear of not being allowed to leave, they should be.”

    Maybe not only the executives. In the late 1930s, the Nazi government was so upset at the plans for the American movie based on Remarque’s ‘The Road Back’ that they sent letters to everyone who worked on the movie, down to the hairdressers, threatening that if the movie was released as it was, then no movie they worked on would ever be shown in Germany again.

  5. I did write counties instead of countries, anybody that hires me to be a typist is making a big mistake.

    China has been censoring American movies in China for a long time, from the time that they first allowed American movies at all, it’s only fairly recently that they’ve started insisting on approval of the version released everywhere.

    The new espionage law that classifies accounting information and makes releasing it a crime probably will also stretch to somebody posting a Winnie the Poo-Xi meme they will either be denied entry or detained on trying to exit. Musk has already put his head in the lion’s mouth once, he should probably think long and hard before going back.

    Oddly, all of this seems to have cratered foreign business and investment. That and currency controls that limit transfers to around $50,000 a year per person. Better not count on cashing out any investments in China.

  6. Of course, it turns out to only be the gullible that are surprised by China reverting to form. How long before Germany or England starts arresting people for denying climate change or questioning immigration policy? Or allowing anyone, anywhere to post such on their platform?

    Where America had a long tradition of freedom of speech, Europe is now just reverting to form. Freedom was never the norm there, even Beethoven ran afoul of the political censors.

  7. I noticed a post by Andrew Stuttaford over at National Review (, unfortunately paywalled, about Denmark’s backsliding on free speech and your comments got me thinking about the “evolution” of free speech in the West.

    John Marini and others have made reference to the divide between two conceptions (or Telos) of government in the West, constitutional vs. administrative/rational. Overly-simply put, a constitutional state exists to protect the right of its citizens while the administrative/rational exists to promote the social welfare. While the two types of governments may arise at some of the same solutions, they really are fundamentally different.

    In America, as a constitutional republic, I hold my rights as natural ones due to my existence as an individual and the only role of government is to protect them. Other systems, even one at the opposite extremes from each other such as Red China and Denmark, see such rights as existing only in regard to the social welfare, that is in regard to other “rights.” Denmark has backslided in that it now sees freedom of speech as a right to be balanced with others, including the right not to have their religious sensibilities offended.

    Given that other countries see that natural rights need to be “balanced”, what does that say about the future of liberty in an era where countries in the West have become ever more diverse across sexual, racial, and other identities? After all we’re getting to the point where you no matter what you say you will offend somebody and with our interconnected world, those who offendees will find out about what you said. To top it, your link to the Daily Mail shows another disturbing trend which is that many governments, local and national, have adopted a neo-Marxist view of diversity where various groups are organized according to a power discourse with some groups being more favored than others. Tell me the person’s identity and I will tell you his his rights

    I think we on the Right have made a strategic mistake by defending free speech as a social good, the benefits of the “marketplace of ideas”, because that implicitly concedes that its worth lies in the value bestowed by others. That becomes especially problematic because natural rights, indeed both the 1st and 2nd Amendment, can be considered disruptive to the social order. Without our being explicit that my right to freedom of speech is not dependent on what others think of it, we will find that right subject to being “balanced” in regard to that social order.

    This is nothing new, even within the history of America, because our freedoms are inherently revolutionary. However now they seem to be under attack as never all in the name of peace, order, and good government. The Twitter Files pointing to the suppression of speech by government agencies under the guise of the COVID emergency, the use of the DOJ and FBI to infiltrate and suppress dissident groups ranging from the Proud Boys to parents protesting at school board meetings. We also indirect attacks by the Democrats over the past several years who want to erode constitutional safeguards in the name of “protecting” democracy through eliminating the Electoral College and filibuster as well as packing the Supreme Court.

    The biggest danger sign for free speech rights is that we are coming close to relying on the 1st Amendment as our primary line of defense, when it really should be our last line. The habits of free speech have been eroded in the private sphere for decades, starting with “political correctness” and continuing through “cancellation”, as the noxious virus of “not offending” has trumped the right to be free. The problem will become manifest if the Democrats are able to pack the Supreme Court and then begin to undermine the 1st Amendment. Contrast that with the 2nd Amendment where the primary line of defense is the strong belief in the individual right to bear arms which would exist even if a packed Court overturned Heller.

    You point out some of the pressures stemming from commercial influences that we will face from the world regarding natural rights. I would also commend N.S. Lyons’ latest piece at Upheaval about the desire of our ruling elites to cut down our rights in favor of social order (

    Liberty is both a disruptive force and a muscle that needs to be regularly exercised otherwise it will atrophy. It would good for us from time to time to demonstrate that right in a small, ornery way by taking a pickup with 20” tires and drive down through DC while blasting Oliver Wyman, just to let them know that the capital belongs to us, not them. Make sure to have some passengers to hoot and holler at the swamp creatures as you drive by. Maybe have a flag in the back on the bed “Trump, POTUS 47” with his mug shot. Come on, I cannot do it alone

  8. There seems to be a big trend toward Extraterritorial demands on multiple fronts. China has ‘police stations’ in the US, attempting to control Chinese people in the US. Iran long demanded the right to kill anyone in any country who ‘offended Islam’, in their sole judgment. I’m sure there are a lot more examples.

  9. David,

    It’s amazing what’s happening in Britain these days. It goes to show the value of a written over an unwritten constitution.

    For all the problems we have had with constitutional interpretation in this country, the relatively crisp language of the document provides a tether that has proven not only useful but quite remarkable, I don’t think anyone back in the 70s would have predicted the rise of originalism but that movement only could have arisen, let alone succeed, with written document that provides a reference point

  10. Written or unwritten makes some difference, but given just how elastic the US experience has been and how flexible the courts have been, I’m not sure it has been all that much difference. Plus some of the difference has been negative- combine that elasticity of reading with the tether and weight that at least claiming to find something in a fixed document can provide, with the power of a court claiming the full authority of judicial review, and you can make up any old nonsense, say it’s there in the document from the sacred founders, and millions will fall in line. Yes, it gives some scope for a later counter-revolution to say, no it’s not there, but frankly all that proves is that the document has been stretched to serve any interest with the power and rhetorical skill to make it stick, and whose arguments are in line with the spirit of whatever times they are in.

    The ability to cite the holy text legitimizes whatever the majority wants, or whatever an angry minority can persuade or compel the majority to put up with, exactly as if it were not there at all.

    On the flip side, I suggest that much of Britain’s modern problems actually stem from the modern arrival of judicial review in their courts, and the ability to cite written constitution in the form of such things as the ECHR, and the consequential trend, as in the US, for legislators to shape policy within those bounds.

    Britain in the full flower of parliamentary supremacy was at least as good a protector of the kinds of things normally seen as ‘rights’ around these parts, as it is today, if not better.

    So much depends on what rights are in the written constitution, which ones are not, and what mindset the framers encode in it. Much the same is true of Canada, in which I would argue the Charter has had a mixed record at best, and usually to the benefit of the left.

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