Monday, April 17, 2017 by Jayson Veley
We all learned in grade school that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech for all Americans. What some people may not know, however, is the historical context behind freedom of speech. Like most other amendments in the Bill of Rights, the right to speak freely and openly was meant to be a check on the federal government. In most other countries during the time of our founding and even in many countries today, citizens are tortured or even killed for speaking out against the government. The Founding Fathers wanted to break from that type of system and empower the people to speak up if and when the government begins to take steps towards tyranny.
Today, there is an ongoing effort within the progressive movement to silence speech that is not aligned with their ideology – that is, any speech that promotes the tenets of conservative republicanism. Whether it’s talk radio, college professors and administrations or on social media, the left’s assault on free speech is relentless. Such censorship will no doubt put America on a slippery slope, and may one day lead to the formation of a centralized, tyrannical state.
This is essentially the point being argued by Robert Thomson, the Chief Executive Officer of News Corp. Thomson warns that algorithms used to censor certain speech on Facebook and Google have “left us perched on the edge of the slippery slope of censorship.” Thomson’s comment comes in response to an investigation that was conducted by The Times, which revealed that automated adverts often place brand name products on pornography and extremist websites. For instance, the investigation found that an authorized Nissan dealer’s advertisements were automatically placed on the YouTube page of the far-right English Defense League. Additionally, an advertisement for Argos was shown alongside sexually explicit YouTube videos, and an advertisement for Marie Curie, a charity based in the UK, was found on a racist song that was posted by Combat 18, a neo-nazi terrorist cell.
While speaking at the Asia Society in Hong Kong, Thomson explained that the issue is actually a lot more serious than damaged reputations. “The embarrassment for these advertisers, naturally conscious of their image, is understandable, but the situation is far more serious than mere loss of face,” he said. Thomson went on to point out that the consequences of these algorithms and the automated adverts could be far more significant than we think. “Because of YouTube, that is Google, there is a real chance that some of these clients have been funding extremism, whether it be Islamist excess or neo-fascist nonsense, depending on the type of advertising….” He added that those who are YouTube partners “could earn about 55 percent of the revenue from a video.”
Later in his speech, Thomson put things a bit more bluntly, saying, “The word Orwellian is flagrantly used and abused. But when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, otherwise known as GAF, Orwellian is unused.”
The problem with this endless hunt to find “fake news” on the Internet is that those in charge may very well abuse their power and begin censoring things that should not be censored. Who is to say, for example, that those people who make up Google’s team of fake news hunters aren’t a bunch of leftists out to shut down conservative speech? While today the target seems to be pornography and extremist sites, who is to say that tomorrow it won’t be articles published by Breitbart or Fox News?
The line has to be drawn somewhere. Incidentally, that line was already drawn over two centuries ago in what we call the United States Constitution.