Free Speech, Private Entities, and Lying to Congress

Free Speech, Private Entities, and Lying to Congress

Recently, social media outlets such as Facebook have come under fire and scrutiny for their policies regarding the collection and sharing of user data, as well as their role in the sharing of propaganda and false information targeting voters. So naturally, Republicans in Congress want to talk about why more people aren’t watching Diamond and Silk, the paid political actors who lend an air of racial credibility to the half-baked political rantings of a man who was once quoted lamenting the fact that he had black employees, whom he described as “inherently lazy,” and that he preferred Jewish employees because they instinctively were better at counting his money. Let’s get one thing perfectly clear right at the start: You do not have a right; Constitutional, God-given, or inalienable; to a Facebook account. Full stop.

Much of the bloviation from Republican lawmakers has been centered around the alleged censoring of conservative viewpoints on social media outlets. The idea here is most likely to lend credence to the notion that all media is liberal in nature and is pushing a false narrative designed to … something about globalization and socialism. That is all media, except of course those outlets owned, operated, and/or founded by Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, and Ben Shapiro, all of which frequently traffic in misleading or outright fabricated stories. Republican lawmakers are concerned that the private corporation Facebook has been unfairly targeting conservative viewpoints, such as the rarely coherent ramblings of Diamond and Silk, and are therefore engaging in violations of free speech. What is most puzzling about this assertion is that, as many of these lawmakers no doubt are aware, is that Facebook is not a government organization. You may have an uncle or acquaintance at the office who thinks that the government controls Facebook for some nefarious end, but this isn’t really true.

This is important as it undercuts the very idea that Republicans are trying to push. Since Facebook is a private corporation, and their users enter into a sort of contract with them when they agree to terms and services during the creation of an account, they are not bound by certain elements of Constitutional Law that restrict government power. That isn’t to say that they are not bound to operate within the confines of the law; they most certainly are. That was, after all, the ostensible purpose of the Congressional hearings with Zuckerberg earlier this month: What are the laws regarding the sharing or selling of data, did Facebook violate those laws, and what about the social media platform’s role in the spread of foreign-sourced propaganda targeted at specific voters? Instead, Republicans have given us this nonsense hearing about whether or not Diamond and Silk got their feelings hurt when their ability to pay for exposure of their content was temporarily denied.

The pair, whose real names are Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, have become the public face of the imagined victimhood of the political Right when they accused Facebook of censorship for temporarily revoking their ability to pay for promotion of their posts and for deeming the content “unsafe,” actions that Zuckerberg have claimed were made in error. One thing to remember is that every time “Facebook” reviews something that is reported to them, it is actual people who have to review the content or profile and make determinations based on loose guidelines developed by the company, guidelines which are frequently changing as the platform matures and changes to meet new consumer demands and habits. Regardless of why the temporary minor inconvenience occurred, the truly troubling thing is that Republican lawmakers, the self-described stalwart defenders of fiscal responsibility and a strict originalist understanding of the Constitution are choosing to waste taxpayer money on a charade of a Congressional hearing where they are investigating alleged abuses against the right to free speech from a private organization.

To be clear, again: You do not have a right to a Facebook account. Further, the federal government does not have the authority to regulate such an account. Because social media is media, they are protected under the First Amendment from regulation and censorship on behalf of the federal government. However, they do retain the right to remove any publications made on their outlet as they are a private organization. For a group of highly educated people, often in the areas of Constitutional Law, Business Law, and Contract Law, this should not be a difficult concept for them to understand. The reality of the naked partisanship on full display is, like so many other unsolicited and unwarranted displays, quite offensive and presumptive of some obligation from an unwilling and unindebted third party.

One actual important thing may have come from this expensive and shameful display of false martyrdom: It appears that Diamond and Silk may have lied to Congress in their testimony today. They claimed that they were never paid by the Trump campaign for their appearances at rallies or pro-Trump video campaigning. However, it was noted that the Trump campaign made an FEC filing detailing expenses paid to … Diamond and Silk. When the two were made aware that the government knew about things in government paperwork, such as Federal Election Commission filings under review in an investigation into the very same election, particularly as it relates to questions about money that was spent, on what it was spent, and who put up the money, they started to backtrack a bit. They then claimed that they did receive money from the Trump campaign, but that this money was a reimbursement for expenses they initially paid out of pocket. The campaign paying for their flight and hotel to make an appearance, for instance, is still a campaign expenditure and resulted in the pair performing at a rally at no cost to them, and this would of course be a payment for services rendered, even if the net profit to Diamond and Silk remains zero.

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