Hypocrite FCC Commissioner Cheers On Zoom Block Usage By Person He Disagrees With; While Insisting Social Media Shouldn't Block People
from the want-to-try-that-again-brendan? dept
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has been first in line to gleefully pump up the still-unsubstantiated-by-any-evidence claim that social media companies are “unfairly censoring conservatives.” In fact, he’s been very vocal about the idea that social media should not be blocking anyone for their political beliefs. Just a few months ago he attacked “conservative bias and threats to free speech on the internet,” saying that “doing nothing is not the answer.” He’s complained loudly about when Twitter briefly banned an infamous Twitter troll/Republican political operative for harassment, saying (falsely) that it was “censorship on social media and an attempt by social media “gatekeepers” to “launch a war on memes so they can control the 2020 narrative.” No, dude. It was Twitter following its rules against harassment.
Oh, and here’s my favorite. Back in 2016, he happily quoted his then-boss Ajit Pai saying “the impulse to squelch free speech on college campuses is anything but progressive.”
Can you take a wild guess where this is heading? I know that you can.
Last week there was yet another hyped up culture war nonsense thing, when some conservative websites started freaking out that two faculty members at San Francisco State were planning to host a webinar/roundtable conversation with one of the participants being Leila Khaled, considered to be the first woman to hijack a plane. She hijacked two planes — one in 1969 and one in 1970 — as part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In 1997 (many years later) the State Department designated the PFLF as a foreign terrorist group.
This resulted in many arguing that merely allowing Khaled to speak with students was somehow a violation of laws against material support for terrorists. This is wrong. Some people point to the ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, in which the Supreme Court (somewhat awkwardly) upheld the law against material support for terrorism, saying that groups that were seeking to support humanitarian or legal projects associated with terrorist groups could not do so.
But that’s not what’s happening here. This was just some professors hosting a Zoom call. As FIRE points out, there does not seem to be any realistic way to argue that Khaled being on a Zoom call violates the law:
The Lawfare Project went further, calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to ?take appropriate action? against the SFSU faculty members for hosting the discussion and Zoom for broadcasting it, alleging that the discussion amounts to material support for terrorism in violation of federal law. Rep. Doug Lamborn joined this call, asking United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to open investigations into ? and cut all federal funding to ? the university, arguing that Khaled cannot be given a ?platform? because it is ?aiding the dissemination of terrorist propaganda? and is ?not speech or academic inquiry.?
That?s unlikely. First, we?re not aware of any indication that Khaled will be compensated for her virtual appearance, meaning the only conceivable ?support? provided is the virtual forum for the discussion ? in other words, speech. The Supreme Court?s pronouncement on the intersection of the First Amendment and ?material support for terrorism? laws ? Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project? is muddled, but focused on the ?fungible? nature of the training provided to prohibited organizations, as it allowed the organizations to become more efficient. But the Court also pointedly noted that the law does not prohibit being a member of the organization, just providing it with ?material? support. In other words, association ? even membership ? with an organization is protected by the First Amendment.
Second, Holder should not be read to enshrine no-platforming into federal law. Universities should be places where students and faculty can discuss ? and hear from ? people whose acts or views may be controversial or unlawful. Students and faculty members must remain free to invite speakers ? whether they agree with them or not ? without fear of censorship or punishment by administrator, bureaucrat, or politician. The First Amendment extends a right not only to speak, but also a right to hear or receive information. This right makes no exception for people who have engaged in misdeeds, criminal activity, or membership in blacklisted organizations. Indeed, in Kleindienst v. Mandel, although the First Amendment did not require the federal government to grant a visa to a communist speaker, the Supreme Court said it was ?loath? to hold that the ability of students and faculty to hear from the speaker by telephone was sufficient to override their interest in the ?particular form of access? to face-to-face discussions. If Holder applies here, then there is no form of access available.
You may or may not like Khaled, and you may not approve of her group or her views or her past actions. But what she was looking to do here was purely in the realm of speech. 1st Amendment protected speech. As complaints got louder, Zoom, on whose platform the call was to be held, said that it would not allow the call to be done. That… seems concerning. While private social media companies have every right to determine whose content they wish to host, it gets a lot trickier when we’re talking about infrastructure and just the transmission, rather than hosting, of speech.
As some are pointing out Zoom’s decision represents a terrible precedent. If you make enough noise, you can block someone from merely presenting. In that article, Mark Gray wonders if a hypothetical 2024 Republican National Convention might be pressured into not being allowed to be broadcast over Zoom because Roger Stone is one of the speakers. After all, he’s been convicted of seven felonies. Or what about various convicts who have done their time and now give lectures to warn people about the mistakes they made in the past? Should they not be able to use Zoom?
And, yet, there was Brendan Carr, first in line, to cheer on this decision. He who had so eagerly tweeted against the “impulse to squelch free speech on college campuses” was cheering on a move by a tech company to squelch free speech on campus, saying that you “don’t need to hear both sides.” When I pointed out to him that this seemed hypocritical he doubled down saying that he has “no issue with a company denying service in this case,” because Khaled was a “convicted terrorist who literally hijacked two airplanes where at least one person was shot.” Lest you think Khaled shot someone, it was her partner in trying to hijack the plane who got shot. In neither of the two hijackings — which again, were 50 years ago — did anyone else die.
But, really, there are two key points here. First, Carr is admitting that his position is hypocritical, and that he does believe that private platforms should be able to deny service in certain cases based on the political views of the individual — it’s just that it seems he supports it when those political views diverge from his own. Carr seems to suggest that an appropriate standard is when someone has been “convicted” of certain crimes. I do wonder, then, if he thinks that no one in prison for murder should have access to phone lines. I mean, that’s an area that he, as an FCC Commissioner even has some direct say over. Should, say, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed some people in Wisconsin be denied access to any phone service?
Second, while I have explained many times why websites should have freedom about whose content they host and whose they do not, it gets much, much, trickier when we’re not talking about hosting content, but the mere transmission of content. Zoom is little different from a telephone call. And yet, here, it’s blocking people based on political complaints about the speaker’s views and the crimes she committed 50 years ago. Even if you disagree with Khaled, and even if you condemn her actions 50 years ago, it seems like a stretch to say she shouldn’t be allowed to take part in a Zoom webinar.