The internet should be a place for people to freely share and discuss their opinions, not an echo chamber for government-sanctioned messages.

As chief economist of Vident Financial Jerry Bowyer writes at WORLD, that truth is at the heart of a decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit earlier this month.

Bowyer’s article covers Missouri v. Biden, the lawsuit that calls on the court to hold Biden administration officials accountable for picking winners and losers in online debates and pressuring social media companies to carry out the censorship. Both the lawsuit and an amicus brief submitted by Alliance Defending Freedom cite ample evidence that the Biden administration colluded with Big Tech companies to remove or restrict content they didn’t like, even if it contained accurate information:

The complaint and the amicus curiae brief from Alliance Defending Freedom show that the government and technology companies were in continual contact, with social media companies sometimes responding within minutes to instructions about what to remove. Of course, this all occurred in an environment in which Mark Zuckerburg said the threat of government retaliation, such as a regulatory breakup action, constituted “an existential threat” to the company.

While government officials should rightly be called out and held to account for their demand for censorship, Bowyer observes that social media companies are not off the hook for their lack of respect for free speech – a fact confirmed by their low scores on the Viewpoint Diversity Score Business Index:

However, the ADF brief argued that tech companies were not exactly strong in the free expression department before government pressure. They have vague standards regarding what content is permitted and what is forbidden, as documented by the low viewpoint diversity scores achieved by Alphabet and Meta on an ADF index. The ADF brief states, “Social media companies are eager to silence viewpoints they dislike, giving the government a ready source of accomplices.” In short, they were censorious on topics outside the public health consensus machine, which formed around the epidemic. Before it was the vaccine viziers, it had been the pronoun police.

Free speech is not a privilege of those favored by the government—it’s the right of every person in America, regardless of their background or creed. While the court made clear in its decision that government officials cannot use social media to violate First Amendment freedoms, it remains to be seen whether social media companies will take responsibility for their role in undermining those freedoms.

As Bowyer points out, the decision gives social media companies a new opportunity to return to their original promise of connection and expression:

Social media was supposed to widen, not narrow, the discussion. The recent unfortunate experiment in applying the public/private partnership model to dissent suppression has been exposed and ruled illegal. The government has no right to demand the censorship of views it does not like. It’s time for social media companies to be what they’ve always claimed they are—free speech platforms. The judicial branch has given them a mandate to do so. Twitter is showing that it can actually be done. Leave it up to free people to sort out the good ideas from the bad without Big Brother’s coercive guidance.

Tech companies will need to make real policy changes to allow free speech to flourish on their platforms. And the Viewpoint Diversity Score provides a roadmap for policies that acknowledge and respect people’s right to free and open debate. 

Read the full article here.