Overboard over the Oversight Board

Yesterday’s decision by Facebook’s Oversight Board that the company was correct in restricting then-President Trump’s ability to post on January 7, 2021 and that the social media giant should consider with more consistency his “indefinite suspension,” triggered outrage from critics. While there were plenty of political and clickbait points being scored, those genuinely interested and concerned about the decision should keep these two quick points in mind:  

First, there is the big technical picture. As my colleague, Wayne Crews, tweeted, “the internet is infinite and Facebook doesn’t occupy any space on it.” So true. Facebook is not the entire Internet and the entire Internet is not the only way to speak. There were other conduits for speech before the advent of social media and they still remain. Trump was able to issue a response to the decision that was shared online, on television, radio and more. And there will be more avenues for expression built in the future.

CEI has written about how likely it is that future platforms will be decentralized and not controlled from the top down by a corporate owner. With use of blockchain, micropayments, and other innovations, they could be patrolled for content by their users themselves. The Internet and its entrepreneurs have plenty of runway to solve this problem without government regulatory intervention.

Second, first principles matter here. Facebook is a private company. It has a First Amendment right to take down any speech it doesn’t want to carry. That means that a user’s free speech rights end at the edge of another’s private property. For the same reason I don’t have the right to throw a political rally in your house without your permission, Facebook can’t be forced to host content against its will.

That principle applies even when you don’t like the result because consistent defense of property and speech is what will protect yours one day.