It may be called YouTube, but that doesn’t mean it belongs to you. It is the property of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. People on both sides of the political aisle seem to have forgotten this crucial fact. They also seem to have forgotten that the First Amendment does not guarantee you a right to say whatever you want, whenever you want. It only promises that your speech will not be either limited or compelled by government. In short, it is a protection from government, not a right over fellow citizens.
That’s why YouTube’s newly announced policies on which videos will be allowed on its platform should be supported by free speech advocates. The company is exercising its own speech rights: its right to not provide a platform for certain speech they find to violate their principles. In that sense, it’s no different than you choosing not to host a fundraising barbecue in your backyard for a cause with which you disagree. What the company is not doing is preventing anyone from making a video about anything.
With the recent news about potential antitrust investigations surrounding big tech companies, some may argue that YouTube, and thus Alphabet/Google’s size means they are under different obligations. Nope.
There is no size caveat in the First Amendment.
When Blockbuster was the largest video rental company in the market, it was under no obligation to carry every video ever made. Nor are television stations and cable providers obligated to air every show or carry every channel. Consider even major bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble. Are they under any obligation to carry any and all published material? Of course not.
Yet there is a concerning trend in tech policy where different expectations are placed on large companies simply because they are products of the internet age.
Too many people seem to like First Amendment protections only when it benefits views they agree with and oppose such protections when it comes to views with which they disagree. Conservatives were vehement about the rights of Masterpiece Cakeshop, where a baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The political Left saw this as discrimination and sought to compel bakers to make cakes under those circumstances, while the political Right saw the case as a violation of the baker’s religious protections under the First Amendment. But now, suddenly, the Right clamors for regulation of tech platforms for real and imagined curtailing of conservative voices, while the Left has lurched from seeking forced speech to seeking to coerce tech platforms to silence protected speech (believing tech platforms have a duty to stem the spread of racism, anti-Semitism, and other hateful content).
Here’s the legal reality: The Supreme Court decisively sided with the baker in a 7-2 decision, meaning even some of the perceived left-leaning judges joined the decision. A different standard cannot apply to YouTube simply because its business is in providing a video-hosting and an advertising platform, rather than baking cakes.
Internet businesses should not be held to different standards than other industries. Candlemakers and lightbulb manufacturers didn’t (and don’t) have different rights and criteria. That would not make sense. Plus, it would create another big problem. If we hold businesses to different standards of rights-protections based on the technology that facilitates their business, we risk dramatically curbing entrepreneurship and technological innovation.
The recent rumblings about the Trump administration’s potential antitrust investigations into companies like Alphabet should be alarming. There is no doubt these efforts are fueled by the perception that the platforms are biased against the political right in various ways. Yet, conservatives and others on the Right ought to consider the ramifications of arbitrarily applying speech protections. We should all want robust competition among tech companies, to offer consumers an improving, evolving, life-enhancing online experience. We shouldn’t want would-be entrepreneurs to fear their constitutional protections will be blown away by political winds as well.
Originally published at the Washington Examiner.