During a recent appearance on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast, Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) became the first and only Democratic presidential contender to voice opposition to the censorship of Facebook users.
During the interview, Gabbard split with fellow Democrats — many of whom have cast conservative concerns about tech censorship as a “conspiracy theory” — arguing instead that companies like Facebook have betrayed the longstanding American commitment to free expression by ousting unpopular political commentary from their platforms.
“There’s just been news recently about Facebook banning certain individuals . . . because of their speech. They disagree with the speech they’re using or the ideas they’re pushing forward. Unchecked, First Amendment rights going out the window,” she said, referring to Facebook’s recent purge of users on the political fringes such as Infowars reporter Paul Joseph Watson and notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.
“The argument is [the First Amendment] doesn’t apply because they’re a private company, right?” Rogan responded.
“Yes, but they re trying to get the best of both worlds. The fact that they are claiming to say, ‘Hey, this is a free space for open communication for everyone’ while at the same time saying ‘You know, what Joe, I don’t like what you’re saying about this, so we’re going to ban you and whoever your friends are from this conversation’ — I think that’s a big problem.”
Gabbard’s description of Facebook’s desire to have “the best of both worlds” refers to the company’s claim that it is a neutral platform, rather than a publisher, and as such cannot be held liable for the content it disseminates. Gabbard, like a number of prominent Republicans including Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, believes that stance is incompatible with Facebook’s selective censorship of certain viewpoints.
Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a military veteran, first addressed tech censorship in a March tweet.
We must be willing to fight for the right of all Americans to express their views, even when we disagree with them. We must encourage unfettered discussion of public issues and stand united to stop Facebook and others from attempting to censor/stifle/influence public debate.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) March 14, 2019
While Republicans have largely focused on alleged anti-conservative bias within Twitter, Facebook, and Google, their Democratic counterparts have largely ignored those concerns in favor of focusing their efforts on the ability of foreign powers, namely Russia, to use the platforms to manipulate American voters.
“The notion that social media is somehow censoring conservative folks is ridiculous,” Representative Ted Lieu (D., Calif.) said during a congressional hearing on Facebook censorship last year.
Other prominent Democratic presidential contenders, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have prioritized anti-trust legislation that would break up what they view as Facebook’s monopoly.