COLUMN: Corporations set a dangerous new precedent for free speech

Freedom of speech protects you from the government censoring you, but what about protecting you from corporations? 

If you are cut off from speaking on the internet, how much freedom do you really have? Destroying a group or persons right to speak on the internet is a violation of the most basic and fundamental pillar of human rights.

After the violence in Charlottesville, companies like Google, PayPal, Apple and GoDaddy started to remove white supremacist websites and groups from their servers. The argument is these companies should not have to harbor hate sites like the Daily Stormer or Vanguard America because they spread a dangerous ideology. 

This is frightening. 

These companies, with the massive amount of data being passed through their servers every day, should have to uphold the First Amendment, as much as the federal government. The fact they can remove these sites without any consequences should terrify every American.

In 1798, the Sedition Act was passed, which made it illegal to “print, utter, or publish… any false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against the federal government. The effect of these laws almost shut down every newspaper opposed to President John Adams.

The supporters of this law had a very similar argument to the one being used today. Those in favor of the Sedition Act believed in such a politically volatile world, there needed to be restrictions to calm and stop the spread of harmful ideas that could divide our new nation.

If freedom of speech is only a protection from government, then Google, Facebook, Apple, Reddit and Twitter have every right to silence and ban any website and/or idea from using their services.

It has been America’s free flow of ideas, without any hindrance, that has set this nation apart from the rest of the world since its inception.

Imagine if Google decided that the political climate has become too volatile and started to deny The Washington Post or The Young Turks server space. Would people still be saying freedom of speech is only protected from the government? These may not be places where violent and racist ideas are traded and passed, but the fundamental problem is still there. 

It would not be a violation of WaPo or TYT rights to free speech, because Google is not the government.

If America accepts this, where does their power stop? Do Google and Facebook have the right to stop any and all political speech on their servers?

This notion that speech is only protected from the government should be seen as a violation of the most fundamental human right, and it sets up a dangerous precedent, where a company can destroy the right to free speech online. 

This is a clear and immediate threat to the way of American life and American freedoms. 

What really is the difference between the government violating your rights or a corporation? There is none.