Who controls your speech and to what extent? Do you? The Government? Silicon Valley?
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Constitution applies to the laws made by the government. Those laws can allow or disallow private citizens or entities to infringe on another citizen’s free speech rights. The question is, to what extent.
It is well established, and I think we all agree, that free speech does not include the right to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. One person’s speech cannot infringe on another person’s right to personal safety. Similarly, we are not free to directly encourage or incite violence, or threaten or intimidate other people. However, we are explicitly free to express political beliefs. In fact, the free expression of political beliefs should be encouraged, even if we do not agree with the beliefs. It is this free dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, good and bad, that fosters our self-governance.
On Friday evening, Twitter permanently banned the President’s account stating that his tweets incited the violence and riots we saw in our Capitol last Wednesday. As most know, I have been a supporter of the President and his policies. Yet also like most, I am not an absolute supporter of any human being.
To be clear, I also condemn the Capitol violence in the same way and terms that I have condemned the violence last summer. As Lincoln said in his Lyceum Address, “violence only begets violence.” I do, however, strongly believe in protecting speech and the free exercise of thought without limitations by the Government—or tech monopolies.
Almost immediately following Twitter’s ban on the President, I began receiving messages from Trump supporters whose accounts were also banned, inexplicably. Later in the evening Friday, we learned that tech giants Apple and Google were threatening to ban the newest free speech, conservative leaning, platform, Parler. Conservatives have flocked to Parler to freely exercise their own speech. Now, big tech threatens to stifle and silence them.
I tweeted my support for the President and waited to see if a ban would occur on my own account. Although a ban on my account has not yet occurred as many others have experienced, we confront an important question at this time in our nation about the extent to which we allow tech companies to control speech. Private companies can control speech on their property, just as private citizens can. However, when those private companies are effectively monopolies, controlling the entire dialogue of a nation, and using that control to suppress certain speech, we are compelled as a people and as elected officials, through the democratic process, to uphold Constitutional protections on free speech.
As I take the oath of office to serve as the 44th Attorney General for the State of Indiana, I do so with an eye toward liberty. Not just liberty as an abstract concept, but liberty in action. I will be using my experience as a guide for how we can ensure the free exercise of speech not only in Indiana, but throughout the Nation. I will be further investigating and taking action, wherever possible, to limit the ability of tech companies to infringe on the free market of thought for our citizens. I, and we, have a solemn duty to do so under our Constitution.