(Original source: Getty Images. Modified with Moku Hanga app by P. Verbica.)
The Sunsetting of the First Amendment
© 2020 by Peter Coe Verbica
Granted, I am still learning after nearly six decades on this planet. For example, before this week, I knew nothing of another’s late mother and her past time in Missouri: she would carefully tie the legs of June bugs with sewing thread. Her children would subsequently watch in delight as the insects flew in perfect circles. I was dumbfounded by the novelty of the story. But, those were the days when families made their own ice cream, girls knew how to play piano and boys shot rabbits for supper. Entertainment was a luxury then and I suppose we can view with some compassion the creative and inventive souls who came before us.
Over the past few years, despite the warnings of close friends, I’ve written on wildly unpopular topics, including the federal debt and danger of currency devaluation, the ghosting of the older white male by corporate America, how decades of underbuilding housing supply due to regulatory abuse affects how people vote, real examples of heroism by those who stand up to Communist tyrants versus those who take a knee on a football field, and more. In our era of blacked-out bread trucks and buses filled with thugs intent on burning down small towns, I suppose it was only a matter of time when I would have to once again pick up a pen.
Leftists and the “Cancel Culture” have been busier than a trusted librarian cutting out etchings from rare books to put kids through college. Statues are ransacked and police stations defaced as mayors check opinion polls before deciding whether the Rule of Law should be honored. State flags are under revision, and barracks, bases and battleships are to be renamed. In the 1930’s, German extremists and their Austrian pals piled up books as fuel for pyres. Perhaps this trend will be next, but with digital storage books needn’t be burned to the detriment of the environment. Like Hao Haidong’s social media account followed by millions, texts will simply be erased. Gone is Rushdie’s exhortation about the importance of debate in free society.
As I say, I’m still learning new things, including renewed assaults on a fragile First Amendment. Facebook, the social media leviathan, currently valued at $850.459 Billion[i], posted the following notice on September 1, 2020:
Update to Our Terms
Effective October 1, 2020, section 3.2 of our Terms of Service will be updated to include: “We also can remove or restrict access to your content, services or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook.”
The announcement arrived just in time to relieve me of the PTSD from California’s wildfires; evacuated like many others, our family bivouacked indoors in a futile attempt to avoid the toxic, smog-ladened air. Antiquated practices — such as controlled burns, the maintenance of fire roads, selective timber harvesting, intelligent grazing of public lands, and increasing firefighting inventories — are passé in our burnt-out State; decades of decisions by desk jockeys rather than farmers or ranchers took their toll; luckily, electric vehicles are still vogue here, to the delight of rare earth miners and Millennials. And so, the helpful Facebook announcement (just days after I had finished sweeping ash off of our roofs and decks) afforded heartwarming proof that the geniuses at 1601 Willow Road in Menlo Park toil ardently onward for the sake of humanity.
Toni Morrison, the renowned novelist, wrote about knowing why the caged bird sings; as a Republican in California, I can attest to knowing why birds, caged or otherwise, don’t sing. By way of example, in the town of Ocean Hills, several senior citizens who placed American flags and political signs in their yards had their properties vandalized. The outcome for many California Republicans, who value their personal safety, is self-censure. One remarkably talented IP lawyer currently looking for employment quietly explained to me her preference of employment over a Bill of Rights’ liberty. The First Amendment right to speak freely is one thing. But, to be able to work and put food on the table are another. Such is the Realpolitik.
If for some reason, my opinions are stripped from the pages of Facebook in the future (rather than merely throttled or blocked[ii]), I do have the alternative of standing on a corner with a cardboard sign which reads: “Honk if You Love the First Amendment!” I realize that in the not-to-distant future, self-driving cars may damn me with silence, but forgive me the indulgence.
The debate at hand is whose First Amendment right is it? The content publisher’s or the content creator’s?[iii] If you really want to raise the ire of social media behemoths, you might accuse them of being a substantial monopoly and treat them as public utilities. Conservatives aren’t keen to the idea, because it could result in governmental overreach, where the cure is worse than the malady. Jim Geraghty of the National Review warns:
“Facebook has a lot of flaws, and it’s earned much of the criticism it’s received. But there’s little reason to think that some sort of federal Facebook Utility Commission would fix what really has people upset with the platform, and every reason to think such a commission would worsen the things people like about it.”[iv]
The controversial Steve Bannon on the other hand, is willing to take the risk and argues the converse.[v] In the meantime, while the debate continues, if your posts on social media become censured, you can’t say that you weren’t put on notice. Some may wonder: where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him?
[i] https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/FB, 9/2/2020, 9:39 am, PDT.