Driving hate speech back into the fringes: Why chasing Parler off the digital planet was a good thing

"Where are you Thomas Jefferson?"

Less than a week ago, a Trump-supporting, Trump-inspired, and Trump-incited white supremacist mob put the US Capitol under siege as Congress was meeting to accept and count the electoral votes of November's presidential election. The domestic terrorists beat a police officer to death and set up a makeshift gallows to lynch members of Congress, the Speaker of the House, and the sitting vice president.

The mob that stormed Congress came together and organized through social media, including by direct invitation from Donald Trump to a "wild" January 6. The nearly entirely unchecked, unencumbered, unashamed spreading of Trump's big lie about the election on social media brought the temperature of his core supporter to a boil. And social media companies' prior refusal to restrict people like Trump and insidious hate speech propped up by big lies, in turn, made Trump possible in the first place.

But now that technology platforms are finally waking up to their own culpability in ushering in civil strife in America not seen since the days of the Civil Rights movement and an attack against the US government not seen since the Civil War, woke leftists are joining the far-right in concern-trolling the platforms about "censorship." In the past week, tech giants have taken responsible action - along with other industries - to limit the spread of violence, insurrection, and sedition on their platforms. Donald Trump himself got banned from all mainstream platforms, as did some of the most prolific spreaders of the insidious conspiracy theories around the election. The alternative, pro-sedition platform disguised as a free-speech oasis, Parler, not only lost its access to the app platforms provided by Google and Apple but also its web host, Amazon Web Services, for its refusal to moderate violence and hate speech on its platform. Parler has been down since Monday.

Parler's demise has set off more panic inside far-right provocateurs than even Trump's Twitter ban, as they are realizing that capitalism has built-in guardrails against the incendiary rhetoric that brought America to the verge of a second Civil War and that corporate America is beginning to utilize those guardrails. Private entities are not limited in their response to the invasion of the US Capitol by the First Amendment's protections of free speech, but rather, they are empowered with their own free speech rights by the Supreme Court.

No right-wing poutrage would be complete, however, without the horseshoe left's solidarity. To that end, figures like former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and pro-Kremlin hero of the left Glenn Greenwald have become the voices most beloved by far-right personalities protesting civil society consequences for their insidious behavior.

Greenwald, who has never found a bad thing to say about Russian oligarchs is suddenly aching at the prospect of the power of the large technology platforms and their ability to act. Parler's downfall, Greenwald said in his new independent substack venture, is a result of collusion between Apple, Google, and Amazon to keep out competition.

Except none of those companies had ever been direct competitors to Parler. Apple and Amazon are not social media companies at all, and while Google does own a social media platform, YouTube is hardly in the same line of business as Parler, a bad Twitter clone.

Parler was kicked off of Google Play Store and Apple App Store - though Greenwald seems to believe that the two have fornicated and created something called the "Apple Play Store" - because it refused to deploy technologies to moderate and actively remove from its platform violent and incendiary rhetoric. Parler's CEO John Matze admitted as much when he said on Fox Business that Parler is not willing to actively moderate its users' comments for the encouragement of violence, rather relying only on after-action reports, which are by no means an adequate measure to address the fast-spreading fires social media platforms are capable of. Amazon rescinded its services for much the same reason.

It is not big-tech collusion that resulted in the collapse of Parler. Parler only has its refusal to play by the rules meant to blunt the advance of extremism online to blame for that. And its comeback will be made impossible - or nearly so - both because those in corporate America with the resources that running a platform like Parler requires are unlikely to do business with Parler unless it changes its open-door policy for insurrectionists and also because, despite Greenwald's ignorant assertion, the software it built was horrifyingly insecure.

Because of the disaster of the way that Parler's software was coded, an ethical hacker was able to download and save nearly the entire archive of Parler's content library, even the posts Parler assured its users had been 'deleted.' Ironically for domestic terrorists who used that platform, that public service is likely to turn into a treasure trove for investigators looking for how extremists talked about, planned, and executed the failed coup of last Wednesday.

There is a right to free speech in America. That right protects speech - even hate speech - against one thing and one thing only: adverse state action.

It does not, and should not, protect anyone against adverse consequences in civil society. America's founders made a smart decision when they made speech free, but not megaphones. America's founders were not unaware that protected political speech can be incendiary and hateful, and left unchecked, could result in constant civil strife. But weary of government power, they sought to leave the consequences mainly to civil society, the members of which are protected by their own property and First Amendment rights. The fact that you have the right to wear a MAGA hat on a public sidewalk does not mean you have the right to wear it in my house, and the fact that much of what is posted on platforms like Parler may be Constitutionally protected against adverse state action does not mean it enjoys any protection in the civil square or in the use of private resources.

The Supreme Court has long recognized that the Second Amendment confers on Americans an individual right to own a firearm. Yet, businesses are free to prohibit individuals from bringing or carrying a gun once on their property.

And that's the way it should be. Extremist, hateful speech cannot be banned in America, but it can, to paraphrase President-elect Biden, driven out of mainstream society, to the fringes, where it belongs.

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