On Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas announced that the Supreme Court soon will have to put an end to Big Tech tyranny. Amen. If the high court fails to act, it could mean the end of free speech in the 21st century and the shriveling of our constitutional rights to mere “paper rights” — still there on paper but functionally hollowed out.
Thomas cited the problem of social-media platforms like Facebook and Google wielding unlimited power to censor users whose views they don’t like. His opinion offers hope at a time when Democrats controlling Congress are demanding that tech giants censor more. On March 25, Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce ordered tech CEOs to silence views that “undermine social-justice movements.”
Thomas’ announcement came in the context of a case involving former President Donald Trump. In office, Trump occasionally blocked his Twitter critics, and some of those critics sued, claiming the president’s Twitter account is a public forum. The high court ruled the case is now moot, because Trump is out of office. Thomas concurred — and agreed with a lower court holding that Trump had violated his critics’ First Amendment right to be heard.
But Thomas said “the more glaring concern” isn’t what Trump did to a few critics, but rather the power of tech giants to censor or ban users entirely, even the leader of the Free World. The justice expressed astonishment that Facebook and Google could remove Trump’s account “at any time for any or no reason.”
Wrote Thomas: “One person controls Facebook . . . and just two control Google.” Three people, in other words, have the power to disappear any of us from the digital public square, even a commander in chief. The Supremes, Thomas concluded, must rein in this unaccountable tyranny.
Big Tech apologists argue that private companies are free to censor as they please. And it’s true that the First Amendment prohibits only government from silencing viewpoints. But private ownership is never the beginning and end of constitutional analysis, not when there is so much at stake.