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Free Speech: Why does it matter? | Chapter 12

Big Tech and Free Speech

Are internet companies such as Facebook and YouTube allowed to censor the content on their websites? Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, these companies are not held liable for user-uploaded speech, allowing them to determine who to ban or restrict from their platforms. Removing this protection would only make matters worse, as it would put the responsibility for determining who and what to censor in the hands of the government. Further regulating Big Tech comes with unexpected dangers that may do more harm than good.

Should Speech That Offends Be Prohibited?

Speech that attempts to persuade is broadly protected under free speech, even if some people find it offensive. What some find offensive, others may find persuasive. A commitment to free speech inevitably means protecting the rights of people whose speech is deeply offensive to many, but a permissive environment leads to fewer rights being violated and ultimately, a freer world.

Who Can Restrict Free Speech?

Although some groups are allowed to restrict speech, others are not. What sets them apart is if there are other options available to individuals. In general, the government is not allowed to restrict speech because it does not have any competitors and thus could stamp out all opposing views. Private groups on the other hand have competitors, which ensures a diversity of views and options to individuals.

The Limits of Free Speech

The First Amendment allows us to speak our mind and stand up for what we believe in. However, the limits on free speech are rooted in the principle that we’re not allowed to harm others to get what we want. That’s why we’re not allowed to use to speech for force, fraud, or defamation.