Supreme Court to Solve Free Speech v. Private Corporation Debate

By Mason Mohon | United States

Brett Kavanaugh’s turbulent entrance into the Supreme Court will first be met with a potentially groundbreaking free speech case. The case is that of Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702. As CNBC reports, this case centers around whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which would leave it accountable to the free speech protections in the First Amendment.

Producers DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez say that Manhattan Neighborhood Network suspended them for expressing views that were critical of the network, which they claim violates their right to free speech. Attornies for MNN have said the court now has the opportunity to use this case to solve the larger question of social media censorship. In their final plea, MNN wrote the following.

We stand at a moment when the very issue at the heart of this case—the interplay between private entities, nontraditional media, and the First Amendment—has been playing out in the courts, in other branches of government, and in the media itself.

Although this case is not directly related to social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the decision would have implications on the workings of those companies. Most social media is “public access.” Any user can log in at no cost as long as they have an internet connection and a device to access it. The recent banning of conservative and alternative voices has left those that lay outside of the 3 by 5 of political opinions worried. Alex Jones is the most notable of the bunch. His organization, Infowars, was removed from every mainstream social media platform.

As this case reaches the Supreme Court, one must wonder what a ruling in favor of the producers would mean for America. Libertarian ethics stand staunchly against state action when it comes to the inner workings of private companies, and this includes the social media giants. Many libertarians would rather that the social media platforms remain outside of the control of the state than have secured access to them. It is a noble and ethical decision, but it may come at a cost.

The state is here to stay, and so are the social media titans. It may be of strategic advantage to have the state permanently insulate revolutionary ideas into these platforms. It may, in fact, ensure the eventual destruction of these organizations. Ideas are important, and they need to clash. Libertarians could start social movements to get people to use their sovereignty as a consumer to leave these platforms, but that may prove difficult. A layperson is far more susceptible to the dopamine addiction that these companies have planted into their minds than they are to libertarian theory. The endless mindless scrolling through an Instagram feed is a far preferable decision to the average individual than taking up Rothbardianism and carrying out the revolution.

So this case poses a potential question to libertarians – strategy or brutally logical ethics? It is a tough choice, and either way, libertarians have a tough fight ahead of them. But that seems to be the way that it will always be for the men and women fighting for freedom amidst people who are more than happy being a member of the herd. Or an NPC.

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