Whatever one’s views are on this particular censorship controversy, there is no doubt that it is part of the highly consequential debate over online free speech and the ability of monopolies like Facebook to control the dissemination of news and the boundaries of political discourse and debate. That is why Smith devoted his weekly column to it. And yet, when Smith approached the standard free speech advocacy groups for comment on this story, virtually none was willing to speak up. “Facebook’s usual critics have been strikingly silent as the company has extended its purview over speech into day-to-day editorial calls,” he wrote.
Among those groups which insisted that it would not comment on Facebook’s censorship of the Post‘s BLM story was the vaunted, brave and deeply principled free speech organization, the American Civil Liberties Union. “We don’t have anyone who is closely plugged into that situation right now so we don’t have anything to say at this point in time,” emailed Aaron Madrid Aksoz, an ACLU spokesman. Smith said “the only criticism he could obtain came from the News Media Alliance, the old newspaper lobby, whose chief executive, David Chavern, called blocking The Post’s link ‘completely arbitrary’ and noted that ‘Facebook and Google stand between publishers and their audiences and determine how and whether news content is seen.’”
How is it possible that the ACLU is all but invisible on one of the central free speech debates of our time: namely, how much censorship should Silicon Valley tech monopolists be imposing on our political speech? As someone who intensively reports on these controversies, I can barely remember any time when the ACLU spoke up loudly on any of these censorship debates, let alone assumed the central role that any civil liberties group with any integrity would, by definition, assume on this growing controversy.