Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos was at the White House on Friday, where he asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest a range of questions on topics from free speech to the political bias of social media companies.
Earnest was surprisingly bullish on Silicon Valley’s need to uphold the ideal of free speech, telling Yiannopoulos that President Obama would be “the first to observe” that the success of social media companies is predicated on protecting the free expression of their users.
It’s a position that places the administration at odds with social media companies, which are increasingly eager to punish their users for offending the wrong groups or, in the case of Facebook, being overly-critical of European refugee policies.
In his questions, which can be watched in the video above, Yiannopoulos asked Earnest if there was anything the administration could do to remind social media companies of the importance of protecting users’ free speech.
Obviously, part of what’s built into our system is a respect for private companies to put in place their own policies. But I think the President would be the first one to observe that the success of … social media and some of those social media tools is in fact predicated on the idea of freedom of expression. In fact, many of these tools are so groundbreaking because they give people an opportunity to express themselves in ways that we didn’t previously imagine. It also gives the average person the opportunity to be heard by the world. That’s what makes that kind of technology and those kinds of tools so remarkable, and frankly, what makes them so successful. But as you point out, that is predicated on the important protection of first amendment rights to self-expression.
Yiannopoulos responded, highlighting Facebook and Twitter’s recent move towards political censorship. “We obviously can’t enforce the first amendment on private corporations. But there seems to be a very clear trend; my verification check was taken away for making the wrong jokes about the wrong group of people.
“Conservative commentators and journalists are being punished, being suspended, having their tweets deleted by Twitter. Facebook is removing criticism of immigration in Europe. Are there any mechanisms the government can use to remind these companies that they have that responsibility, or do we just have to trust that the market is going to punish them if they don’t?”
Earnest suggested that social media companies’ responsibility to uphold constitutional protections on speech could be resolved in a court of law:
I’m not sure exactly what sort of government policy decision could have any impact on that. There is though a third branch of government, our courts. They’re supposed to be insulated from politics, they’re supposed to be in a position to resolve those kinds of questions. So if there are private citizens who believe their constitutional rights are being violated in some way, they do have an opportunity to address that before a judge in a court of law… But even that is predicated on the idea that our court system is insulated from partisan politics.
Silicon Valley companies may think they’re appeasing the Left by cracking down on conservative users, but there is growing division between the Obama administration and the more censorious elements of the left.
For example, the President recently criticised left-wing students for eroding free speech on campus, saying they should seek out opposing points of view and shouldn’t be “coddled.” It’s a position that puts him at odds with the regressive left of Silicon Valley as well.