Jon Scott: Critics are calling the White House’s push to stop Covid19 misinformation on social media another example of big tech censorship. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said today companies like Facebook have to do more.
Vivek Murthy: But what I’ve also said to them publicly and privately is that it’s not enough. That we are still seeing a proliferation of misinformation online. And we know that health misinformation harms people’s health. It costs them their lives.”
Jon Scott: Our next guest recently argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed quote: “Google, Facebook and Twitter should be treated as state actors under existing legal doctrines. Using a combination of statutory inducements and regulatory threats, Congress has co-opted Silicon Valley to do through the back door what government cannot directly accomplish under the Constitution”
The author of those words, Vivek Ramaswamy. He is a biotech entrepreneur and the author of “Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.” Uh, to the subtitle of the book first, Vivek, what do you mean “social justice scam”?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah well look, what I mean is that companies use the illusion of caring about something other than the pursuit of profit and power precisely to gain more profit and power. That is how the game of 21st century capitalism is played. It dupes consumers it dupes regulators, and it dupes the public at large to allow companies to accomplish their own objective but leave the American citizenry worse off in the end.
Jon Scott: Well, is Facebook an example for instance of that kind of thinking?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Yeah, Facebook is an example of it. I would put all of social media in this category, too, where there is an effective unspoken backroom deal with progressives in the Democratic Party to say that we are going to now use our corporate power as a weapon to silence content that you disagree with. But effectively we in Silicon Valley don’t do it for free. We expect you, the government, to look the other way when it comes to leaving our monopoly power intact. And I’m sorry to say that it is working masterfully for both sides.
And it’s an incestuous relationship that now goes in both directions because that’s what government has begun to realize is they can use these private companies to do indirectly through the back door what the government could not directly do through the front door under the Constitution. And that is what we are seeing with the essence of big tech censorship today to say that the First Amendment clearly prohibits the government from doing it directly so the government has found an extra constitutional measure through its fourth branch of government in Silicon Valley to effectuate censorship that the government couldn’t directly and I think that is actually the most dangerous form of censorship of all because the public doesn’t recognize it for what it is.
Jon Scott: Okay but you just heard the Surgeon General say that misinformation on outlets like Facebook is costing people their lives. We want to save lives, don’t we?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Of course we do. But look, I think the answer to misinformation and to bad speech is not less speech, it is more speech. And I think there’s both a cultural point and a legal point.
On the cultural point, the thing I would say is every dictatorship through human history has had its excuse for why it wanted to censor speech. Misinformation is the excuse of today. But people said the same thing. Now they say social media is unique. Well people said the same thing about the telephone. People said the same thing about the advent of radio. People said the same thing about the advent of television. Everyone thought their moment was unique when they were arguing for censorship in the past. It is no different today. The road still ends to the same place which is totalitarian dictatorship.
But the good news is we have strong legal doctrines in this country which say that even if you deputize a private company to do what the government can’t do. that is still a violation of the Constitution. And that’s why I argued that these companies ought to be treated as state actors and bound by the First Amendment when they engage in selective political censorship. And I think that’s what President Trump’s case has the potential to do by the way.
Jon Scott: The spokeswoman for the current President, Jen Psaki, was talking about the fact that the
Biden administration has been leaning on Facebook to silence what she calls misinformation. Senator Ted Cruz says that her point actually helped former President Trump. Listen.
Ted Cruz: Her press conference strengthened President Trump’s lawsuit against big tech. It makes clear that everything we thought about the Biden administration, about their willingness to trample on free speech, to trample on the Constitution, to use government power to silence you, everything we feared they might do, they are doing, and worse.
Jon Scott: Is he accurate in that assessment?
Vivek Ramaswamy: Senator Cruz and I actually exchanged messages after my op-ed came out on Monday. He’s absolutely right. I think that’s exactly the point I made in my op-ed on Monday. When I wrote on Monday that the government was using these companies through the back door to do what it couldn’t do directly, people said that was a conspiracy theory. Well apparently the difference between a conspiracy theory and reality today is as short as four days because we just saw Jen Psaki on Thursday and then on Friday bragging, boasting, about exactly what the government was directing Facebook to do in taking down misinformation, saying that if you were banned from one social media company, you should be banned from all of the social media platforms.
And so she is now making the case for state action even better than I did in my couple of Wall Street Journal editorials. But the point is the government today is boasting about using social media companies to effectuate its objectives. That is actually the biggest violation of the Constitution of all and I think that’s the case that President Trump is effectively trying to make. I think he has room to make it better in the complaint that he’s filed but that’s effectively the heart of his claim is that when the government dispatches private companies with threats, with voluntary willful coordination between the government and these private companies, and also with the special form of immunity in the form of Section 230 immunity, any one of those could be the basis for state action using Supreme Court doctrines. Here we have all three. I think it may be the most egregious case of state action in the guise of private enterprise that we’ve seen in modern history.
Jon Scott: Okay, very quickly, but on a micro level, I mean there are millions of people watching right now, who are also Facebook users, what do you say to them about your concerns about the government leaning on that company?
Vivek Ramaswamy: If it can happen to the 45th president of the United States it can happen to anybody. This is not an academic issue and it is not a political or partisan issue. If they can do it to the right today, they can do it to the left tomorrow. These are the most powerful companies we’ve seen in the course of human history. Even the Dutch East India Company had a private militia but it couldn’t control the bounds of acceptable debate.
And it’s not just the power of these companies alone that matters. When it’s co-mingled with the state, when big business mixes with big government, that creates the biggest threat of all, what I call the woke industrial complex, because each of big business and big government can do what the other cannot and that’s a threat to liberty whether you’re a Republican or whether you’re Democrat, whether you’re black or white, every American ought to be concerned. And I think that’s where the new solutions for both the movements on the left and on the right need to focus going forward.
Jon Scott: His new book is “Woke Incorporated.” Vivek Ramaswamy the author. Thank you, interesting.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Thank you.
Our government is using Big Tech companies to circumvent the First Amendment and censor free speech on its behalf