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Some Progressives Targeting the First Amendment, Too

It's not just the Second Amendment in their crosshairs.

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Many progressives have long believed America would be a much better place without the Second Amendment. These days, some of them seem to think we'd also be better off without the First.

That might sound like an exaggeration. But it's hard to square the First Amendment with a recent proposal in The New Republic: "Ban Facebook Before Elections." And yes, the headline accurately represents the text:

"If fake news truly poses a crisis for democracy," writes Jeet Heer, "then it calls for a radical response. Instead of merely requiring greater transparency of social media and empowering the courts to ban users and websites… perhaps governments should outright ban Facebook and other platforms ahead of elections.

"A model for this already exists. Many countries have election silence laws, which limit or prohibit political campaigning for varying periods of time ranging from election day alone to as early as three days before the election. What if these laws were applied to social media? What if you weren't allowed to post anything political on Facebook in the two weeks before an election?"

What, indeed? And what if this principle were extended for the sake of consistency? Perhaps The New Republic should be forced into silence before an election as well—along with the rest of the media. After all, letting some American citizens, but not others, speak their mind before an election is not exactly equal protection of the laws.

But then, many in the media really do think First Amendment law should be unequal. That was precisely the case before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, when campaign-finance law carved out an exception for media corporations so they could speak freely about politics when others could not. Huge numbers of progressives, and many media outlets, feel the decision allowing unions and non-media corporations to speak freely about politics was very, very wrong.

"The corrupting influence of money is not limited to bribery," intoned The New York Times back in 2012. When "outside spending is unlimited, and political speech depends heavily on access to costly technology and ads, the wealthy can distort this fundamental element of democracy by drowning out those who lack financial resources." Message: Corporations should stay out of politics, period.

Except, apparently, when it comes to guns. In the wake of the atrocity at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, liberals have been pressuring internet content providers such as Amazon, Roku, and Apple TV to stop distributing NRA TV.

"The hashtag 'stop NRA TV' was trending on Twitter" recently, reports Ad Age. Now, according to Deadline, celebrities are getting in on the act. "Stop streaming the violent rhetoric of NRAtv," tweeted actress Alyssa Milano.

Stipulated: Content providers have every right to carry, or not carry, whatever they please. Nevertheless, urging big internet companies to drop NRA TV is not a stance that sits gracefully alongside the ferocious, and only a few months removed, defense of net neutrality.

Net neutrality required internet service providers to treat all digital content equally. As Free Press' "Save the Internet" campaign put it, "Net neutrality is the internet's guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech… Without the net neutrality rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to block political opinions they disagree with."

"#SAVENETNEUTRALTY," tweeted Alyssa Milano.

Critics said repealing net neutrality, as the Federal Communications Commission did last year, would let "the future of the internet… be decided by a few powerful gatekeepers whose monopoly control over Internet access allows them to decide what content reaches viewers." And that it would be "a radical departure that risks erosion of the biggest free speech platform the world has ever known." And that it would let "powerful corporate interests" turn the internet into "a digital dystopia, filtered by the vast censorship apparatus." (Fun fact: The New Republic also warned that repealing net neutrality would be "a blow to free speech on the internet"—before it began advocating the shutdown of Facebook.)

Now it seems to have struck a lot of people that having a vast, corporately run censorship apparatus might come in pretty handy after all—so long as it censors the right (which is to say the wrong) side in the gun debate.

Principles, it seems, are often just the rationalizations we use to justify sticking it to our enemies. It was ever thus.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.