Welcome to Day Four of Reason's annual webathon, during which we ask our readers, viewers, and listeners to support our principled libertarian journalism with tax-deductible gifts.
Go here to donate and to learn about the great swag we're giving out this year. If you want extra motivation, I'm happy to tell you that an anonymous donor is matching today's donations, dollar-for-dollar with no restrictions, up to a total of $25,000. That means any gift you give today—$50, $100, $1,000, or even $5,000—will be instantly doubled until we reach $25,000! Under a different $25,000 match challenge yesterday, we reached that total in just eight hours. Let's try to set a new record today!
[Exciting update: We have met our match. And we beat yesterday's record by 7 minutes. Thanks to all of today's donors who doubled their money!]
[Exciting Update #2: It is only Day 4 and thanks to your generosity we have already met our original $200,000 goal! So we've increased our goal to allow even more of you to support Reason during the webathon. Thank you for your donations!]
Your money will help support our efforts to defend and protect free speech, which is under unprecedented attack by politicians, activists, and intellectuals from all over the ideological spectrum. The new threats traffic in the language of arcane tech policy, espouse empathy for the feelings of individuals in marginalized groups, and stoke outrage at social media. Consider the following:
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) is openly campaigning for president on a pledge of regulating explicitly political speech, a blatant attack on the First Amendment.
If we can lie in Facebook ads and get away with it, we know that campaign finance laws are not equipped to address online political advertising. My plan would modernize campaign finance law for the digital age. If you are ready to regulate political ads on the internet, sign up.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) October 15, 2019
- President Donald Trump, who has talked about "opening up libel laws" so that it would be easier for him to sue people and pulling FCC licenses from media companies that he doesn't like, has threatened legal action against CNN on the grounds that it has attacked him and falsely bills itself as a "news organization." Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) has sued Google, claiming the search-engine company throttled interest in her campaign.
- Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) have called for regulating Facebook and other social media companies as public utilities. When they were running for president, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) demanded that Twitter ban Donald Trump and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (R–Texas) pledged that he would strip any religious organization of its tax-exempt status if it opposes marriage equality.
- Politicians across the political spectrum are seeking to roll back or revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been called "the internet's First Amendment" and the "26 words that created the internet." By shielding ISPs and most website operators (including Reason) from liability for what third-party users do, Section 230 has allowed online services from Amazon to Yelp to flourish.
- In an attempt to please both would-be censors and aggrieved users, social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have purged controversial users ranging from Rev. Louis Farrakhan to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The NBA and Blizzard Entertainment, a leading online video game company, have stifled free speech to avoid angering the Chinese government. While private companies have the right to set their own rules, they are increasingly doing so in arbitrary and oppressive ways that diminish the exercise of free speech.
- An ever-growing list of public figures, celebrities, and private individuals face the ire of "cancel culture" for off-color comments or old statements and jokes. Comedian Kevin Hart was fired from hosting the Oscars because of years-old tweets. A 24-year-old security guard in Iowa who raised $1 million for a children's hospital faced professional ruin after a newspaper discovered he had posted two racist jokes to Twitter as a 16-year-old.
- It's increasingly common to equate speech with violence in all sorts of situations, such as using the wrong pronouns or name when addressing a trans person. Whatever the intentions of such reactions, the clear effect is to chill speech and reduce dialogue.
- There's also a revival of calls to ban pornography as unprotected speech. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has claimed that porn is "something made and distributed and sold, and therefore subject to regulation and restriction if we so desire," while writers at The Daily Caller, USA Spectator, and elsewhere are using outmoded social science and arguments to claim that pornography increases crime and social dysfunction.
Today's attacks on free speech are aimed at eroding not just longstanding legal protections for free expression but a broader culture of free expression that is a prerequisite for full exercise of speech rights. The attacks seem to be working: Research from Pew has found that support for unfettered free speech is dying among younger Americans, with fully 40 percent of millennials agreeing that the government should have the right to censor offensive statements about minorities. (Just 24 percent of baby boomers believe that.)
Traditional allies on the right and the left have mostly abdicated their commitments to free speech, leaving libertarians as the last stalwart defenders of First Amendment values. Reason is nearly alone among media platforms in fighting against new legal, technological, and cultural restrictions that seek to shut down alternative points of view and destroy a robust culture of open and honest debate and discussion. Our efforts to preserve and enlarge free expression over the past year include:
- Unmatched coverage of the climate of fear and repression on college campuses, culminating in the publication of Robby Soave's Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, a highly praised, deeply reported account of the intellectual and ideological roots of younger generations' rejection of free speech.
- Quality reporting and analysis of the ways tech policy intersects with censorship and repression, including coverage of onerous European Union online privacy laws, the misguided historical precedents of using antitrust law to break up big tech, how fights over Section 230 are ultimately about reducing the range of speech and dissent, and how net neutrality extended government control of the internet in the guise of protecting access to the World Wide Web.
- Celebrating the pushback against "cancel culture" and monolithic thought. Reason has defended renegade figures such as rapper Kanye West (who came under fire for suggesting that African Americans don't all share the same political values) and comedian Dave Chappelle (whose controversial Netflix special, Sticks and Stones, mocked "woke" culture).
- Defending the culture of free expression against detractors who insist that private companies such as Facebook and Twitter be regulated as public utilities and shut down anyone enough people demand be banned. Reason is at the forefront of respecting property rights while also articulating the need for ideological tolerance and pluralism even within private institutions that have a right to limit speech.
If you care about the right to think and say what you believe, please support Reason with a tax-deductible donation that will be matched up to a total of $25,000 today. Go here now to give. The thought you save may be your own!
And take a moment to watch (and share!) the Reason video series "Free Speech Rules," produced in collaboration with UCLA law professor and Volokh Conspiracy creator Eugene Volokh. Hosted at this website, The Volokh Conspiracy is another outspoken champion of the First Amendment in a time when fewer and fewer people are standing firm.