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State Control of Private Parties’ Communications is Censorship

Here’s an open letter to EconLog commenter “David F”:

Mr. F:

Objecting to David Henderson’s refusal to call the content decisions and other rules made by private companies such as Google and Facebook “censorship,” you comment:

I think the founders would be amazed to discover that the biggest threat to free speech came not from the government but from corporations. I bet they would have crafted the first amendment accordingly if they had been able to foresee the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

I could not disagree more with your dismaying and unintentionally ironic argument.

By calling the communications choices made by private companies “censorship” and then summoning the state to prevent this so-called “censorship,” the long-standing and wholly justified liberal hostility to state control over the choices that private people make in their communications is subtly tapped into to justify state control over the choices that private people make in their communications.

In short, genuine censorship is endorsed in the name of preventing faux censorship. It’s insidious and dangerous. And those who endorse any such use of state power are playing with a flame-thrower that will inevitably be turned on them – a reality that was recognized and rightly feared by James Madison and other American liberals of the founding era.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


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