Poland fights back against Big Tech censorship
When the internet first emerged, people viewed it as a new age of free speech, breaking the media's monopoly over information. Everybody could put his ideas out there. What we never imagined was that a few companies would become so powerful that they could control almost all discourse in America and around the world — or that they would relentlessly use that power to advance their political views and to destroy their political opponents. Poland, which spent decades under communist rule, is actively resisting this tech tyranny.
The Soviet Union used World War II as an opportunity to invade Poland. After the war, it remained, instituting the Polish People's Republic. The communist era lasted from 1945 to 1989. That experience is still within the living memory of large segments of the Polish population. They fully understand what it means to live under a despotic government that controls all speech and that severely punishes anyone whose speech deviates from the party line.
Poland also has a unique place in the history of 20th-century European communism. The Solidarity movement that started in the Polish shipyards in 1980, under the courageous leadership of Lech Walesa, broke the Soviet grip on Poland. That was the start of the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, an empire with such an iron grip on its colonies that it had seemed as if it would last forever.
I mention this history because it's a reminder that tyrannies are fundamentally unstable. If pushed hard enough, they will topple with remarkable speed. Hemingway had a character say of his bankruptcy that it went "[t]wo ways. Gradually, then suddenly." The same is true of dictatorships. They weaken imperceptibly, and then, suddenly, they're gone.
It may be that Poland is again taking the lead in bringing down a dictatorship. This time, it's not a government the Poles are challenging, but tyrannical, supranational private entities:
Speaking to Fox News, the architect of the law, Deputy Polish Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta, said social media companies have for too long been targeting conservatives, Christianity and traditional values by banning them and removing posts and the Polish government is saying "enough!"
"We see that when Big Tech decides to remove content for political purposes, it's mostly content which praises traditional values or praises conservatism," he said, "and it is deleted under their 'hate speech policy' when it has no legal right to do so."
The legislation would impose a $13.5-million fine on platforms that ban users from exercising their right to speak in ways that are not otherwise prohibited under Polish law. According to Kaleta, the tech companies had wrongfully set themselves up as the arbiter of what speech is permissible in Poland.
"Freedom of speech is not something that anonymous moderators working for private companies should decide," he said. "Instead, that is for the national body; duly elected officials and all industries, car, phones, finance — were unregulated till they grew too large — the same should happen with Big Tech."
Technically, we in America don't need such a law because we have a First Amendment that is the mother of all free speech laws. However, the tech companies have become the primary vehicles for free speech, moving them into a quasi-government category.
It's as reasonable to make these tech companies abide by the First Amendment as it was when we used the Civil Rights Act to force private businesses to abide by the Commerce Clause. Doing that, after all, effectively used the government's police power to deny racist businesses their First Amendment right of free association.
The Poles are leading the way to liberty, and it's time that we join in. It's currently doubtful that Congress will do anything because the tech companies are (a) funding many of its members and (b) supporting all Democrat initiatives. Still, there are elections coming up in two years. Use the primaries wisely to get strong candidates on the ballot who can appeal to all Americans concerned about the historically unprecedented power the tech companies have amassed.
Until then, individual states need to step up, and some are already doing so. Florida governor Ron DeSantis is pushing a bill that would penalize tech companies if they violate Floridians' privacy or interfere with their access to information about political candidates. Meanwhile, in Maryland, the Legislature has realized that Big Tech is a potential cash cow and wants to tax revenue from the digital advertising the tech companies sell.
If Poland can break the tech tyranny, we can, too. Indeed, we must if we're to continue as a free nation.
Image: Lech Walesa. YouTube screen grab.