Unlikely Allies Join Fight To Protect Free Speech On The Internet : All Tech Considered After big tech companies took action to take down white supremacist content, there have been calls for the government to step in to protect free speech from the right and left.
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Unlikely Allies Join Fight To Protect Free Speech On The Internet

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Unlikely Allies Join Fight To Protect Free Speech On The Internet

Unlikely Allies Join Fight To Protect Free Speech On The Internet

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Silicon Valley tech firms are pushing back on hate groups, deleting them from search results, refusing to host their websites and choking off their ability to raise money online. NPR's Laura Sydell reports that some on the far right now want the government to better protect their First Amendment freedoms online.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Most people in the U.S. would find Richard Spencer's political views reprehensible. He's a white supremacist.

RICHARD SPENCER: I would ultimately support a homeland for white people. I think that ethnically or racially defined political borders are legitimate. Absolutely.

SYDELL: After Donald Trump was elected president, this moment of Spencer giving a speech at a white supremacist meeting made headlines as the room rose to give a Sieg Heil, the Nazi salute.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPENCER: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.

(APPLAUSE)

SYDELL: But it is the First Amendment that inspires Spencer now. Spencer was also a speaker at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. In the wake of the violence that occurred there, The Daily Stormer, an online neo-Nazi publication, was blocked by a series of major tech companies. Its domain name was taken away by GoDaddy. Google stopped linking to it. Facebook took down links to any article it published. It can't use PayPal anymore.

SPENCER: Getting kicked off Facebook or YouTube or PayPal, whatever, this is effectively losing the ability to speak. It is actually a more powerful form of censorship than were a government to censor it.

SYDELL: But companies like Google and Facebook are not covered by the First Amendment. The First Amendment only applies to the government. But Spencer feels these companies are so large, the government needs to step in just as it did with broadcasting.

SPENCER: These are the free speech platforms in the 21st century. So if we're going to regulate all of these 20th century ways of expressing ourselves, then why are we so loath to regulate the 21st century ones, which are much more relevant and much more vital?

SYDELL: Spencer has some unlikely allies on this.

ROBERT MCCHESNEY: I put myself as on the left. I would say I'm a Democratic socialist.

SYDELL: Robert McChesney is a communications professor at the University of Illinois. He's actually written books about the threat of fascism.

MCCHESNEY: So I think Richard Spencer and I wouldn't agree on hardly anything. But on the issues of whether these companies should be able to control what I can and can't hear, I think on principle, we have to be together on that. All Americans should across the political spectrum.

SYDELL: Right now Google has more than 80 percent of the online search market, according to Net Market Share. Google and Facebook combined have 77 percent of the online ad market. Seventy-nine percent of Americans on the internet have a Facebook account, according to Pew Research. McChesney says that these companies can make a little change to an algorithm and it will affect what everyone sees.

MCCHESNEY: The research shows that if Facebook or Google changes the algorithm just slightly and puts a different type of story in there, it affects the way people think about the world. Their internal research demonstrates this.

SYDELL: And because these are private companies, they don't have to reveal their algorithms or what changes they make to them. And right now most Americans may agree with the choice to censor the Richard Spencers of the world. But...

MCCHESNEY: I mean, what's to stop them from turning around and saying, well, we don't like these people who are advocating gay rights, we don't like these people who are advocating workers' rights?

SYDELL: Nothing. And that's why both alt-right leader Richard Spencer and left-leaning professor Robert McChesney think it's time for the government to step in. Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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