Updated at 9:33 a.m. ET on January 27, 2021.
There is a rich historical irony to the fact that today, conservatives are the ones who argue most forcefully that the decisions by private companies to “deplatform” certain speakers threaten what President Donald Trump described in 2020 as the “bedrock” American right to freedom of speech. Until very recently, this was an argument made almost exclusively by those on the left.
The decision by Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social-media outlets to ban Trump from their platforms after the January 6 attack on the Capitol intensified conservatives’ long-standing concerns that the powerful tech industry is violating their free-speech rights. Trump encouraged and amplified these arguments when he issued a (largely symbolic) executive order in May 2020 declaring that “free speech is the bedrock of American democracy,” and insisted that “in a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey.”*
The deplatforming of the president appeared to many conservatives to offer vivid proof that these companies are just as dangerous to freedom of speech as Trump had claimed. Steve Daines, a Republican senator from Montana, took to Twitter to attack “Big Tech” for “censoring [Trump] and the free speech of American citizens.” Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, claimed that the platforms’ decision to restrict speech “threatened our democracy.” And on the floor of the Capitol building, newly sworn-in Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia wore a mask bearing a single word—CENSORED—in stark white letters. Many liberals, meanwhile, insisted that the decision to deplatform the president had nothing to do with freedom of speech, at least not as protected by the First Amendment.