Private Firms Cannot Censor

 

It has been commonplace lately to complain about censorship conducted by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Here’s the problem: they can’t censor. What they can do, and do do, is prevent users from posting things.

Do they have an agenda? Sure they do. And it often sucks.

But that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is censorship.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, whom I respect a lot, writes:

Xi’s coughs came to mind as Twitter and Facebook prevented Americans from being able to read the New York Post’s explosive allegations of influence-peddling by Hunter Biden through their sites.

Notice how Turley misstates the issue to make his point. Twitter and Facebook did not prevent Americans from being able to read the New York Post. The New York Post has a presence on the web and people who are not particularly facile with the web, and that includes me, found it easily. Moreover, what Twitter didn’t take account of is the “Streisand Effect.” My guess is that even more people saw the Post article because of Twitter’s thumb on the scale.

But even if the reference had been to something not on the web so that people would have had huge difficulty in finding it, that doesn’t mean that Twitter censored.

I gave a talk at a Hillsdale College event in Omaha earlier this month and on the panel with me were Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Dr. James Todaro. Both were excellent. Dr. Todaro was a last-minute replacement and a fine replacement he was. He laid out how he had smelled a rat in the Lancet study of hydroxychloroquine. That was the study that purported to show that hydoxychloroquine actually was unsafe (as opposed to ineffective) for people with COVID-19. He investigated and, lo and behold, found a rat. Lancet retracted the study.

Dr. Todaro noted that after Elon Musk posted Todaro’s findings on Twitter, he had tens of millions of views. Then Twitter took it down.

Dr. Todaro noted other similar incidents, specifically the Bakersfield doctors and the White Coat Summit. Both were on YouTube and YouTube took them down. Dr. Todaro said that this was censorship.

Each speaker was given a minute to respond to the other speakers and I took my minute to take issue with Dr. Todaro’s claim. I granted that what happened sucked and that the social media decision makers who took these things down acted badly. But, I said, they weren’t censoring. Then I said:

Hillsdale College did not invite a Marxist to be on this panel. Does anyone hear think that Hillsdale is censoring? No. Hillsdale is using its private property as it wishes. Moreover, if James is saying that he wants the government to step in to deal with this censorship, I can almost guarantee that he’ll like the result even less.

 

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If you are not taxing consumption . . .

. . . then you are not taxing who you think you are taxing. I was reminded of this point by a recent tweet I saw:

Progressives tend to favor higher income tax rates on the rich.  I prefer a progressive consumption tax.  It might be worth noting that if the top rate of income tax were increased, President Trump still would have paid roughly $750 in income taxes in 2016.  In contrast, he probably would have paid much more in taxes with a progressive consumption tax, at least if his lifestyle is as lavish as has been reported.

Just to be clear, I don’t believe that tax policy decisions should depend on how it impacts Trump—that would be absurd.  My point is that when people get outraged about what they see as a gross inequity, it’s important not to just lash out blindly, rather one should think clearly about who actually bears the burden of different types of taxes.  In general, it’s NOT the person (or company) that writes the check.

There are technical problems with taxing consumption.  But there are often even bigger technical problems in taxing income, wealth and other alternatives.  For instance, there is the question, “Is X a consumer or an investment good?”  But the exact same dilemma crops up with income taxes.

 

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