Columbia University law professor Timothy Wu is best known as an advocate for antitrust enforcement, and pundits rightly note that his appointment by President Joe Biden to the National Economic Council could be a signal that the administration is planning to crack down on companies such as Google and Facebook.
Not so fast. Professor Wu penned an op-ed a few years back stating that the First Amendment should be considered obsolete. The professor has also stated that government should have the power to force online platforms to adopt “norms and policies traditionally associated with twentieth-century journalism.”
Professor Wu starts by enumerating internet-related free-speech issues. He points out that access to the World Wide Web has made it easy for trolls to gang up on writers who publish controversial pieces. This point is valid. Individuals on both sides of the political aisle have been threatened and abused online. However, one of his primary complaints about the internet is not that is used to troll and threaten people, but that it opens the door for just about anyone to share information.
The professor bemoans the fact that speech isn’t limited to large newspapers and government organizations. Small alternative news outlets can start up with relative ease and publish information challenging official narratives.
Professor Wu also warns of the dangers of “misinformation” from foreign governments that can sway public opinion in one direction or another. This shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point — Democrat elites are still trying to convince the country that everyone who doesn’t vote for them is actually a Russian bot.
The solutions he offers for “First Amendment problems” should alarm anyone who is concerned about basic rights. One of Professor Wu’s main proposals involves the federal government cracking down on free speech online. Such laws are presented in the best possible light; however, they are vague and will almost certainly be used against anyone government bureaucrat wants to silence. Furthermore, his statement calling on the government to “try returning the country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s” is woefully ignorant of what such an atmosphere would mean.
It is naive to think that the nation had access to accurate, impartial information when only a few news channels dominated the airwaves. Major news outlets hired CIA agents as journalists, the FBI routinely told then-President Harry Truman about journalists’ publishing plans, and federal agents followed reporters they didn’t like. The internet, on the other hand, has made it difficult if not impossible for the government to fully suppress the free flow of information. This must not change.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s conservative tilt would make it very hard for progressive Democrats such as Professor Timothy Wu to push laws restricting free speech online. However, that doesn’t mean anti-First Amendment activists will stop trying. Professor Wu’s inclusion in President Joe Biden’s cabinet makes it clear where the administration stands on the issue.