Mises Wire

Ann Coulter Comes Out in Favor of Anti-Discrimination Laws

Ann Coulter once mocked Ron Paul for his call that the government get out of marriage. Coulter demanded that governments regulate marriage because, well, people would have too much freedom otherwise.

That was just one of many times that Ann Coulter’s knee-jerk preference for government controls and government intervention became apparent. Consistency has never been her strong suit.

Now, Coulter wants the government to regulate social media platforms to make sure anyone who wants to use the platforms can do so. On Wednesday on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Coulter said:

We need to apply the First Amendment to social media companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, because it is a public square, and there is precedent for that and it’s gotta be done…

In the context of social media, “apply[ing] the First Amendment” means enacting government regulations that would oversee social media with the result that the platform owners would be punished for picking and choosing who would be allowed to use the platform to publish their opinions. Violations of these rules and regulations would presumably lead to sanctions such as monetary fines.

In other words, Coulter wants the government to enact anti-discrimination laws against social media platforms to ensure equal access for all.

And, although Coulter has publicly denounced a variety of “anti-discrimination” laws and policies over the years, it’s difficult to see how her position is fundamentally different from the position that private business owners must serve anyone who comes in the door. Coulter is simply arguing what many have argued before her: that private owners ought to be subject to government diktats about whom they must serve, and how.

The Masterpiece Cake Shop case is a perfect illustration of how calling for government-enforced “free speech” on social media platforms is the same thing as demanding that baker Jack Phillips bake cakes containing certain messages.

Specifically, note that Phillips never refused service on the basis of a customer’s membership in any group. His position has long been that he only refuses to assist in the communication of certain messages and sentiments with the baking of his cake.

Similarly, social media platforms would no doubt claim they don’t discriminate against anyone based on their membership in any group — including ideological or religious groups.

In contrast, the social media companies point out that they only refuse to let their property be used to send certain messages that they find objectionable.

How is this different from refusing to put certain messages on a cake?

It’s not.

If it’s now the “free speech” position — as Coulter claims — to require that Twitter publish certain messages, then it’s also the “free speech” position to require that bakers everywhere write whatever messages any potential customer demands.

Needless to say, Coulter has a rather idiosyncratic view of “freedom.”

Recognizing the inherently coercive nature of this sort of government regulation, Coulter then claims this is all legit because social media companies are in the “public square.”

At this point, Coulter is quickly moving toward making a “public accommodation” argument in favor of more government regulation. Presumably, since social media platforms are presenting themselves as publishers of content “in the public square” they must therefore accommodate all requests for service.

At least, that certainly appears to be the claim she’s making.

The Answer Lies in More Competition

And, unfortunately, many non-mainstream pundits and commentators tend to be sympathetic toward this view. Now on the receiving end of what are clearly discriminatory practices by the social media platforms, some have found a new love for using the power of the state to force what are essentially “public accommodation” laws on more property owners.

As has always been the case, though, the answer lies not in telling private parties how to use their property, but in fostering competition for the existing firms that are accused of discrimination.

As I have noted in the past, this was long the strategy of Mexican-American and Asian-American entrepreneurs who identified under-served markets in their ethnic enclaves — and then did something about it. They opened new businesses to compete against the businesses that refused to serve certain groups. The entrepreneurs were often successful.

Similarly, If certain ideological groups are facing discrimination from social media platforms, the answer lies not in more government coercion, but in more competition.

In response to this, some will pout and say “but Facebook already dominates the market. How could we compete?” Yes, it’s true that for a new social media platform to be profitable, it would have to provide excellent service, and customers who have been alienated by the existing social media firms would have to actually start using these new platforms and abandon the old ones.

This however, appears to be a tall order. No matter how much some conservatives and alleged free thinkers may complain about how social media is preventing the free flow of diverse viewpoints, it seems that either there are too few of these people to support a competitor, or that these people aren’t really willing to give up their devotion to their exiting social-media habits in which they allow a billionaire to decide for them what views they see and when.

Americans Are Quite Comfortable with Letting Others Control Information for Them

Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us. Many of the same people who claim to demand a free exchange of non-establishment ideas continue to send their children to public schools — where children are taught to adopt and internalize establishment views five days per week. These allegedly “independent-minded” parents cede education to the public schools  even when they could afford tuition at a private school, or could afford to home school. The fact that only ten percent of Americans school children attend private schools stands as stark reminder that the number of people who truly support the propagation of diverse viewpoints are either tiny in number — or are simply lying when they claim to deeply value “freedom of speech.”  After all, it’s much easier to just dump the kids off at the nearest public school than scrimp and save to pay tuition — or provide an education at home.

Given the continued success of both public schools and clearly-biased social media platforms, it appears that the demand for more open-minded competitors to challenge the hegemony of Facebook or Government School X simply isn’t there. It’s much easier to demand governments force “freedom of speech” on private companies instead.

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