Conservative comedian Steven Crowder filed notice last week of a lawsuit against YouTube, claiming, “This is the big one, boys and girls.”
Crowder’s May 14 filing follows his second “strike” in as many months. In March, YouTube demonetized Crowder’s channel and issued his first demerit of 2021 on grounds that one of his videos contained COVID-19 misinformation. In April, Crowder earned “strike two” under the pretext of harassment and cyberbullying.
One more infraction in the designated 90-day window and he will be permanently cut off from his 5 million YouTube followers.
Crowder is polemical—he is, after all, a comedian—but his undue scrutiny ignores a morass of unpunished “violations” that proliferate on YouTube all around him.
If the coronavirus misinformation standard were applied consistently, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s announcement in March 2020 that “there is no reason to [walk] around with a mask” would have been struck from the platform during the height of the pandemic.
If the harassment and cyberbullying standard were applied uniformly to comparable accounts, left-of-center comedian Bill Maher’s glee over billionaire businessman David Koch’s death would no longer be searchable on Maher’s show’s channel.
Other platforms are just as guilty.
Drug cartels advertise on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Chinese Communist Partly spokesmen churn out woke and critical race theory-infused propaganda on a regular basis. Antifa and Black Lives Matter glorify political violence, and figureheads who delegitimize free and fair elections, such as Stacey Abrams, retain blue-check status.
As such, conservative voices like Crowder’s should not be sacrificed on the altar of Big Tech.
Yet the fight is not about Crowder. Instead, it’s a crisis of the tech titans’ own making. Inconsistent enforcement of vague rules, the opacity of content-moderation practices, and a lack of recourse are the hallmarks of Big Tech today.
Crowder’s latest legal move points to a broader, more pernicious trend taking hold in Silicon Valley and beyond. (He’s threatened to file suit against Big Tech before, as recently as February.)
The evolution proceeded slowly at first. When platforms banned gratuitous-chaos agents, such as Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, many conservatives were reluctant to defend them, even on principle. Now, social media companies are sprinting away with the goal posts.
What began as an effort to ban fringe outlets such as Jones’ “Infowars” has rapidly expanded to the restriction of traditional conservative views.
Can pro-life group Live Action post on Pinterest? No. What of Ryan Anderson’s conservative take on gender identity in his 2019 book “When Harry Became Sally”? Booted from Amazon. The Northern Virginia Tea Party was even a casualty of email delivery service Mailchimp’s “misinformation” policy early this year.
Similarly, non-conservatives such as Canadian free speech activist Lindsay Shepherd, who refused to conform to today’s woke litmus tests, are in many tech companies’ crosshairs.
Such censorship of mainstream voices reveals the pitfalls of allowing these platforms to determine what is legitimately fringe, not to mention truth itself.
It’s clear that if left unchecked, these companies and their employees will continue to narrow the bounds of acceptable discourse—on one side of the political spectrum only.
Americans can and should hit back. It’s past time for concrete, actionable solutions.
Proposals, like those working their way through state legislatures across the country, must empower the public to hold these companies accountable for their disproportionate application of their own standards.
In tandem, Congress should address sweeping Section 230 protections through focused reform.
Restoring the balance of power between the tech companies and their users is an experiment worth conducting. It’s only our culture of free expression that’s at stake.
Kara Frederick is a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Technology Policy.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The Daily Signal.