Facebook is under fire this week after it was found that the company allowed Rose City Antifa, a violent group linked to rioting for many years, to open a Facebook account despite the company's controversial program to remove certain websites. Side to entertain. Since it won't come as a surprise to many on this blog, I wouldn't have the page removed for the sake of free speech. My biggest fear is not Antifa (which I have criticized for years), but the increasing censorship of the internet. While I recently testified about Antifa, and Rose City Antifa in particular, as part of a violent movement against free speech, I have opposed designating them a terrorist organization and I believe that their speech should be protected. While Facebook is a private company that is not subject to the First Amendment restrictions, it should respect free speech on the internet.
RCA is arguably the oldest antifa group in the United States and was founded in Portland. In 2013, various groups that were part of the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA), including RCA, established a new coordinating organization known as the Torch Network. This lack of structure not only appealed to the anarchist elements in the movement, but also served the practical advantage of avoiding prosecution and trial. While some have tried to hold such members accountable, like journalist Andy Ngo who sued the RCA for assault, such lawsuits have struggled to find witnesses and assets to make an effective case.
As part of Facebook's "Dangerous Persons and Organizations" policy, the company committed itself to "addressing organizations and movements that pose significant risks to public safety". A number of right and left groups have been removed.
We previously discussed how governments and politicians have called for ever greater censorship of the Internet, which is the greatest means of free speech ever developed. The erosion of free speech on social media and the Internet has included calls from leading democratic leaders for years to implement private censorship of political speech, a view supported by scholars who have declared that "China is right" about censorship. Recently, Democratic candidate Joe Biden pushed for censorship of statements made by Trump and others who opposed mail-in votes.
My views on freedom of speech are well known. RCA is an extremist group, but is also committed to protected language. We have to deal criminally with his behavior, not his speech. It is the difference between advocating violence and acting violently. If the site is actively organizing attacks or directing disturbances, it is more than just language. It generally doesn't. It calls for counter-demonstrations on such websites but leaves the violent elements to the local members. Once you start censoring such websites for the actions of some members, the internet gets into a slippery phase of language regulation. Many organizations, including Black Lives Matter, have had violent supporters, but there are still important parts of a non-violent debate on issues such as racial justice.
However, there is another reason why these sites shouldn't be censored. It is far better to have such groups openly where they can be monitored. We have seen in Germany that the repression of neo-Nazi groups has only forced them underground without preventing their expansion. It is better for law enforcement and others to make these groups more visible. On Facebook, these groups can be challenged and their extreme views exposed. When forced underground, the groups claim to be victims of "fascists" and their hateful views become unchecked in radical echo chambers.
Antifa is arguably the most successful anti-free speech movement in modern history. It has the direct or indirect support of some academics and many students. Indeed, the recent controversy over testimony from a Connecticut professor and a Rhode Island professor to the murder of a Conservative counter-protester reflects how such views are becoming more common. Some of these people oppose the protections of freedom of speech we have given them, at least when extended to those of opposing views. However, they are the price paid for real free speech.