I opened my Firefox browser a few days ago and got a message warning me that “Without Net Neutrality, big companies could censor people and perspectives online.”
Does anyone have an idea why this might give us pause—why warnings about a corporation dictating what people can say might come off a bit wrong, especially when it comes from Firefox and its parent company Mozilla?
If not, let me refresh your memory: Mozilla is the company that, all the way back in the misty past of 2014, fired its co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich when it was revealed that he had made a small donation to a campaign to put gay marriage on the ballot in California. So he was hounded out of his job because “love wins,” or something. But by all means, Mozilla is now very concerned that corporations might try to dictate what people can think.
Mozilla firing Brendan Eich was not “censorship.” Only government can impose censorship, because only government can use force to impose systematic controls on speech. Freedom of speech means that you have a right to say whatever you want, but you also have to face social repercussions from other people, who have a right to decide they no longer want to be friends with or do #business with you—even if they do so unjustly. So Mozilla’s decision to fire Eich may have been stupid and intolerant, and it might reveal the gap between the conformist code of Silicon Valley and the values of the rest of the nation, but it isn’t “censorship.”
It’s also not censorship when Twitter cancels the accounts of trolls or when Facebook attempts to keep “fake news” out of your feed. You may notice that the very same people who complain that “big companies could censor people” think all of this is perfectly okay, because their favored restrictions are “reasonable” and only target “bigots.” We might find such claims doubtful, but most of us would merely draw the line at a different point, making different decisions about who we want to talk to and do business with. Even the most thick-skinned are occasionally driven to use the “block” function on #Twitter.
Yet Mozilla (and many others) are building their case for net neutrality around the fear that other, bad corporations are going to impose “censorship” that is so much worse then benevolent speech patrols of the corporations they like. On Mozilla’s landing page, that’s the obsession of just about every anonymous quote from a “Concerned Internet Citizen.” Like so: