Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard is often described as something of a rising figure but also a maverick within the Democratic Party.
For example, Gabbard did not shy away from meeting with then newly elected US President Donald Trump in November 2016, to discuss her Syria policy with him – even though the rest of her party was at the time stunned by the election defeat.
Now Gabbard is breaking rank with the Democrats on the issue of free speech and censorship on Facebook. Unlike all other Democratic presidential contenders – who dismiss allegations of political bias on the platform, Gabbard is raising a voice against the trend.
She was a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast recently when she remarked that Facebook has been banning some users – which the report said were on the political fringe – and doing that “because of their speech.”
“They (Facebook) disagree with the speech they’re using or the ideas they’re pushing forward. Unchecked, First Amendment rights going out the window,” she observed.
Gabbard then addressed one common defense of the giant social media’s decisions to ban users and content – namely, that they are private companies to whom the obligation to protect the First Amendment doesn’t legally apply. She said that this exposes an attempt to “get the best of both worlds”: at once market themselves to users as free and open communication platforms, and expel those whose ideas and expressions they dislike.
This behavior means these companies are dodging the responsibility they would otherwise have for content if they accepted the role of publishers, declaring themselves to be “neutral” instead. But Gabbard is not the only one – even if she seems to be a lonely voice from her own party – who thinks this position should not be tenable.
In a tweet in March she spoke out against stifling the right to free speech simply because a company disagreed with it.
“We must encourage unfettered discussion of public issues and stand united to stop Facebook and others from attempting to censor/stifle/influence public debate,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have been warning about what they perceive as anti-conservative slant in the most influential social media platforms for a long time.
But the Democrats, whose grudge against Facebook has to do with the company allegedly publishing “fake news” and disinformation powerful enough to swaying American voters – dismiss their political opponents’ concerns as unfounded.