The American traditions of free expression and respectful discourse are slipping away, and college campuses and Twitter are prime examples, according to a member of the Federal Communications Commission.
"I think that poses a special danger to a country that cherishes First Amendment speech, freedom of expression, even freedom of association," FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told the Washington Examiner. "I think it's dangerous, frankly, that we don't see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate.
"Largely what we're seeing, especially on college campuses, is that if my view is in the majority and I don't agree with your view, then I have the right to shout you down, disrupt your events, or otherwise suppress your ability to get your voice heard," Pai added.
"Private actors like Twitter have the freedom to operate their platform as they see fit," Pai said, "[but] I would hope that everybody embraces the idea of the marketplace of ideas. The proverbial street corner of the 21st century, where people can gather to debate issues is increasingly social media, which serves as a platform for public discourse." Twitter announced last week it was establishing a "Trust and Safety" panel to police speech on the site.
Pai concluded that if voters and institutions fail to defend free speech within their own spheres, it could lead to more government regulations curtailing that freedom.
"The text of the First Amendment is enshrined in our Constitution, but there are certain cultural values that undergird the amendment that are critical for its protections to have actual meaning," Pai said. "If that culture starts to wither away, then so too will the freedom that it supports."
Pai, who was appointed to the FCC in 2012, has consistently opposed the agency's efforts to impose more restrictions on speech. The commission ruled last year that the First Amendment did not apply to Internet service providers, a precedent that Pai and others pointed out could lead to more regulations on political speech, particularly on websites like the Drudge Report, in the future.
"It is conceivable to me to see the government saying, 'We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse," Pai noted shortly after the ruling. "The FCC doesn't have the ability to regulate anything he says, and we want to start tamping down on websites like that."
"Is it unthinkable that some government agency would say the marketplace of ideas is too fraught with dissonance? That everything from the Drudge Report to Fox News … is playing unfairly in the online political speech sandbox? I don't think so," Pai added.