On Censorship and Private Property: A Defense of the Company
Censorship and ‘cancelation’ seems to be becoming the topic of the century in the realm of social media. From the twitter suspension of Donald J. Trump to the rejection of J.K. Rowling by a large portion of her fanbase, denizens of Twitter and other social outlets seem to be ruthless in their quest to turn against anyone with opposing views. The supporters of these ‘cancelled’ figures invoke the protection of the first amendment of the United States constitution, mistakenly believing the so-called ‘rights’ granted by one nations government, strictly regarding that governments contract with its people, extends to the companies that make up the infrastructure of modern communication.
A similar line of argumentation is occurring simultaneously in places offline, mostly in retail environments, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Retail environments requiring masks and other restrictions to shop in-person are being attacked by their customers for implementing simple safety procedures. Those resistant to the policy often share the sentiment that they have a ‘right’ to shop in these privately owned businesses unburdened by protective equipment, much the same as users believe in an illusory ‘right’ to unrestricted use of social media.
The control of our most powerful tools of communication, as well as ownership of the most accessible and desired places for people to occupy physically, resides in the hands of private businesses. This may be a cause for a certain type of concern, namely that the public may have too little of its own ownership of modern forums and property, but I digress. The warranted rights of private entities must be considered.
A Company’s Right to Control
A user’s rights within the confines of a social media platform aren’t granted by any governing body outside of said platform. The platforms rights to control users content are inherent. They are the gods of their own worlds, and they dictate how those worlds are governed because it is their world. No one has a ‘right to Tweet’. It is a company. They choose the terms of service, and they have to protect themselves as a business from the consequences of their users’ actions. Platforms, such as Twitter, that have been harnessed as a tool for political discourse, have to view what the implications of its use in this way has on their outlook as a business above all else. If they become known as a place where certain specific groups organize dissent, that has unforeseeable consequences on them as a business, so it is in their best interest to remove this type of content. Inaction is consent in the eyes of most, so not removing high-profile posts regarding inflammatory, violent, or hateful content would be more harmful than the backlash from the anti-censorship crowd.
So what happens when the use of these services impacts other facets of a person’s life, outside of being censored or banned internally? The most recent high-profile incident involves Gina Carano, an actor fired from her role in the popular Disney show The Mandalorian. After being perceived to be taking a jab at the trans community (setting her Twitter profile to read beep/bop/boop, mocking the trend of declaring preferred pronouns), the actor painted a target on her back. From there, she retweeted a picture from the Holocaust, comparing criticism of opposing political ideology to Jews being beaten and killed by their own neighbors. Subsequently her employer, Disney, terminated her contract. Many people agree with Disney’s choice, but advocates of ‘freedom’ decry this action as unjust, arguing that a company should not be able to take action against their employees for things they say publicly.
The fault in this is that high-profile people, such as actors, represent their company on and off screen. It is the nature of the job. The same goes for politicians, authors, musicians, and anyone whose name or face is their brand. Their words and actions cannot be separated from their work because the impact of their image on the value of their labor is directly relative to public opinion of them. A company cannot ignore dissatisfaction from its consumers due to the actions of its employees on a massive scale such as an actor infuriating a portion of their fandom. Couple that with past rumors of Walt Disney being anti-Semitic, even as a myth, and Disney was obligated to take action.
Likewise, when a private business requests that you behave or dress in a certain way to enter their establishment, this is not a violation of a persons rights. The existence of the business is predicated on the fact that they have chosen to operate, and that choice doesn’t make them obliged to serve members of the public unwillingly. While this unfortunately implies that certain cases, such as the famous incident of the bakery refusing to make a cake for a gay marriage, may also be within their rights to discriminate, that is the reality. A person should not be forced to serve another, and a business is a collection of persons operating on their own private property of their own volition.
These freedoms of private businesses do not come without their own consequences, just as individuals are not free of the consequences of being outspoken. If the majority of peoples refuse to shop in a place requiring a mask, those places will not be able to stay in business. If a business doesn’t implement mask policies during a pandemic, they risk their staff quitting or their more concerned customers not shopping, thus putting their business at risk. If a boycott of Disney arises because they allowed a key actor to continue working after enraging half of Twitter, the shareholders lose money. They may also lose money from those who disagree with their censorship, but that risk has surely been outweighed by choosing what appears to be a more acceptable choice for a children’s entertainment company.
Companies have to be aware of consequence at all times and act in their own best interest, and their best interest often aligns with moral superiority, even if it is only perceived superiority. Taking the path that protects (or even supposedly protects) their consumers from perceived threats, such as Covid-19 or so-called ‘conservative’ viewpoints that are considered by some to embody exclusion and hate, is the obvious choice for a business to make, and their right to make those choices.
Business as a function exists to turn labor and material into profit. Business as an entity is not just a machine, it is a collection of peoples. When the social interactions of those people cause a disruption in the function of their business, they have to take action to correct it. It has nothing to do with an attack on personal freedoms for the sake of silencing dissent and everything to do with continuing to operate profitably.