By: Christian J. Ledford
On Monday October 23rd, conservative educational and advocacy organization Prager University (which goes by the moniker “PragerU”) filed a lawsuit against YouTube parent company Google, alleging that YouTube was effectively censoring their content by marking numbers of their videos hosted on the site (allegedly over thirty) as “inappropriate for advertisers”, which, according to PragerU, limited both their outreach ability, through the limit on their advertising, and revenue.
On Wednesday November 16th, Twitter, responding to consistent allegations of failing to combat abuse and harassment on their platform, took steps against the so-called “Alt-Right” by un-verifying (removing the blue checkmark Twitter places next to official profiles of well-known figures) several prominent members of the movement such as provocateur Laura Loomer (the notorious “activist” who disrupted the Shakespeare in the Park performance of Julius Caesar earlier this year), Jason Kessler (organizer of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville this summer that infamously deteriorated into violence), and infamous white nationalist Richard Spencer as well as permanently banning Tim Gionet, the Alt-Right provocateur known as “Baked Alaska”.
Of course, the Alt-Right predictably flew into a frenzy, making the aforementioned frivolous PragerU lawsuit seem reasoned by comparison. Loomer unironically compared her de-verification to the Holocaust (I’m not kidding) and Andrew Meyer (affiliate of “journalist” Mike Cernovich) asserted that the government needed to step in and regulate Twitter as a “public utility”. Of course, these reactions are beyond ridiculous not only because these figures weren’t exactly denied a platform for benign politics, but because, specifically in PragerU’s case, these stances are hypocritical and violate the conservative principles that these people claim to hold in the first place.
A fundamental argument of conservatism, or at least the conservative libertarianism maintaining the principles of the Lockean liberalism of the American Founding Fathers, is that the natural rights of the individual must be protected in order for society to successfully function, with these natural rights being preeminently manifested in the forms of, as John Locke famously wrote, “life, liberty, and property”. Specifically pertaining to this discussion is obviously the right of property, which doesn’t mean an entitlement to property itself but rather a natural right to accumulate property and maintain ownership of said property. The economic system of capitalism, which naturally goes hand in hand with classically liberal conservatism, is based completely on these property rights and the protection of them, dealing with consensual exchanges of labor, capital, and property in an effort to meet the needs necessary for survival through economic cooperation.
Of course, as we progress forward through history our understanding of these rights evolves and as advances, technological or otherwise, are made, the umbrella covering rights is expanded to ensure maintained liberty. For example, our understanding of speech as a right over the centuries has expanded past a simple understanding as simply the words you speak to also include things like writing, dress, economic or political affiliation, and physical actions or demonstrations (including the hotly-contested right of flag-burning). As our understanding of speech as a right expanded, so too our understanding of property as a right; property rights are no longer limited to mere physical property but now also include the intangible such as intellectual property and digital property, including, say, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Furthermore, in the same fashion that individuals have the right to free speech yet are not guaranteed the right to someone’s private physical property as a platform due to inalienable property rights, one should extrapolate that, as digital property is still property, one also isn’t entitled to a platform on digital property due to property rights.
The flipside, of course, to a stance respectful of natural property rights would be a stance that does not respect property rights, which I would, for simplicity’s sake, call Marxism. For those who haven’t been paying attention for the last century and a half, Marxists (socialists, communists, etc.) have served, to a greater or a lesser degree, as the antithesis of classically liberal conservatism and hold that private property does not exist as an inalienable right and instead property should be redistributed democratically (or perhaps not so democratically depending on which Marxists you ask) without regard to ownership in order to achieve societal goals such as social equality, economic equality, and collectivization of the means of industrial production. As one would expect, property rights aren’t the only rights casually disregarded by Marxists in political systems that implement Marxist ideals, as the other two natural rights of the Lockean trifecta don’t fare so well either.
This all begs the question: why then, when presented with lawful displays of property rights unfavorable to them, do conservatives like PragerU transform into Marxists who attempt to use the government as a hammer to smash property rights? Why does the Alt-Right, who isn’t and doesn’t claim to be conservative yet still does claim to believe in property rights, join ranks with Leftists it claims to oppose? Considering they’ve published videos literally entitled “Do Not Steal” and “Socialism Makes People Selfish”, PragerU’s hypocrisy is even more ridiculous. Are violations of property rights only bad if they happen in Venezuela, PragerU? PragerU offers up a weak excuse in its press release announcing the suit, saying “This is not a left/right issue… It is a free speech issue” as an attempt to paint their digital jihad as one of principle, yet this hollow defense ignores the fact that their “free speech” crusade crudely oversteps crucial property rights, and the same can be said for the pathetic Alt-Right.
The fact of the matter remains that rights exist whether or not they’re convenient or favorable to those contesting them; property rights exist regardless of the size of the property holdings of those exercising them. From this, we can assert YouTube, Twitter, or any website have the right to moderate their platforms as they please on the basis of inalienable property rights, rights that, whether PragerU wants to admit it or not, are essential for economic, political, and social survival of states.