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Won’t Get Fooled Again: Senator Graham’s “Free Speech” Blunder

In 2010 at the height of the Obama administration, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) got her way. She was able to attach her Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) brainchild to the already disastrous Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Unfortunately, Warren may get another swing at big-government bureaucracy building. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants to help her regulate online speech, introducing a bill last week with Warren to create a new, federal social media agency. But creating the federal speech police is a terrible idea. 

Inflamed at American tech companies, Graham announced at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year that he’s working with Warren to create a new government agency with powers over social media companies. He specifically lamented the “problem” that anyone can launch and operate a social media company without receiving a license from the feds—including conservative businesses.

Beyond the absurdity of a sitting, conservative Senator calling for new licensing requirements for online speech—aka, more aggressive regulations—is his poor choice of partner in this unconstitutional blunder. Graham is ignoring important lessons learned from the past decade of nonsense perpetrated by Warren’s efforts to expand the administrative state. 

Advocates for the CFPB claimed it was created to protect consumers. Instead, it has stood as a bulwark of unaccountable progressivism lodged permanently within the Executive Branch. The CFPB has repeatedly attempted to act outside of its Congressional mandate, failed to serve the needs of consumers and delivered generally subpar work.

The most famous CFPB drama unfolded during the Trump administration. President Donald Trump, at the beginning of his term, attempted to fire the Obama-era CFPB administrator and replace her with his own pick, Mick Mulvaney. Under normal circumstances, and with a normal agency, this would be an unremarkable event. It is still well understood for the most part that the incoming president has a right to name appointees who share their vision. That was not the case with the CFPB. Because Warren structured the CFPB to resist oversight and constitutional checks and balances, there were, for a time, two heads of the agency. They both arrived at work everyday and both considered themselves to be the legitimate leaders of the agency. It would be months until such an embarrassing spectacle was put to rest with the Supreme Court’s intervention. 

This is one of the many reasons why Graham’s willingness to work with Warren to create a new agency with significant power over the digital economy is so shocking. Warren has a track record of failure and is no friend to free, vibrant speech. You don’t need to take my word for it; she’ll tell you herself.

To give her a swing at online expression now is startlingly short sighted. Empowering the federal government through an additional, unaccountable agency to decide which avenues of expression to license is akin to a direct assault on the First Amendment. It would almost certainly result in less speech online when regulators can just threaten to withhold or revoke any license when they see content they don’t like.

That is to say nothing of the clear backtrack from Graham on licensing reform. It is one of the greatest, recent bipartisan policy successes led by conservatives and libertarians. Not only has this focus been a boon to personal freedom, knocking down artificial employment barriers and helping people provide for their families, it is also a fantastic answer to concerns over market concentration. 

If conservatives take issue with the perceived dominance of larger tech platforms, the best answer is to make it as easy as possible for small businesses to enter the market and take on incumbents. As it stands, Graham’s gambit would entrench the largest platforms while simultaneously expanding the power of the federal government. 

If Graham continues to assist Warren in intertwining government with tech companies, what will happen to those future innovators trying to compete? 

Conservative frustration over current content moderation practices has created a market for change and unleashed a floodgate of competitors: Rumble, TruthSocial, Gettr, BeReal, and most recently, Threads. Whether the platforms have an ideological bent or not, they were able to enter the marketplace unencumbered. 

But that all will change if Graham and Warren get their way. Do Graham and his supporters really think that the presidentially-appointed head of a social media licensing board during a Democratic administration will help conservative platforms? Likely not. 

Sen. Graham’s position is even more disappointing given how it is so opposite to current Republican leadership on this issue. Sen. Rand Paul, Chairman Jim Jordan, and Chairman James Comer have all introduced bills that would excise the feds from online speech.

Conservatives may have their gripes with social media companies, but it’s unlikely Republicans would find the average, limited-government-minded person who wants an executive agency calling the shots instead. The only groups that seem to be calling for formal government censorship of this kind are on the far-left. 

Warren got her way last time with the CFPB, but Graham shouldn’t help her get it now, especially on an issue as important as free speech.