In Twitter is a Business, Not the Government, Tod Kelly defends Twitter for suspending misogynist and general shit-disturber Robert Stacey McCain. According to Kelly, Twitter's decision is justified by the fact that Twitter is a business, McCain is toxic for their business, and while freedom of speech is an important right, just depriving someone of some specific platform does not seriously impair their freedom. It's not a bad argument, and I've used it myself: this blog and its comments, I've argued, are not a common carrier, and I get to decide arbitrarily what I do and do not publish. But I'm beginning to think this argument is very weak. It's probably sufficient for this tiny little blog, with its ones of daily readers, but Twitter is kind of a big deal, and what does or does not get published on Twitter has a real impact on the political landscape.
The general case is thus: to what extent do rights extend to private businesses? The position "not at all" seems to have already been dismissed, at least in the legal system. Private businesses may not, for example, arbitrarily discriminate on race and sex in both hiring and service. Rights of non-discrimination apply very deeply within civil society, and the government enforces those rights. Even more so with property: property rights do not only limit the government, they limit everyone. If you subscribe to natural rights (which I, of course, do not), a universal natural right should restrict not only the government, but everyone; otherwise the right is not universal.
Thus too with freedom of speech. If freedom of speech were a universal natural right, then the right should apply to civil and private society as well as government. Contrawise, that freedom of speech applies only to government means that the right is not universal, and we must socially construct its application. Furthermore, it's dodgy enough to argue for a universal natural right; arguing on the basis of nature for a limit of rights is that much more complicated: you have to argue not only for the right, but the foundations in nature for its limitations... which always (surprise, surprise) pretty much line up with the proponent's contingent interests.
Now, I definitely support (with presently limited information) Twitter's decision to suspend McCain. Not because I think that businesses are exempt from the principles of freedom of speech (as a communist, I will rarely endorse a propertarian justification for anything), but because I think we should actively and coercively prevent McCain and people like him from having such a large platform as Twitter: I believe McCain's actual freedom of speech should be limited. I don't think we should implement limitations on freedom of speech lightly (to say that some right is not absolute or universal is not to say that it is nonexistent), but I do think that after due consideration that some limitations are indeed justifiable.