The White House can perhaps be commended for its noble defense of "freedom of expression and freedom of the press" as its excuse for not signing onto a worldwide pledge to help stop internet media platforms from being launching pads for hate speech, extremist groups and other nefarious activities. The trouble is, just about everyone sees the irony - and the hypocrisy - in this reasoning.
President Trump has continued to call the media "the enemy of the people" every time they lambaste him. He must have missed the day in junior high civics class when the kids were taught the role of the press, as conceived by the Framers, is to hold to the fire the feet of politicians like him. That guardianship role includes reproval, though it also should include notes of approval when earned - as indeed, Trump has received here and elsewhere. The concept of "fair comment and criticism" is enshrined in the Constitution - which Trump doesn't seem to have studied in great depth.
The administration advocates for free expression, speech and press only when it suits those among its ranks - and only when those expressions don't carry negative connotations about the administration. Otherwise, suppression would be the order of the day, if allowed by the courts. In fact, attempts at that suppression are going on even as you read these words.
Be that as it may, the underlying issue for the "Christchurch Call" Pledge - so named after the New Zealand city in which 51 people were slaughtered in a mosque in March - is who, exactly, is responsible for enforcing efforts to stop the hate. And that is the rack on which the administration should have hung its hat, although it chose instead to push the petulant bully pulpit.
At a joint news conference in Paris May 15 with French President Emmanuel Macron and executives from Twitter, Google, Facebook and other tech companies, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern explained the plan: "Fundamentally it ultimately commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes." The group also stressed their commitment to "the principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms."
It might seem paradoxical that U.S. tech companies - including Amazon, Microsoft and YouTube - would sign onto the plan, while the U.S. government would not. A Libertarian might have an explanation for that: While the companies themselves have every right - and some would say an obligation - to ban dangerous activities on their platforms, asking the government to involve itself could be tantamount to censorship. But the U.S. administration could have made that distinction if it cared to.
There's another notion at work here, though. The tech companies, here and elsewhere, are looking to protect their turf. There are demands across the globe for these tech giants to be broken up in the manner of "Ma Bell" so many years ago. The internet behemoths know that, although the Trump administration is unlikely to impose restrictions on their operations, he won't always be ensconced in the White House - and regulations could easily be forced upon them by other countries.
It's in the best interest of internet and social media companies to police themselves and to find a middle ground acceptable to constitutionalists - and they don't need the government to make them do it.