Ashley Moody’s Twitter Spin Cycle: Populism Trumps Conservatism

by | Jul 1, 2024

Despite her claims on Twitter, Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Moody vs. Netchoice did not deliver the populist outcome she was hoping for.

In a tweet earlier today, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody trumpeted her own intentionally misleading spin about a United States Supreme Court decision regarding the legality of Florida’s social media crackdown law. You may recall that Florida passed the hastily contrived law after the pandemic of 2020 when social media platforms were getting frighteningly aggressive about deplatforming conservatives who dared question the official narratives of those trying times. The law became a populist rallying cry where many Republicans conveniently ignored conservative principles in order to smooth the ruffled feathers of the squawking GOP base.

But Moody’s exultation this morning over a supposed “unanimous” ruling allegedly siding with Florida is not only disingenuous but underscores her fundamental misunderstanding of conservative principles.

First of all, Florida’s law remains blocked, so there’s nothing at all upon which Moody can even remotely claim victory. And even a layman’s reading of the court’s opinion reveals that none of the justices think the law is a good idea. More than that, while the ruling was unanimous in its effect to remand the case back to the lower court, the justices were anything but unanimous in reasoning, and all 9 of the nation’s high court members found much not to like in Florida’s law (and a Texas equivalent).

But let’s stay focused: the law in question is not conservative to begin with, as it infringes on the rights of private organizations to regulate their own speech—a bedrock of conservative ideology.

Conservatism, at its core, champions limited government intervention, particularly in the domain of private enterprise. Yet, Florida’s law seeks to dictate how social media companies should manage content on their platforms. This stance is a glaring contradiction for self-proclaimed conservatives like Moody and Governor Ron DeSantis, both of whom presumably agree with a 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling, the infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. That case, like todays’ Moody v. Netchoice ruling, both upheld the notion that corporations, as collections of individuals, possess the right to free speech. In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court affirmed that corporations could engage in political speech through financial contributions, reinforcing the principle that corporate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

In 2010, conservatives rejoiced, and Republicans reaped the benefit as political cash flowed like never before – something that both Moody, and especially DeSantis, have benefited greatly from. And for the record, I as a conservative Republican am glad for them and glad they won their respective elections. As one who dabbles in the campaign world myself, I have reaped the benefits of Citizen’s United.

To some, perhaps, political speech in the form of money is different from political speech on social media. But not to the courts. Even so, it is undeniable that social media presents a relatively new and complex legal landscape. With such a small number of platforms dominating the discourse, the concerns of Moody and DeSantis about the balance of political speech are valid. The frustrations of conservatives – myself among them – during the 2020 pandemic and ensuing chaos are still palpable today. I’m sure many of you reading this shared my delight when the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, for instance, sparked an utterly comical liberal meltdown, underscoring their perception of platform ownership as a form of speech control. This progressive reaction starkly contrasts with their outrage over the Citizens United ruling, and again in their vocal defense of social media companies’ rights during the pandemic, when those platforms banned broad swathes of content and, in some downright dystopian examples, “deplatformed” people, too.

But that hypocrisy isn’t exclusive to progressives. Indeed, liberals’ flip-flopping—from decrying corporate free speech in Citizens United to defending it during the COVID-19 pandemic—exposes their selective application of the law. Just as guilty, though, are conservatives like Moody and DeSantis of a similar inconsistency. Their populist push to regulate free speech on social media platforms mirrors the very tactics they criticize in their political adversaries.

Look, I get it. From a “certain point of view,” they aren’t “regulating free speech on social media” at all, they are “deregulating it.” But do you really think that’s a good idea? Honestly?  Should we force companies (which again are just groups of people) to allow whatever any third party wants to post? What about on your Facebook or Instagram feed? It doesn’t take much to imagine the absolute cesspool of pornograpy, graphic violence, and extreme political speech that would suddenly flood our computer screens whether we were looking for it or not.

That is why the correct conservative position has always been that companies, as aggregations of individuals, have the right to free speech – and that includes the right to decide what gets posted on the websites they own and control. Yes, of course it’s disappointing to see that some of these companies we entrusted with our content wielded their political biases so blatantly in 2020. Equally disappointing is the response from DeSantis and Moody, who chose to counteract those despicable actions with populist measures of their own that betray conservative values. This approach not only undermines their conservative credibility but also sets a dangerous precedent for governmental overreach in the private sector.

Ashley Moody’s recent tweet and her broader stance on Florida’s social media law reveal a fundamental flaw in the current conservative strategy. True conservatism does not pick and choose when to apply the principles of free speech and limited government. It is consistent and unwavering in its defense of these rights, even when they are wielded by those with opposing views. Moody and DeSantis owe it to themselves and their conservative supporters to realign their policies with these core conservative values, resisting the temptation to wield governmental power as a tool for ideological conformity. Only then can they genuinely claim to uphold the principles they profess to champion.

And as for Moody’s triumphant tweet today, it’s a masterclass in political spin, glossing over the Supreme Court’s nuanced decision in favor of a misleading victory lap. But I am 100 percent in favor of her right to post it.


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