Yet another reason for thinking corporate personhood is a really, really bad idea

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Greg Sargent allows for corporate “free speech” in equating the cases of corporations objecting to Georgia’s new law that may rein in voting rights and alleged social media censorship of conservative views. In doing so, he illustrates the very problem that gets us here.[13] (In the following Twitter thread, Sargent includes screenshots taken of several online articles. Variations in font and font size result accordingly.)

1) “When MLB pulls its all-star game to protest Georgia’s voting law, that’s corporate free speech.”

This is a good @DavidAFrench piece about the dark illiberal turn in attacks on MLB, Big Tech and woke corporations.…

A few additional points.



2) As @DavidAFrench notes, each of these are being attacked for different things. MLB and companies like Delta are faulted for criticizing the Georgia voting law, Big Tech for supposed suppression of conservative viewpoints.…


3) But in all these cases, @DavidAFrench argues, these are forms of speech. That’s what MLB is doing by pulling the game, and what private platforms moderating content are doing.

And conservative voices *aren’t actually* being suppressed:


4) There are additional layers of illiberalism here that I’d like to flag.

Republicans are proposing to use legislative power expressly as *retaliation* against these opinions.

A Georgia Republican openly declared this in targeting Delta’s tax break:…


5) Just as Georgia Republicans targeted Delta, Josh Hawley, the king of bad faith posturing, will offer a new proposal busting up “giant woke corporations,” after blasting MLB for opposing “election integrity,” a.k.a. voter suppression:…


6) Hawley was the front man trying to subvert Biden’s electors, sustaining the 2020 lies that inspired Jan 6.

Criticism of Hawley for this is tossed into the Right Wing Media Victimization Machine, magically converting it into an effort to “cancel” him:…


7) The hyped sense of victimization is absolutely central. In the right wing imagination, the big story weaving together all these threads is that our corporate overlords are part of an elite cabal scheming to subjugate virtuous conservatives everywhere:…


8) In fact, movements are pushing corporations *from below,* amid Trump-stoked anti-democratic tactics + years of relentless stoking of racial conflict.

These movements are driven by an ideal of *empowerment.* It’s ugly to cast this as elite suppression of conservative agency:


9) Bottom line: In addition to this increasing reliance on illiberal tactics that @DavidAFrench discusses, Republicans are manufacturing all kinds of wildly hallucinatory narratives to justify them.

In so doing, they are dragging their voters to an ever darker place.


First, Sargent reifies a notion of corporate personhood, a dubious concept that, among other things, enables corporations to be sued rather than the people who run them and also casts massive political campaign contributions as “free speech.”[15] It is yet another way of insulating the rich from their crimes, further enabling the double-standard of justice that Jeffrey Reiman critiques.[16] The answer I seek to the question of how to enable a true public square[17] certainly does not lie here.

Second, Sargent thinks corporate “free speech” has served to amplify diverse voices, but when he pivots to criticizing a conservative sense of victimization,[18] he is in fact highlighting a problem that has been exacerbated through conservative talk radio, Fox News, other authoritarian populist and social conservative media outlets, and social media platforms that corporate “free speech” enables, notably through repeal of the Fairness Doctrine,[19] and that culminates in the coup attempt of January 6, 2021,[20] that Sargent alludes to.[21] That other corporations respond to less conservative pressure really only makes of them a mirror, not any sort of progressive or even “liberal” (as in whatever conservatives are against) leader.

Finally, corporations uniformly speak in their own best interest, putatively that of their shareholders—principally the rich. This “free speech” has unquestionably distorted public discourse and reinforced what has, from the beginning, been a constitutional oligarchy.[22] Even when they speak in response to what Sargent highlights as pressure “from below,”[23] they do so to protect their brand rather than from any notion of citizenship. The best that can be said for corporate “free speech” is that it is an inadequate solution that has arguably amplified evil much more than it has good.

Corporate personhood has always been a bad idea. But I had not previously connected it to the problem of corporations co-opting the public square through the Internet.[24]

Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,

  1. [13]Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,
  2. [14]Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,
  3. [15]Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, “The History of Corporate Personhood,” Brennan Center for Justice, April 8, 2014,
  4. [16]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  5. [17]David Benfell, “The public square of the Internet,” Not Housebroken, April 5, 2020,
  6. [18]Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,; see also Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  7. [19]David Croteau and William Hoynes, Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2003).
  8. [20]David Benfell, “Riot or insurrection? Lies or madness?” Not Housebroken, January 22, 2021,
  9. [21]Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,
  10. [22]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, March 23, 2021,
  11. [23]Greg Sargent, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, April 11, 2021,
  12. [24]David Benfell, “The public square of the Internet,” Not Housebroken, April 5, 2020,

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