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Some days I wake up and think … am I in another country? Maybe I’ve been transported to a different planet? No, I’m in the United States where law and rules matter — most of the time. Yet, according to many auctioneers, these laws and rules only apply in some bizarre self-designed fashions.

Our current environment is such that auctioneers have been forced to close or alter their businesses due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We’ve written about such numerous times including here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2020/03/19/so-youre-still-having-live-auctions-despite-a-pandemic/ and more recently here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2020/10/13/auctions-during-coronavirus/.

Our topic today regards a preposterous suggestion that because private online companies can control speech on their sites — as is lawful in the United States — that auctioneers should be able to open their business … yes, that’s this mystifying claim.

In other words, there is to be unbounded free speech or I can risk the health of myself and everyone around me? Maybe, rather, it’s okay to restrict my auction business activities due to the Coronavirus so long as online companies are regulated so that they can’t restrict any speech?

The problem with either of these suggestions is that is it’s legal to restrict speech in the private sector, but it’s not legal in some areas to open to mass gatherings due to the Coronavirus. The other issue with this baffling argument is one has nothing to do with the other.

One can’t catch the Coronavirus via an online platform no matter who’s speaking. And speaking of auctioneering involving free speech — speech can be regulated in the private sector, as only Congress (the government) can’t abridge free speech and expression, within limits.

If you’re an auctioneer who believes nobody can restrict your speech, we wonder if you can deny anyone from bidding at your auction given you would be restricting their speech? https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2021/01/10/is-bidding-at-auction-protected-free-speech/. Of course, nobody can deny your speech, but you can deny others?

Mixing laws and rules totally unrelated is a dangerous and crazy scheme. For instance, which here is more unhinged?

  • Since jaywalking is illegal, it should be okay for me to commit robbery?
  • Because I’m not allowed to drive over 70 miles per hour on a certain road, you must eat yogurt?
  • Given my grandmother smoked, all banks must provide no-fee checking?
  • As I’m the youngest child in my family, your car can’t have new tires?
  • Due to auctioneers being closed due to the pandemic, online platforms cannot restrict speech?

Like I said before, some mornings I wake up and wonder. But I don’t wonder that auctioneers are bound by law and good sense to protect their clients and bidders from heightened Coronavirus risks, and I don’t wonder that any private company can (and maybe should) indeed control what speech is or isn’t on their platform or expressed in their business.

It’s almost like blackmail in a way … in that auctioneers are “speaking” freely (until private entities say they can’t) about the “health” of their bidders and staff being irrelevant until they can “speak” freely (with no possible restrictions,) so they can worry about the “health” of their bidders and staff. These are perplexing times for sure.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.