There is a movement afoot to coerce social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to censure content that they consider hate speech. This is very disturbing.
Freedom of speech is essentially the real benchmark that measures how free a society is. This freedom is a more important principle of a free and democratic society than most people realize, and prohibiting speech is a pillar of political repression. This is actually the engine that drives this repression, by seeking to keep opposing views more in check by prohibiting their expression.
We usually think of China as the foremost example of limitations on free speech, with the United States being viewed as the champion of free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has certainly been a real champion of it, and all laws are still subject to their overview, where they jealously guard the principles of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It is appropriate that freedom of speech is dealt with in the First Amendment, as opposed to later amendments, as this freedom is so central to the exercise of freedom generally. It’s not that this freedom is viewed by the Court as absolute, as if it can be shown that the speech presents a clear and present danger, they will allow its restriction, but otherwise, we are free to express ourselves in any manner we please.
The classic example of a clear and present danger is someone yelling “fire” in a movie theater without cause, causing a panic where people get trampled. The standard here is very high, where it must be shown that the harm here must be caused directly by the speech, as is the case with the movie theater example. This is not conditioned by how much people may disagree with the speech, or even how hateful it may appear to them, as the freedom to express hate is a constitutionally protected right alongside other forms of speech.
There are principled reasons behind this, and the principles that are involved here go to the basic fabric of freedom. Not being allowed to express yourself is a serious violation of personal freedom, and we cannot just be selective and protect speech we agree with and repress that which we find disagreeable. This is not any different than throwing those in prison which we don’t like, and repressing speech is indeed a form of imprisonment even though it may be ideological rather than physical.
The First Amendment is also not subject in any way to political influences, and even though politicians seek to populate the Court with justices that share their political views, and these views do tend to color their opinions, abridging freedom of speech has never been on the agenda, as the Supreme Court has preserved this right in the strongest form defensible throughout its history.
No matter how much people disagree with the First Amendment or its application, even if every single voter in the country voted against it, it remains completely insulated from the influence of public opinion, and any legislative action that impinges upon gets struck down as unconstitutional.
This includes expressions of hatred toward anything, including hatred of other races. No matter how much we may ourselves hate expressions of such hatred, our opinions cannot supersede opposing views, serving as justification for others to be silenced, no matter how right we may be and no matter how wrong the dissenting opinions are.
Justice Samuel Alto put this principle very well in the majority opinion in Matal v. Tam in 2017, where legislation sought to prohibit the use of trademarks that are seen as racially disparaging was under review, which the Court struck down.
It is only when we permit discourse on any subject that we are free to debate issues, which is not only central to any valid concept of a free society, it is its foundation. Without the freedom to speak our mind, provided that it does not cause imminent harm to others, we cannot be free in any true sense, while wearing the chains of repression.
Even under the most robust of protection that we could ever imagine, free speech is deteriorating in practice in the United States at an alarming rate lately, even to the point where we are becoming more and more like China every day. We’re nowhere near that level of repression yet, but as we cave in to public opinion more and more, opinions that are based upon heinous demands for repression, opinions that are being heard and acted upon more and more, this is already making us more like China than we ever should want, where the mob does the repressing instead of the Communist Party.
It is important to note that the scope of the Constitution is limited to government action only, and does not apply to the public at large, including private enterprise. This could lead us to believe that we’re allowed to create as repressive of a society as we wish on our own, especially if we feel that the First Amendment is a thorn in our side and object to it, being instead given over to a more authoritarian regime, such as China and other countries that strictly limit freedom of speech.
This is the real danger that we face today, where the volume here has now been turned up to excruciating levels in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. While we have been moving toward this with all the focus on political correctness these days, our moving from social disapprobation to outright demands for censorship that we are seeing now is a very dangerous idea.
It’s not even the calls for censorship that are so disturbing, although that in itself would be worrisome enough, it is the fact that the threshold has completely disappeared that is so troubling. Up until this time, if we were to try to imagine the most ridiculous use of censorship possible, we probably could not have come up with something such as the President calling for law and order during a period of rioting as meriting this.
Even the Chinese Don’t Censor their Leaders’ Calls for Law and Order
Apparently, you’re only allowed to hate the same things as they do, President Trump for instance, but you’re not allowed to hate things that they support, such as rioting. It used to be that what was considered hate speech was more defined, actually displaying hatred or even dislike of a racial group, or having disparaging opinions, even though these are constitutionally protected expressions of speech, but the constitution also protects their right to disagree and they are certainly entitled to that.
However, the scope of their accusations has not only included calls to maintain law and order, but even ideas such as all lives matter, which we’re now told are considered by some to be a “racial slur.” Never mind how illogical this may be, as even logic has been short-circuited by their anger.
There is nothing at all wrong with even the most hideous logic though as far as your right to express it goes, and in the course of life, we’re going to disagree on a great many things. When these things escalate to the point where we insist on censoring even the President for defending the rule of law, and then see this censorship put into practice, we need to be far more alarmed by this as a society than we presently are.
There are elements of society that appear strongly in favor of anarchy, and wish that anarchists be given free reign, where they may take over portions of cities or loot as much as they please and wish to do their best to foster this, including seeking to censor those who wish to instead see the law and order that is so central to our society actually do its job.
There are always radical elements in our society, although defending anarchy in such a way certainly places this at the far end, and these folks exist on the periphery of society and are barely noticeable if at all. When this becomes the mainstream though, as it now has, we have much to fear.
Facebook is now being punished for daring to allow the views of Donald Trump to be freely expressed on their site, being met by demands that they engage in strictly censoring any views they oppose, including the calls for an end to the violence that Trump so famously promoted. The fact that Trump is being singled out for this is a sad testimony to how weak the law enforcement response has been to this mess, but if this is not only within the threshold of their planned censorship but is the featured gripe removes any limitation to this beyond their arbitrary judgement of what and what cannot be said.
Facebook and other social media platforms are just mediums of communication, much like the phone lines are mediums. They have become vital to our society these days, as the internet has opened up communication between people and they rely on these social platforms so much in their daily lives to stay informed and share their ideas with others.
As we pointed out in a previous article, means of communication are actually a public good even though this operates under the guise of free enterprise. Selling ad space on these platforms is the private enterprise part, where the means of communication, the internet itself, is the public good, similar to the airwaves being regulated in the public interest that we already have done for a very long time.
While the Bill of Rights does not restrict the private sphere, once it becomes decided that the government has a substantial interest in something, like the airwaves, and once they step in and seek to referee in the public interest, their actions become subject to the First Amendment and other constitutionally protected freedoms. If the government is to regulate, it must do so in accordance with the constitution in other words, where free speech needs to be as fiercely guarded as it is with all of the government’s other activities.
This sort of regulation is a pipe dream at present, but as we come to realize more and more the extent of the power that these social media platforms potentially have, and as this power becomes exercised, especially when these companies become blackmailed to conform with the wishes of radicals as Facebook is now, we will need to seriously re-think the amount of power that these companies are allowed to have, where public communication and even our very thoughts become subject to the whims of monopolies.
Advertisers have started to gang up on Facebook now over this, demanding a much more Chinese approach to censorship, where the opinions of the President and who knows what else gets suppressed, or else.
The Silent Majority Can Not Remain Silent and Just Watch Our Freedoms Unravel
Verizon has now thrown down with these thugs, promising to not advertise on Facebook until the big changes demanded by extreme radicals get implemented. If people had any idea how dangerous this sort of thing is, they would boycott Verizon if they could, but in many cases, they may not have any real choice, as Verizon themselves enjoy a monopoly of sorts and are tightly regulated as a result.
This should place Verizon in a particularly vulnerable position as far as what they should and should not be permitted to do, as the lack of competition in parts of their business excludes customers from voicing their displeasure at the cash register, which normally limits the action of a company.
The major problem here though is the extent of the tolerance that people have toward these suppressive attempts, where a very small minority of people do all the talking, and everyone just stands by idly and watches this unfold just like so many did during the riots. When the rioters and those friendly towards them take over, the rest of us are in big trouble.
We’re not sure what it would take to wake up the masses toward this drive for censorship, give that this has failed to do so, but the fact that radial elements of our society have already consolidated so much power and this is only being met with silence thus far tells us that this will only get worse before it gets better, if it even gets better. The very fabric of our society is on the line, and when even our President cannot speak his mind reasonably, where only the most radical could find it unreasonable, we allow ourselves to have a blanket of vile repression thrown upon us, the antithesis of the free society we profess that we are.
We can only hope that Facebook can continue to resist this blackmail, and that their customers and people in general will come to understand the risks of this coup that is underway to steal our thoughts and silence us in the name of a radical political agenda, but we are not encouraged at all from what we have seen thus far. This is far too important of an issue, where our most fundamental freedom is looted and burned in protest. to just stand around and watch.
If we’re holding Facebook stock though, or are considering adding it to our portfolio now, we do need to be aware of the potential negative effects of this boycott on the stock price, Facebook took a good sized hit on this news, and even though this was a down day for the market, Facebook lost almost 10% when we calculate in the extra 1.3% it dropped in the short after-hours trading session.
Verizon isn’t a big ad revenue generator for Facebook but they are its 78th biggest advertiser, big enough to have a material influence on their bottom line. The biggest fear is that other advertisers will pile on here, and if censoring the President for making comments that should have been viewed as pretty benign unless you actually support the rioters, we rightly may wonder how big of a net that paying this ransom would require, but we’re talking a huge one at the very least, and one that even Facebook, who has no qualms censoring certain material at least, may not want to cave in to.
The logical next step would be for those who believe in freedom and wish to speak up for it more to organize a boycott of Verizon, Ben and Jerry’s, the North Face, Patagonia, Magnolia Pictures, and whoever else ends up joining this gang, and oddly enough, there are a lot more people in the country that support Trump than support rioters. Money may be talking here, and that’s the only language that these companies understand, not wanting to offend a small percentage of their client base and be willing to sacrifice their marketing to some degree to appease them.
It would truly be a shame and set a terrible precedent if anarchists are allowed to hold the puppet strings of a company as prominent as Verizon and make them dance in support of such a frivolous claim. If the so-called Anti-Defamation League, who is organizing this boycott, is really serious about reducing defamation, they would do well to choose their battles a lot more carefully, expanding their opposition from the small percentage of actual haters to the President and all his supporters as well as anyone who believes in the First Amendment.
This is what can happen when people become so blinded by their anger that they lose their ability to think clearly, and this boycott is very poorly thought out indeed. Surely, they do not think that those who are prone to actual hate speech, and not the bogus kind that this boycott is attacking, are going to turn warm and fuzzy just from not being able to post their views on Facebook.
The only way out here is to promote more discussion, not less of it. We might prefer to more easily be able to pretend that there is no hate in the world by censoring it, but repressive tactics do not solve this, it just pushes it out of sight, but you can bet that it still goes on and actually gets incited even more when we try to shut them up.
This boycott serves no purpose other than making the problems worse, for Facebook, for Verizon and the others, for the anti-racism movement, and for every American who is seeing the cherished freedoms that the country was founded on become degraded. We can only hope that people haven’t had their minds dulled so much these days by the media that they still have the presence of mind and the courage to speak out against attacks like this.
Freedom of speech may not be enforceable in the private sector, but it is too important not to allow people and especially extremists and anarchists to allow it to be eroded as much as these people hope. If we let them win, we’ll move much closer to China, and will not be able to hold our heads anywhere near as high as the good old days when we could say whatever we want without fear of censorship or retribution. We’ve moved too far in this direction already and we cannot afford to let things slip away this much more.