There was a time not too long ago when virtually everyone American universally agreed that free speech was the bedrock right. No one had to agree with what people said, but we all believed they had the right to say it. As someone who served in the military for eight years, I have repeatedly said that I served so people would have this right.
As the country’s politics continues to push to the extremes, too many Americans no longer welcome such thinking. Instead, the Left, in particular, has embraced online and offline censorship. They argue that public safety is more important than free speech rights and point to isolated events as justification.
Case in point, former Twitter executives have argued that their targeted censorship of conservatives was due to January 6 and other select topics. Proponents of Twitter’s actions said the company had every right to violate free speech and expression rights as a private entity. Still, others contend that the public company gave up that right when it decided to act as a part of the public square and remove content that the public generated. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court may determine the matter once and for all.
In the meantime, on Wednesday, January 8, the House Oversight Committee brought in four of Twitter’s former top policymakers. Former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker, former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth, and former Twitter executive Anika Collier Navaroli.
Navaroli offered the most enlightening perspective on Twitter’s censorship actions. Her answer under testimony provided a glimpse into why the company’s previous actions were a nightmare for free expression guaranteed in the US Constitution. She said she advocated for more free speech restrictions and fought with the company to remove even more content.
Most chilling, she said,
“Instead of asking just free speech versus safety to say free speech for whom and public safety for whom. So whose free expression are we protecting at the expense of whose safety and whose safety are we willing to allow to go the winds so that people can speak freely.”
This line of reasoning fits well with former Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal’s view that the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech. He noted that “speech is easy on the internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
This perspective leads to all kinds of problematic issues. Chief among them is who decides what is safe or not safe, and what does “heard” mean?
Even more important is that you can say what you like, but you don’t have the right to be heard. That’s the nuance I’ve been waiting to hear. I suspected this was the case for years.
This small group of executives decided for the entire country a redefinition of free speech, expression, public safety, and for whom it applied. This subjectivity is rife with intellectual dishonesty and a perversion of both the letter of the law and the intent of the US Constitution.
In Abrams v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote,
“We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loath and believe to be frought (sic) with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that at an immediate check is required to save the country.”
In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the justices concluded that even calling for violence was a free speech right and expression under the Constitution unless the threat of “imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
Liberals argue that nuanced judgments allow circumstances to define both public safety and the censorship of free speech. They have unleashed the historical tradition of authoritarianism – the very thing they claim to be protecting against. It’s obvious, considering social media censorship was an extension of the federal government.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department had ongoing contact with Twitter to flag content and remove it from the platform. On November 29, FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Cyber Branch, Elvis Chan, admitted in deposition testimony the FBI worked daily with social media giants to remove content the government determined was disinformation during the 2020 presidential campaign.
So, if the government is involved in censoring Americans, there goes the argument for a “private company.”
Nonetheless, we now know you have the right to say whatever you like. You just don’t have a right to be heard.
In reality, isn’t it the same thing?
Conservatives must continue to beat this drum and fight for the Constitution. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we pursue security at the expense of liberty, we deserve neither.
The Conservative Era, Copyright 2023