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Thursday
October 06th, 2022
L&T Opinions Page

earl wattL&T Publisher Earl Watt

 

Nothing popular needs protection. When you figure that out, you will start to recognize why other protections are in place. The short answer is those protections aren’t designed to protect the popular. They are designed to make sure what isn’t popular today still has a voice in the public square.

A recent decision by the Fifth District Court recently upheld a Texas law that prohibited social media platforms with more than 50 million users to censor posts based on political views.

Here’s the key statement that has escaped Americans recently and needs to be restored  —  in the ruling, the court found a flaw in the concept that “buried somewhere in the person’s enumerated right to free speech lies a corporation’s unenumerated right to muzzle speech.”

Let’s break that down. First, an enumerated right simply means it is listed. We all know the First amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The freedom of speech is specifically listed. It is an enumerated right.

But many have falsely claimed that limiting speech is the same as freedom of speech. In other words, it’s just as protected for a corporation to prevent certain speech under the claim that it is their right to their own freedom of speech.

But that’s not what the protection is. It is not a protection to censor. It is a protection against limiting or abridging speech.

There was no inherent right, then, to allow the restraint of free speech, and the court’s ruling went on to say, “Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say.”

But the social media platforms didn’t take the decision lying down. They responded by saying, “When going online, no one should be forced to wade through awful and offensive content.”

Here’s a grown-up moment  —  you are never safe from bad language, nor should you be.

The platform’s claim they want to protect us all from “neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan screeds or Russian propaganda about its invasion of Ukraine.” Sounds good. But we also know they want to “protect” us from conservative viewpoints. I have yet to see one left-leaning propaganda message ever marked by Facebook as misinformation or misleading, but right-leaning groups are constantly harassed by the social platforms.

But forget that for a second. Let’s go to the extremist information  —  the really outside-the-box stuff from groups like the KKK or neo-Nazis. My protection from them didn’t come from their inability to spew their hate. It came from an education that shared their racist histories and the dagame they caused.

I don’t reject these extremist movements because they’ve been silenced by someone. I reject them because I’ve heard what they support. And I don’t like it.

The case these social justice warriors are trying to make is that some of these conversations may lead to violence.

But free speech is not subjugated to what ifs. Someone actually has to do something stupid to be charged with a crime.

We have moved into a realm where speech and thought are being regulated, and that’s where we went wrong. Not because there are truly bad things out there, but because we believe the answer is to suppress or prevent it from ever being said.

The real answer is to provide a better answer. We overcame the KKK by supporting the civil rights movement and by living up to the better idea that all men are created equal. We beat bad ideas with good ideas.

We don’t prevent the bad ideas from being shared in the public square. If that were true, the idea of freedom and liberty would still be considered crimes against the crown. If we didn’t continue to challenge the government, laws like “separate but equal” would still exist. Many Black Americans would still be denied the opportunity to buy a home in predominantly white neighborhoods.

That was the popular thought of the day a century ago.

But the unpopular discussion of integration and blockbusting became the norm because we talked about it.

Limiting speech is a gross violation at the core of a free society. That is not an acknowledgement of the crazy ideas out there, but it is a commitment to keep all people free, even if they say things I don’t like.

It is too easy once the suppression police start making judgement calls to fall into the political spectrum of what is right or wrong based on partisanship.

But we don’t win by silencing some of the voices. We win by realizing there are some really bad ideas out there, and we need better ideas to win the day.

Social media companies no longer have the right to take away the right of free speech on their platforms, and if they do, they can be sued in Texas.

I hope Kansas follows suit and every other state. Because no matter what party you support today, there will be a time when that party is going to be in the minority. And the right to provide alternatives to the ruling class should always exist. But once you bring the hatchet down on one set of ideas as too extreme for public discussion, you can bring it down on any speech. And then the concept of freedom of speech is really only speech allowed by the majority.

That’s not a right at all. That’s a granted privilege by the government.

We finally have a ruling that protects free speech from corporations. I hope we keep it.

 

GUEST COLUMN, Dick Morris

 

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