By Tony Farkas
My occasional cohort on these pages did an experiment with a chatbot, assigning it an essay on free speech.
I know that it’s ironic that a program was writing about freedom, but hey, it’s an experiment.
The upshot of the four-paragraph screed was that freedom of speech wasn’t absolute and needed to have limits placed on it for the public good.
It’s the “Your right to swing your arms ends at my nose” argument, saying individual and national safety trumps individual rights.
I get the reasoning, having grown up hearing that I couldn’t scream “Fire” in a theater; but unless your intent is chaos, no one really would do that, because the end result would make the perpetrator criminally and civilly liable. Besides, it would be just as easy to pull the fire alarm, and speech wouldn’t be brought into it.
The reasoning that other people’s safety is my responsibility before the fact is where my problem lies in the scenario. It was the same with vaccine mandates and being told your health is my responsibility.
The problem here lies also with the determination of what actually constitutes a violation of public safety, and who or what makes that determination.
The other problem is the U.S. Bill of Rights, which states that Congress shall make no law abridging free speech, which mean it can’t be done, not even a little.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that limits aren’t being placed on speech in certain arenas, most particularly the realm of social media.
After Elon Musk bought Twitter, it was found, to virtually little surprise, that there was a large-scale effort to surreptitiously keep certain information away from the public. The variety of information in question cut quite a wide swath — from presidential corruption to medical opinions regarding vaccinations and the efficacy of drugs, etc. — and anything deemed remotely offensive, against the current zeitgeist or politically incorrect was banned, or at least quietly downplayed.
Then, there seems to be a matter of the possible interference of federal agencies, which have been “suggesting” that certain posts be removed or downplayed, such as the Hunter Biden laptop or COVID shots. If this couldn’t be done, then the nuclear option of locking a poster out of the account.
It wasn’t just Twitter, either. I myself have been hit with the censor bat on my personal Facebook account over something as silly as the teeny tiny garter snake I slayed to save my queen. Many of my friends who share my political outlook have been placed in social media jail for their posts on all things political.
The issue here again is that what was banned was decided by someone, and mostly because it offended the current thinking, or someone’s moral code was crossed, and almost always involves conservative thoughts and comments.
This leads us to the premise that limits — any limits — not only cross the threshold of abridging speech, but also sets up the government to be that arbiter; either speech is free, or it is not, because once someone can decide what speech is wrong speech, then soon all speech will be wrong.
For instance, very recently the senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin, said that hate speech isn’t protected under the First Amendment. In this day and age, pretty much everything written or spoken will offend someone, so all you have to do is call it hate speech and boom! No more talking from you, hate boy.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok et al are non-government entities and should be able to moderate their platforms. They also should make sure that is well understood, so that users can proceed appropriately. They should not now nor ever bow to the will of a government bent on controlling a narrative, because speech either is free or it isn’t.