A sadly needed defense of free speech

When a journalism professor at Indiana University declared that we need “the abandonment of the marketplace theory in favor of one that regulates speech in service to its overarching importance,” it became more clear than ever that free speech is in serious danger. Those in journalism ought to be the first people defending free speech, and we heard many warnings over the alleged “threat” that President Trump represented to the free press. Democracy dies in darkness, right?

Make no mistake about it: This is not about “violent” content, where people are planning or advocating specific acts of violence and mayhem. “Lazziez-faire” platforms like MeWe, Telegram, Gab and Parler all ban explicit threats of violence. No, this is about eliminating dissent. That is why pundits at CNN are openly calling for cable providers to drop not only Newsmax and One America News, but also Fox News Channel – which had up until recently been consistently the top rated cable television news network.

This is not about “safety.” The fact is that Leftist elites in academia and the mainstream media hate the fact that the great unwashed masses can say what they think on social media without a filter. Politicians hate it too, which is why you see Democrats pressuring social media companies to crack down on free speech. The freakout we are seeing now over social media was directed at blogs fifteen years ago, and twenty five years ago the same people were attacking talk radio and the “disinformation” and “hate” spread there.

Part of the problem with shrinking the Overton Window so that fewer and fewer people can speak their mind in the public square is that hateful ideas flourish in darkness. You do not want legitimate extremists only talking to each other, because then their beliefs are not challenged and refuted. “Disinformation, “hate” and “extremism” will not vanish from the Internet if we shut people up. People will find alternate platforms, or they will resort to things like e-mail. Remember that? In fact, it was hoaxes spread by e-mail that was the motivation for Snopes and other fact-checking sites to exist in the first place!

Free speech is essential to our liberty. If we cannot publicly hold our elected officials and government bureaucracies accountable for their words and actions, they will infringe on our liberties even more. In fact, heavy-handed censorship may actually increase the odds of violence if people feel that they cannot make themselves heard though peaceful means. The best solution to bad speech is more speech, and the best solution to disinformation is to make the truth widely available. Censorship is the tool of authoritarian regimes, not something that should be commonplace in the public square in these United States.