By Edward Achorn
I have spent my professional life defending the First Amendment and the free-speech rights it enshrines. It is the bulwark of all our freedoms.
The attacks on it are proliferating alarmingly. Now, the most powerful social media platforms — which function as today’s public square — are arrogantly silencing a U.S. president.
If a president’s right to be heard in the public square may be freely assaulted, who is safe? This is extremely dangerous to self-government and the perpetuation of our civil rights.
Yet politicians, many of them bought off by those social-media giants, do nothing. And the news media, which in the days of more objective journalism boldly championed free speech, say little or nothing if Republicans or conservatives are the targets. The same is true of former civil-liberties organizations.
The latest flap
The latest flap involves a Fox News interview with the president. Facebook and Twitter removed re-posts of it.
In the video, the president says children are “almost immune” to COVID-19 and should be back in school.
A Facebook spokesperson, leaving out the word “almost,” said President Trump’s statement is not true and violates the platform’s COVID-19 policies.
“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” Facebook spokesperson Liz Bourgeois told Fox News.
Dr. Andrew Bostom, a Brown University associate professor of medicine, internist, and epidemiologist, insists that Mr. Trump’s statement is, in fact, true.
The above chart recently issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appears to provide confirmation. The blue line at the bottom shows the deaths of people ages 0-24.
While young people are not technically “immune” from COVID-19, one can certainly say accurately that they are almost immune to its effects. Particularly in the context of a political debate about reopening the schools.
The Trump campaign also shared the interview. That was retweeted by the president.
According to Twitter, the tweet was “in violation of the Twitter rules on COVID-19 misinformation.” With regal hauteur, Twitter pronounced that the Trump campaign will “be required to remove the Tweet before they can Tweet again.”
Censorship isn’t authorized
Who elected Twitter or Facebook to control the political speech of Americans?
They were granted special protections by the U.S. government decades ago to simply provide platforms for the political speech of all — as a kind of utility. They were not supposed to censor political speech and use the platforms to promote their own views. Now that they have effectively killed off newspapers and come to dominate the marketplace for information, they are adopting censorship, for possibly nefarious reasons.
The silencing of speech by these media giants — which, victims assert, includes “shadow banning” that limits the ability of consumers to access certain people — seems to be aimed mostly at conservatives and Republicans. Critics charge that is part of a deliberate strategy to interfere with the coming election — to a massively greater degree than Russia’s much-touted tampering in 2016.
Banning anyone’s political speech, left or right, is wrong. Once the speech of one party is significantly constrained or even erased, any speech opposed to the powerful will be steadily eliminated.
We will no longer be free.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)