Saturday, June 22, 2024

How tweet it is. (aka… Twitter)

May 6, 2022 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( Elon Musk’s apparent, slightly-less-than-hostile, takeover of Twitter has been greatly praised by the political right — and greatly bemoaned by the political left. (I say “apparent” because I’m not quite convinced that Musk will go through with the acquisition. But that’s another story.) Unless you have been in outer space on a billionaire’s pet project, you’re aware that Musk has given the social media company, um, an offer it can’t refuse.

The battle lines are drawn. Conservatives, long convinced of social media companies’ “liberal bias,” and “censorship” of their viewpoints, believe that Musk would restore “free speech” to Twitter. Progressives, arguing that Twitter merely clamps down on hate speech and rampant disinformation, are concerned that the company would give a green light to right-wing extremists. What’s really going on here?
Let’s start with the basics. The First Amendment of the Constitution 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.”

There is a reason why this amendment is first. The founders understood that freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are indispensable to a well-functioning democracy. Crucially, the Constitution states that censorship only applies to government-based restrictions on speech. Thus, private companies have the right to regulate access to their platform. Their doing so does not constitute censorship.

However, the fact that social media companies are not guilty of censorship is irrelevant to the millions of Americans who

(1) don’t know what the First Amendment says,

(2) don’t know what it means or

(3) simply choose to ignore the facts.

All people have the right to speak. This right is not merely the fruit of man-made laws; it is bestowed by God. Yet, the right to speak is not the same as the right to be heard. In other words, Americans can say what we want (with exceedingly few limitations). Similarly, social media companies have the right to regulate their platform as they see fit (with exceedingly few limitations). The latter means that we don’t have the legal right to tweet or otherwise post on social media any more than we have the legal right to have our letter to the editor published in a newspaper. It’s that simple.

It is very odd to see people who call themselves conservative insisting that they have the right to control a company’s business decisions. It is also odd to see them complain about their views being stifled on social media — even as they are airing their views on social media. If anyone who has an account on Facebook, Twitter, etc. doesn’t see conservative views commonly displayed, he or she simply isn’t looking. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is odd to see progressives in the uncommon role of defending a corporate behemoth. These are strange times.

Additionally, as far as I can tell, progressives aren’t clamoring to appear on Fox News, Sinclair Broadcast Group, One America Network or any other conservative media outlet. And my guess is that conservatives would not react well if that were the case.

The truth is that this debate is not about “censorship”; it is about the desire for representation. People across the demographic and political spectrums want to “see themselves” on the screen — whether that screen is in a movie theater or on one’s cell phone. The problem is that the people who are so concerned about representation of insane conspiracies and racist speech tend to be the same people who are strongly against representation of people of color and other marginalized groups — virtually and in the real world.

Each side accuses the other of being anti-democratic. Clearly, there are threats to our democracy on the right and the left. Yet, the political, media and socioeconomic gatekeepers on the right currently are far worse in allowing extremists to hold sway than their counterparts on the left. To use an analogy from physics, the centrifugal forces of democracy are battling its centripetal forces. Eventually, the center will not hold if the forces that are attempting to pull our democracy apart — racism, conspiracies, disinformation and domestic terrorism — continue to be embraced by the right. The canary is already gasping for air.

Columnist; Larry Smith

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