Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach

The man with access to the nuclear launch codes has been deemed unfit for Twitter. And the country that doesn’t believe universal healthcare is a human right, all of a sudden believes access to Twitter should be an inalienable right. Interesting times!

This week more Americans died from Covid than on 9/11, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war combined, and that fact isn’t even in the top 10 news stories right now.

The news is dominated by the insurrection and the presidents’ direct incitement of it. And the subsequent (social) media bans that followed. And most notably his account suspension on Twitter.

Most news seems to be focused on the Twitter ban — his preferred outlet — and this has made a lot of people angry, specifically the ones being so called silenced. Which is strange: because I don’t know why GOP politicians are upset about the president losing his Twitter account. They’ve never seen any of his tweets anyway–at least, that’s what they told reporters every time they were asked, right before they ran away.

But it’s not just Twitter. Also Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are banning the president, and other apps are pulled and online stores are closed etc. This has people arguing that their first amendment right is violated. In doing so they fail to understand that first amendement is not just to protect the president from his people, but to protect the people from the president.

The relation the USA has to freedom of speech is uniquely American and the complicated nuances and general differences between tolerance and freedom of speech, are paradoxical. But nonetheless: freedom of speech does not entail freedom of reach.

Just like the second amendment was written with slow loading muskets in mind — one round every few minutes — it is now abused to argue the right to automatic weapons that fire hundreds of rounds per minute. And the same is true for the first amendment which was developed to — maybe — reach 40-50 people by standing on a scaffold in a park, is now being abused to argue the right to broadcast opinions to 80 million people. These are clearly different things.

Conflicted

Over the last few days I have heard several arguments against or for banning. Let’s look at some of them.

  • They waited until the democrats had the majority, weak!

Well, it seems the platforms waited until the election was officially called and the electoral college had spoken. Imagine what would have happened if they blocked the president before it? That would have been a much more impactful decision. And then you could have really argued they influenced elections. Now the platforms at least think this argument can never be thrown at them. I take it a lot of lawyers have looked at the timing of this decision.

There have been plenty of reasons already to block the president, citing Terms of Service violations. But if you don’t do it out of the gate (i.e. four years ago) it becomes increasingly more difficult to pick a good time. So we now had to watch and escalate this whole thing steadily for four years.

  • Twitter silenced the president!

Well, it is the president himself who chose to make Twitter his default media outlet. The person with access to every news channel and newspaper in the world chose Twitter, the outrage amplifier, as his biggest news outlet and contact with the people.

Sure Twitter has silenced him, but he still has plenty of other ways to reach people. This proves however that Twitter is not a right, it’s a privilege and it has rules.

This being said, other well known dictators still do have a Twitter account. The difference might be direct incitation?

Still, you can say plenty about the power Twitter yields and the inherit risks involved. Same goes for Facebook et al. of course. They do have great power (too much), and therefore great responsibility. And I do believe regulation should be in place, but that’s another topic.

  • Twitter is a private company, they can do whatever they want!

Well, this is true (the section 230 discussion aside). And this is also how free and open markets should work. He is still entitled to his opinion and spreading this wherever he wants (see above). So we’re not watching “censorship” we’re watching an open source, free market approach to safety measures on the web.

I’ll say this though, Twitter is the de facto pulse of society, whereas Facebook is the personal newspaper and I am willing to state when something is de facto that it has inherent responsibilities following from that. But clearly there are lines and they have chosen to draw the line. As is their right.

That doesn’t mean you can’t feel conflicted about the whole situation. Which I do.

Who dis?

This all being said there is just an incredible amount of complaining about cancel culture, from people that actually tried to cancel the election and the democracy.

The good news is that a test of a secure democracy isn’t whether mobs storm the seat of government. The test of a secure democracy is whether democratic processes survive and continue *in spite of* mobs storming the seat of government. And democracy is proving itself secure in the USA.

In the end what happened was no surprise, at least if you had eyes and ears. And this is not about who the president is, we know who he is, this about who America is. If you want to know who he is, there is an hour long tape of someone who is out of options and plain and simple wants to cheat.

And we can all see and hear with our own eyes what happened. And no, it is not a media narrative.

Now what?


Part of the damage is done. These companies missed the chance to change course years ago. There is no separating Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from what happened on Wednesday.

The insurrection took longer than necessary, and it sure took time before law enforcement showed up. But the president waited so long, because he was waiting for it to work. And he deliberately took his time. This was the Trump coup. And he got exposed.

The insurrection was a blatant grab to seize power, but it was also to bully and frighten people and to literally terrorize people.

Accountability here is important. Because every time the president hasn’t been held accountable, he’s gotten worse. Every time.

Some people ask: Why would you impeach and convict a president who has only a few days left in office? The answer: Precedent. It must be made clear that no president, now or in the future, can lead an insurrection against the U.S. government.

And there are other reasons of course, the president would loose a lot of benefits.

But even with the president out of the equation, 147 Republicans voted to overturn election results. The USA is in deep trouble. And most Capitol stormers themselves seem deeply troubled. And white. It’s frightening.

One of the indigestible facts of the USA is that most of its terrorism and nearly all its mass shootings are committed by mostly conservative-leaning white men…earnestly committed to their white supremacist-misogynist identity politics.

So there is a lot of work to be done, before we can discuss healing.

To end on a positive note, fortunately stories like these also have heros.

(This post is constructed by assembling tweets from my timeline into a more or less coherent story. I’ve hardly typed any words. For readability all blue links are referenced tweets. Twitter is great.)


Also published on Medium.

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