Has anyone else noticed a growing obsession on the left these days wherein the government, the tech oligarchs, and a growing swath of mainstream media outlets have taken to openly mocking the idea of free speech? This was already a serious problem on Twitter and Facebook long before Elon Musk came along and appeared to light a fuse under the discussion, but it’s really kicked into high gear since then. One of the latest and most glaring examples of this disastrous trend can be found this week at Time Magazine, where correspondent Charlotte Alter has penned a piece with this sort of mockery embedded firmly in the title. Elon Musk and the Tech Bro Obsession with ‘Free Speech.’ If you’re not shocked and dismayed by the idea of a journalist putting the words Free Speech in scare quotes, I don’t know what to tell you. She goes on to use scare quotes around nearly every instance of the phrases Free Speech and Freedom of Speech throughout the entire article. And you don’t have to read very far into the article to discover her newly-found disdain for the idea.
In the days since Musk agreed to terms on a deal to take Twitter private, nearly all of Musk’s tweets have been about freedom and censorship on the platform. Like: “By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.” Or: “Truth Social (terrible name) exists because Twitter censored free speech.” And: “the extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.”
Why does Musk care so much about this? Why would a guy who has pushed the boundaries of electric-vehicle manufacturing and plumbed the limits of commercial space flight care about who can say what on Twitter?
“Freedom of speech” has become a paramount concern of the techno-moral universe. The issue has anchored nearly every digital media debate for the last two years, from the dustup over Joe Rogan at Spotify to vaccine misinformation on Facebook.
Just take a moment to let that sink in. A journalist is seriously asking why Elon Musk (or anyone, really) should “care about who can say what on Twitter.” This is a woman whose ability to do her job independent of governmental intrusion rests squarely on the words the Founders enshrined in the very first entry of the bill of rights. And if we can infer anything from the order they chose to list those rights, there are two freedoms that ranked even higher than that of a free press. They are the freedoms of religion and speech.
The author went out on Twitter herself (apparently without irony) to retweet the magazine’s efforts to defend her position.
.@CharlotteAlter: “Freedom of speech” has become a paramount concern of the techno-moral universe.
But “free speech” in the 21st century means something very different than it did in the 18th, when the Founders enshrined it in the Constitution https://t.co/UKjEfuWiJg
— TIME (@TIME) April 29, 2022
Claiming that free speech “means something very different” in the 21st century than it did in the 18th would be laughable on its face if it weren’t so alarming, particularly coming from a major news publication. That’s complete malarkey, as the President would put it, but it now apparently passes as an accepted reality in the left-wing media.
This morning, while I was musing over Alter’s stunning abandonment of one of her own fundamental freedoms, I tweeted out a quote from Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, taken from his ruling in Ashcroft vs Free Speech Coalition. (Please let me know if Twitter has already taken down this tweet by the time you go look for it.)
"The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”
—Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Think about that.
— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) April 30, 2022
“The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”
—Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. From Ashcroft V. Free Speech Coalition
As we discussed here on Thursday, we now have a “Disinformation Czar” at the Department of Homeland Security. This is one of the most dangerous developments we’ve seen in this country in my lifetime as far as I’m concerned, and that’s saying a lot given the times we’re living in. This is something that George Orwell didn’t fully see coming. But Orwell was obviously aware of the potential for danger in this area. In 1945 he wrote, “If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”
This entire idea of so-called misinformation or disinformation being a sufficient reason to silence people should be abhorrent to any American regardless of their political or social ideological leanings. If someone says something that is demonstrably inaccurate based on the facts, anyone else is free to attempt to correct them and cite their sources to prove their point. But you can’t simply ban them from the public square. (Or at least you’re not supposed to be able to do that.) And for better or worse, Twitter is the public square today. That is what has changed radically from the 17th century, not the definition of free speech. Far worse, when subjects arise where disagreement and debates are taking place, simply expressing an opinion that disagrees with whatever the current narrative happens to be is not a crime and you are not causing anyone any sort of “harm.”
That’s the horrifying reality we’re dealing with today and it goes much further than social media. Whoever seizes the power to determine the narrative is holding the tools to control speech and thereby thought. Whoever gets to define which thoughts or opinions are “disinformation” rather than disagreement sets themselves up in a position that the Chinese Communist Party would envy. For proof of how bad things have already gotten, look no further than the fact that we are about to seat a woman on the nation’s highest court who appeared before a Senate hearing and actually claimed on the record that she couldn’t define what a woman is. Obviously she knew the answer because everyone knows the answer. But she was too terrified to say it aloud for fear of the backlash that would come from the left.
This needs to come to an end. It simply can’t be tolerated. Unfortunately, the only person with any measurable influence we seem to have on the side of the Constitution at the moment is Elon Musk. And he’s still in the ring swinging, thankfully. In fact, just last night I noticed an article claiming that, if he succeeds in buying Twitter, he will most likely fire the company’s “Cheif Censor,” Vijaya Gadde, from her $17 million job. Somewhere out there the members of the pro-censorship mob must be gnashing their teeth and rending their garments.