Censorship is not the solution to social media ills

Reprinted from internal source

Technology is interfering with freedom of speech, and we don’t know what to do about it. The problem is the global platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the annoying propaganda, confusion and lies spread on them.

The trends, on the left and right, are sensors. It is a terrible solution, more toxic than disease and harmful to body politics.

The left wants to shut down Fox Cable News and its chief commentator, Tucker Carlson. The right wants to sell Twitter, possibly to Elon Musk, so that it stops blocking tweets from the right, especially the tweets of former President Donald Trump.

How our society and others deal with the negative aspects of social media – racial incitement, confusion, propaganda and opinions that are offensive to a minority, be it a disabled or ethnic group – is a work in progress. The instinct is to stop them, to stop them. Tool – that old giant solution – censorship.

The first problem with censorship is that it needs to be determined. Take hate speech. The British Parliament is fighting a bill to limit it. Social networks want to exclude it and there are U.S. laws against crime that are motivated by it

How do you define hate speech? When is it fair comment? When is it a joke? When the truth is taken as hate?

I say if you can untie that knot, go ahead and censor. But I also know that you can’t free it without stopping freedom of speech, violence against the First Amendment, restraint of creativity, and humor.

Censors are often dressed in political attire as well as moral attire. Consider Thomas Baudler and his sister Henrietta, who in 1807 published an exiled version of Shakespeare’s work. Henrietta did most of the first 20 plays, then Thomas finished 36. They removed sexuality, blasphemy and double entender. Thomas was an acclaimed scholar, not a crackpot, although that could be today’s verdict.

Oddly enough, Baudelaire is credited with increasing Shakespeare’s readership. People have reached for the forbidden fruit; They always do.

Similarly, many novels could have avoided success if not consistently banned like DH Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. The moral censorship of Hayes Office movies in 1934 did not save the audience from moral decay. It just led to bad movies.

Sensors often start with certain sounds; The term, which it can be argued, represents the crime of certain groups or certain social positions. So certain words become monstrous – whether it’s the naming of a sports team or a spoken word for sex, the urge to censor them is strong.

Jokes, like the English about Welsh or about English by the Scots, have been the victims of a new sensitivity, where political activists sell the idea that jokes are the victims. The only prey to my mind is disorder.

There is no apparent end when you start from this slope. Euphemisms take from simple speech, and we live in a society where the use of the wrong words can suggest that you are not fit for public office or teaching. Areas of ethnicity and sexual orientation are particularly plentiful.

Until the 1960s and the civil rights movement, newspapers actually censored people of color: they ignored them – a special kind of censorship. Where I once worked for The Washington Daily News, the now defunct but vibrant evening newspaper in the country’s capital, some of us once vandalized a library for pictures of blacks. There was no one. From its inception in 1927 until the start of the civil rights movement, the newspaper did not cover the community only in a city with a growing African-American population.

It was as damaging as collective censorship, both political extremists now want to impose on speech.

Alas, censorship – banning someone else’s speech – is not going to solve the rights issue of people who are insulted or lied to or excluded from social media. In print and traditional broadcasting, defamation has been the last defense.

Defamation laws are clearly inadequate and punishable against the vastness of social media, but they are the place to start. A new reality, of course, and over time new processes must be found to combat it.

There should be no censorship in these processes. It is always the first tool of dictatorship but in a democracy it should be a hatred. For example, it is an open question whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would have been able to invade Ukraine if he had not censored Russian media in the first place.

Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King is the creator, executive producer and host of the White House Chronicle, a weekly news and public affairs program aired on more than 200 PBS and public, educational and government (PEG) access television stations and commercial AMGTV networks. And Voice of America television worldwide.

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