We have been discussing how reporters, editors, commentators, and academics have embraced rising calls for censorship and speech controls, including President-elect Joe Biden and key advisers. This includes academics rejecting the very concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open advocacy. Now, Columbia Journalism Dean and New Yorker writer Steve Coll has denounced how the First Amendment right to freedom of speech was being “weaponized” to protect disinformation. That’s right. A journalism dean and writer declaring that the problem is that free speech itself is allowing too much freedom on the Internet and other forums.
Coll’s comments came in a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when he was asked by Kasie Hunt about the need for Big Tech to censor speech. Rather than defend the right of people to express themselves freely, Coll lashed out at companies like Facebook as “motivated, as all companies are, to make money” though at the same time is “acting like a public square.” He decried the failure to have more expansive regulation of free speech and showed little concern or merit for arguments from free speech advocates. Like Harvard academics who recently declared “China was right” about censorship, Coll just assumed that it was self-evident that too much free speech is a bad thing and that these companies need to protect people from harmful or false ideas.
“And yes, Facebook has moved somewhat. They’ve had a better election in 2020 than they did in 2016. They’ve learned to put some brakes on, you know, here and there, but you can’t get away from the fact that their mission is to connect everybody in the world. That’s what motivates Mark Zuckerberg and it’s his passion and he profoundly believes in free speech.”
What is most maddening is that Coll spoke on behalf of journalists in calling for less freedom:
“Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principle of journalism and what do we do about that,. As reporters, we kind of march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered as if they were going to win the day and what we’re seeing that is because of the scale of this alternative reality that you’ve been talking about, our facts, our principles, our scientific method–it isn’t enough. So what do we do?”
That used to be an easy question. What you do is allow free speech to combat bad speech. What you do is support the right of citizens and journalists to publish without censorship. What you do is to embrace the freedom of expression while reinforcing the need to use that freedom to counter disinformation. Instead, Coll is joining the forces seeking to silence or curtail the speech of others. You do not support free speech by calling for its curtailment. For free speech advocates, it is as compelling as saying that we needed to “save” villages by destroying them in Vietnam. Worse yet, he is doing it in the names of “good journalism.”