We have been discussing the expanded censorship on the Internet and the threat to both free speech and free press rights. As stated recently in testimony before the House, I remain an unabashed “Internet Originalist,” favoring the free forum for speech that once defined these Big Tech companies. The expanding censorship of the Internet continues to show bias and contractions as Democratic members push for “robust modification” to silence opposing views of everything from climate change to social justice. A new controversy shows the contradictions as people spread the false claims of Rev. Louis Farrakhan that the Covid-19 vaccines are really the “vial of death.” The continued spreading of his views shows that speech like water has a way of finding a way out, even untrue and hateful speech. The proper response is not less but more (and better) speech.
We have previously discussed Farrakhan’s absurd and dangerous views as well as companies like Facebook blocking him. His views will, of course, still be discussed by tens of thousands of his followers. His latest diatribe is an example. Farrakhan recorded a video late last month during the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day convention, that remained available via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in which he called the vaccine was a “vial of death.” He declared “it is death itself” and compared it to the Kool-Aid from the Jim Jones mass-death tragedy in Guyana in 1978. He promised that “[b]y rushing so fast to get something out, bypassing normal steps in a true vaccine, now God is going to turn your vaccine into death in a hurry.”
In addition to people posting his views or his speech, Farrakhan’s words are also carried in news articles and general coverage. Thus, these companies are censoring direct postings but the message is still getting out. The reason is that this is news and people want to discuss it. While censors believe that people should adhere to their view of what can and cannot be discussed, there is a lingering desire of many to make that decision for themselves.
Democrats are pushing for greater censorship along the lines of Europe despite the utter failure of such policies in Europe. Germany has proven the fallacy of changing minds through threatened prosecution. While I am certainly sympathetic to the Germans in seeking to end the scourge of fascism, I have long been a critic of the German laws prohibiting certain symbols and phrases, I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp but extremism by barring certain symbols. Instead, extremists have rallied around an underground culture and embraced symbols that closely resemble those banned by the government. I fail to see how arresting a man for a Hitler ringtone is achieving a meaningful level of deterrence, even if you ignore the free speech implications.
The greatest impact in Germany has not been on the reduction of hate speech but the reduction of free speech. We discussed how decades of anti-free speech policies in Germany have reduced the expectations of citizens in that country to the level of an authoritarian regime. A survey, conducted by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach(and published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) found that only 18 percent of Germans feel free to express their views in public.
This is clearly a dangerous message for his followers but they will get the message in a variety of ways, including direct communications from the Nation of Islam. Instead of embracing censorship, we can let him speak freely and use our own free speech to counter his message of ignorance and hate. We are developing a huge apparatus for private censorship in this country that will succeed more in stopping free speech but not false or hateful speech. Farrakhan’s greatest threat to this country is not as an influential leader but as an excuse for censorship. We do not need free speech values to protect popular speech or popular individuals. Farrakhan is the price we pay for free speech.