I have written for years on the crackdown on free speech in France, Germany, and England though hate speech laws and speech regulations. As many on this blog know, I am unabashedly against limits on free speech and have opposed most public and private forms of censorship for decades. This often means that, like everyone in the free speech community, I find myself opposing actions against some of the most obnoxious, juvenile, or hateful people in our society. That is the case with this story. Three British teenagers have been arrested for a Snapchat video mocking the death of George Floyd. It was a deeply offensive and stupid act, but the question remains whether society is criminalizing a wider and wider scope of speech.
While many have condemned Antifa and similar groups for destroying Minneapolis and other cities, Minneapolis city council member for Ward 5 (and son of the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison) Jeremiah Ellison tweeted Sunday that he is not among them. Indeed, he is declaring his support for Antifa. Some of us have long opposed Antifa as a vehemently anti-free speech group. Ellison does not seem to include free speech among his priorities for voters in Ward 5. While most Democratic members have correctly condemned Antifa attacks, Ellison is one of those who continue to support the controversial group.
Below is my column in USA Today on the fight between Trump and Twitter. As discussed below, this is a fight not for free speech but who will control free speech. Democrats want speech controls through private companies while the Administration wants speech controls through government agencies. The choice is between Little Brother and Big Brother.
Here is the column:
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Having seen the weather outside to be both glorious and inviting, I suddenly realized it was necessary for me to engage once again in “essential travel necessary to maintain critical infrastructure within the state’s economy”. So I hitched up the boat and took it to a scenic lake.
Once on the pond, I realized I should have brought my fishing pole as in some areas near shore the fish were occasionally jumping out of the water–just begging to be caught and eaten for dinner. Sadly I couldn’t accommodate their aspirations. Nevertheless the water was surprisingly warm and the air was filled with a pleasant waft of the forest and something that was blooming. A couple bald eagles circled in the distance, keeping their watch. I do not speak “Eagle” so I could not introduce him to the fish I saw earlier.
Still, it was as it always is, enjoyable to be away from it all, and snap a few shots.
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President Donald Trump’s executive order on social media is framed around the effort to remove protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For those of us who teach torts, Section 230 has been a long controversy in its shielding of companies from liability in defamation and other lawsuits. As I write today in my Hill column, Twitter is dangerously wrong in its action against the Trump tweets and Trump is right that this represents a serious attack on free speech. However, I was also critical of the threat to “shut down” or “strongly regulate” media companies. Putting the retaliatory language aside, this is not a change that will likely succeed without congressional action. However, there are some legitimate questions that Congress should consider while, in my view, erring on the side of protecting free speech. Continue reading “The Trump Executive Order and the Section 230 Option To “Strongly Regulate” Social Media”
We have previously discussed the effort of students and faculty to bar federal agencies like ICE from job fairs despite the strong interest (and need) of students to seek such jobs. Now the American University College Democrats have demanded the banning of Customs and Border Protection despite widespread unemployment and the dire need of many fellow students to find positions with such agencies. The interesting twist is that this was not even an on campus event but a virtual event. Even without the government stepping on campus, the students objected to other students being able to speak with Customs in a virtual space.
I have a column criticizing Twitterfor its labelling of tweets from President Donald Trump as presumptively false. Twitter has yielded to demands in Congress to censor and regulate political speech. In signature style, however, Trump promptly bulldozed the high ground in the controversy by threatening to close down social media companies through retaliatory regulations. The First Amendment was written to bar that very authority in either the President or Congress or both. The President cannot be the putative victim of private censorship while claiming the authority to engage in government censorship. In fairness however Democratic leaders have threatened such a regulatory crackdown in the past. The coverage on Trump’s threat telling omits the fact that Democratic leaders and presidential candidates have made the same threat in the past.
Twitter has (correctly) declined demands from various people to delete the tweets of President Donald Trump pushing the conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a young intern, Lori Klausutis. I have repeatedly denounced the use of this tragedy as reprehensible given what the family has gone through. I have received many emails from people who defend Trump’s tweets and advance this claim. I am not convinced for all of the reasons that I have stated previously. I view this conspiracy theory as analogous to the one involving with Rep. Gary Condit and the death of intern Chandra Levy. In that case, Condit actually had an affair with Levy but I was highly critical from the outset of the overwhelming presumption of guilt based on nothing but sensational and scurrilous rumor. It is not enough to say that “some people believe this might be true” to justify such tweets. Seven percent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows, but we do not investigate the claim.
Scarborough’s co-host and wife Mika Brzezinki is calling for President Donald Trump to be banned on Twitter after he resumed his bizarre pushing of a conspiracy theory that Joe Scarborough murdered an intern in 2001. I have long denounced the President’s use of the tragic story of Lori Klausutis as callous and wrong. There is not a shred of support for this claim and the constant tweets from the President only adds to this tragedy for the Klausutis family. As I noted yesterday, “politics ain’t beanbag” but it is also not a license for such malicious slandering of your critics. Having said that, I do not support the effort to ban Trump from Twitter. I have written repeatedly about the danger posed by calls from politicians for increased censorship on social media and the Internet. Indeed, I criticized Trump recently for such banning of opposing views from his Twitter account.
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Once again I needed to “make essential travel to facilitate commerce related to critical infrastructure.” *** So I loaded up some tools and headed down the highway. For me I find the semi-arid coulees to be relaxing and soul-resting. Unless someone or natural events disturbs the area, it otherwise will remain nearly identical to what it was ten or twenty years earlier. Wildland fire seems to be the main cause of change and even in that example only a few years are needed for restoration. Time moves at a lichen’s pace.
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President Donald Trump and the White House appear to have violated a 2019 federal court order that it cannot block twitter accounts from the official White House account, @realDonaldTrump, based in the content of its tweets. The account, @realDonaldTrFan, has over 313,000 followers and savages the President regularly with parodies. If the site was blocked as reported, the action would be a flagrant disregarding of the authority of the federal courts.
We have previously discussed the uncertain standard applying to teachers and professors who are subject to discipline for social media postings. It often seems that any termination or discipline is based upon subjective or majoritarian views of the content of postings. The latest such case is out of Catholic University of America where adjunct professor John Tieso has been suspended after tweets ridiculing Barack Obama and Kamala Harris after working for the school since 2013. Tieso told the site The College Fix that he is considering legal action.
For years, many of us who have long supporteded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have grown alarmed by its abandonment of core principles in the support of civil liberties in favor of support what seems a more political agenda. Under the leadership of a President Susan N. Herman and Executive Director Anthony Romero, the ACLU has dropped support for unpopular causes while aligning itself more closely with the Democratic Party’s position on issues ranging from immigration to sexual harassment. I have spent my life supporting the ACLU and speaking at its conferences. It has been very painful for many of us in the “Old guard” as these political advocates have taken over the board and organization. That has been evidenced as the ACLU moved to develop a more nuanced approach to “hate speech” after criticism following the Charlottesville protests. Free speech protection was once the touchstone of the ACLU which was fearless in its unpopular advocacy. It is now an area of open retreat for the organization as the leadership seeks to appease irate donors. Despite the right to carry being a constitutional right, the ACLU has indicated that it will not vigorously support the right to lawfully carry weapons at protests. That is no more evident than in the truly shocking filing of the ACLU to oppose due process rights for students at our colleges and universities, particularly in the imposition of a higher and more consistent evidentiary standard. While I found aspects of the brief to raise compelling points, the thrust of the brief is an attack on basic evidentiary protections that would have once been viewed as a position fundamentally at odds with the organization’s mission.