Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is Free Speech Not Honored On Twitter?

It’s been said many times that real free speech doesn’t exist in America.  Try telling your boss what you really think of him or just ask your teacher why you can’t write about his or her sex life in the school newspaper.  We hope, however, that free speech exists when it comes to people being able to speak against the government without retribution, i.e., jail.  But what are we to make of Twitter’s crack down on posts by those it deems as extremists?

Twitter just announced it suspended 125,000 Twitter accounts associated with extremism since the middle of 2015.  It says it is protecting Twitter from being used to promote terrorism.

On the surface this may sound good. If Twitter has a member solely dedicated to recruiting ISIS members and using its service to have beheading videos displayed so that members can raise funds for its criminal operations, we’d probably say shut it down.  But like all free speech measures that are well-intentioned and seem limited in scope, they tear away at what free speech is all about.

Protest speech is exactly what needs to be protected. When Republicans criticize our president as unethical, illegal, worst-ever, and power-abuser, how far off is that from a Muslim saying he or she supports those who don’t like America?  You see where I’m going: Where do you draw the line?

Offensive statements, hate speech, or calls for a revolution are protected by the First Amendment.  Terrorism is no different.

No, I don’t want to help terrorists kill innocent people and threaten America, but I don’t want the treatment of pro-terrorist speech to kill and destroy the high American ideal and value known as free speech.

Social media sites are a bit different than most businesses.  It’s one thing if McDonald's says it won’t post a pro-terrorism essay in its company newsletter but it’s another thing when FB, YouTube, and Twitter start to censor speech and content that technically is not criminal. For instance, Twitter won’t allow someone to post a naked photo of a 13-year-old-girl. Why?  It’s deemed child pornography by the government.  But if I stood on a street corner and got a permit to hold a pro-ISIS rally, I have such a right. So if I write about that peaceful, legal, rally on Twitter, should Twitter have the right to shut me down? 

Do we expand beyond terrorism and ISIS and now Twitter shuts down other political talk?

Let’s look at books. I have the right to publish a book in support of ISIS and listing ways people can join the group.  So why would Twitter not allow me to do the same – or to talk about that book?

This is one of those topics that most people won’t look too deeply into.  Their reaction is: “good, let’s crack down on terrorists.”  But they need to think about First Amendment consequences.

Outside acts of extreme violence (define those, please), how do we know where to draw the line on what people have a right to speak or write about?

I firmly believe that truth always wins out.  Rather than yank a Twitter account off the grid, keep it there. Let law enforcement move on to it and use it in a way that leads to capturing terrorists, protecting against future attacks, and to gain insights in how they operate. Further, let the good people who oppose ISIS counter these negative accounts by creating messages that oppose them and that educate people against them.  If something is obviously good, better, and truthful it should win out over false propaganda.

Trust me, I don’t defend terrorism or ISIS.  But I don’t defend ignoring the principles of our Constitution.  Free speech is what keeps us a civilized, strong and great nation.  We can’t censor what we disagree with or don’t like.  In the process, we’ll throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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