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Post By Silencing Trump, Did Twitter Muzzle Free Speech?
Created by John Eipper on 01/13/21 4:29 AM

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By Silencing Trump, Did Twitter Muzzle Free Speech? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 01/13/21 4:29 am)

I was struck by Francisco Wong-Díaz's latest post, because the topic he addresses has been discussed in my circles of friends and colleagues in this country. This has not surprised me much, because of the sympathies Trump has always aroused among the political opposition here, and as a result, any argument and excuse serves to justify his actions. I do not agree.

This time it is about discrediting the media and social networks for their apparent arbitrariness against freedom of expression. In this particular case, we see the evidence of the deactivation of Trump's Twitter account, immediately after the events of January 6.

There are several interesting aspects of the matter that merit further exploration.

First, we see the accusation that the closure of the Trump account represents an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as accusations of hypocrisy because the accounts of characters and openly authoritarian movements of the left remain open. For example, we can cite the accounts of Venezuela's Maduro and some other more or less known radical leftists.

It may not be the first or the last time that the media is biased and polarized in their political positions or by vested interests. This is a historical fact and for legitimate reasons or not, it has always been so.

However, this aspect raises several questions. To what extent should absolute freedom of expression or of the press be allowed? Should there be some limits to freedom of expression? Or, on the contrary, can you afford to publicly talk and say anything, about anyone, in any situation, regardless of the impact and harm that these statements may have? I do not think so, and on this matter a few days ago WAIS published a post that referred precisely to the subject, referring to the case of a former Basque terrorist, Otegi, who was tried for his apologies of terrorism in Spain.

We said then that laws must set the limits for using the rights of freedom of expression, and that the courts must be responsible for clarifying when those limits are violated.  Impunity cannot be allowed for opinions that are publicly expressed and that are potentially damaging to individuals or institutions.

In the particular case of the January 6th events at the US Capitol, there was a great risk of allowing Trump to use his Twitter account to promote and instigate violent acts against Congress or other institutions in the US.  This alone possibly justified Twitter closing his accounts for the public good. That's what I'd prefer to believe. The other thing is that the media, instead of competent authorities and supported by current laws, was the one having the power or authority to make such decision.

One might think that this attitude corresponds more closely to that of "vigilantes" who take justice into their own hands.  But it is also true that the media, in general society, or the common people, in times of social emergency, must assume positions that "go beyond the limits" of legality, with the risks that this implies. Isn't that way of thinking, which justifies the constitution of the United States giving the people the right to bear arms, to protect democratic society from governments abusing their power?

In the case at hand, which Trump supporters cite to condemn the reactions against him, I think the social media platforms were fully justified, whether or not there may be behind them some kind of conspiracy and authoritarian strategies to destroy the free press and freedom of expression, as Francisco claims.  In any case, these are claims which neither he, nor anyone else, can really prove.

Of course, the debate remains open about whether or not the media and social networks can become "thought police": to limit their publications to those in agreement with their ways of thinking. I don't think it should be like that, but the reality is that these networks are managed by people, and people, like the authors of literary works, politicians, historians, etc., all have their political sympathies and their philosophical or religious positions. Will the laws be able to fully control and manage this reality?  I doubt it.

JE comments:  There's a broader trend emerging this year:  the freedom of private institutions to make their decisions (here, Twitter et al.) is usually a position supported by the Right.  Now the Right is claiming victimhood status, which is traditionally a tactic, even "privilege," of the Left.  Note, for example, how Senate firebrand Josh Hawley (Missouri), citing the First Amendment, is whining about Simon and Schuster's cancellation of his book contract.

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  • Free Speech Revisited: A Clarification (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/17/21 3:57 AM)
    A couple of addenda to my post of January 13th:

    First, a clarification. I stated, "the debate remains open about whether or not the media and social networks can become 'thought police': to limit their publications to those in agreement with their ways of thinking." I should have said, "...'thought police' able to silence voices they do not agree with."

    In second place, John commented that "the freedom of private institutions to make their decisions (here, Twitter et al.) is usually a position supported by the Right." John perhaps means that this is a trend of the Right to arbitrarily repress the freedom of expression. However, we must not forget that worldwide the Left has historically been very, if not the most, repressive of freedom of speech and the press.

    JE comments:  The point I was trying to make is different, and didn't concern freedom of expression, but rather the freedom of individuals and institutions to do what they please.  In this case, for Twitter to turn off the accounts of anyone it wants.  It's a "private property" thing if you will, and has broad applications, such as the freedom of a bakery to refuse a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, or the nefarious Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend at will on political campaigns.  I may be oversimplifying, but we tend to associate such views with the Right.

    Notwithstanding Senator Hawley's whining about Simon and Schuster, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech against incursions from the government only.

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