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OPINION

Limiting the Speech of Some Is Limiting the Speech of All

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File

Have you ever heard the phrase “Whoever controls the language, controls the culture”? There is a disturbing trend of powerful interests attempting to control what is being said on social media, in newspapers, and in everyday life.

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We’ve all heard the term “cancel culture,” and whether we want to believe it exists or not, it clearly does. This is exhibited by the fact that people have been fired for old tweets that were no longer politically correct; or they’ve been doxed for saying anything contrary to the latest “newspeak”; or they’ve had their social media accounts canceled for their opinions.

The result is that public policy issues that require thoughtfulness and wisdom are often drowned out by hyper-charged emotional responses that violate people’s rights and contribute to a culture in which they do not feel free to say what they really believe.

There’s a reason why people are taught not to make life-changing decisions in a moment of panic. When choices are made based on emotions, it rarely turns out to be the right choice.

Enter social media.

When organizations demand that social media companies steer clear of certain topics or words, they can silence valuable information that is needed for people to make an informed decision and opinion on any given issue.

For example, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) recently targeted Elon Musk and X (formerly known as Twitter), publishing a biased report where they demanded that social media companies be regulated by the federal government in order to combat misinformation, disinformation, and what they deem as “hateful” speech.

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What they fail to mention is that they will be the ones who define what counts as “misinformation,” “disinformation,” and “hateful.” In turn, X has sued CCDH, alleging the organization has “embarked on a scare campaign to drive away advertisers.”

Americans used to agree that healthy discussions on sensitive topics should be encouraged, not dissuaded. That is the heart of the First Amendment—a free people can engage in a free debate on the issues of the day, and then come to a decision about how best to address them.

But it seems like organizations like the CCDH are trying to stifle debate and the free flow of information.

Unfortunately, while X may be opposed to their agenda, it appears Meta (the parent company of Facebook) may not be. Right now, there’s a lot of discussion going on within social media companies regarding abortion. Meta’s Oversight Board — a panel of 22 researchers, advocates, and policymakers who advise Meta on content moderation — is currently determining whether or not anyone is allowed to use the word “kill“ in any discussion on Meta’s platforms. At the heart of this case are two opposing viewpoints on abortion from this past March.

On Facebook, someone shared a post describing “pro-abortion logic”: “We don’t want you to be poor, starved or unwanted. So we’ll just kill you instead.” Around that same time, a different Facebook user shared a link to a South Carolina news article covering a bill that would have criminalized abortion as homicide, making it eligible for the death penalty. In the caption, the user criticized lawmakers, writing “it’s wrong to kill so we are going to kill you.”

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The Oversight Board is set to establish guidelines for how Meta should moderate abortion-related content and will consider how the company “should treat content that uses the word ‘kill’ while discussing abortion and its legality.” The Board is expected to announce its recommendations in the coming weeks.

No doubt groups like the CCDH and other radical left-wing interests will try to persuade Meta to come down hard on free speech.

What they fail to realize is that when we allow the censorship of any and all words that could possibly be deemed as “threatening,” we actually solve nothing. We simply encourage people to create new language to discuss serious topics. There is a reason why people use the term “unalive” instead of saying “kill” on TikTok.

People are smart. If you do not want them to use one word, they will find another word. Then what? How many words and topics will be suppressed? And who gets to determine what language we are allowed to use and how we are allowed to talk about it?

The social media public square exists so that conversations can be had, and minds can be changed. When the perspective of any user is entirely silenced on any issue, it is a disservice to users.

The idea of a peaceful, utopian social media platform may sound enticing at the outset. But when one body determines what language is permitted, it opens the door for an online oligarchy, which is the opposite of why social media ever came to exist in the first place. Most importantly, it’s contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment at the heart of our free society. 

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Andrea Trudden is vice president of communications at Heartbeat International.

 

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