Not for a minute would I consider myself a journalist. At the top of this page is the title “Viewpoints”, meaning this page isn’t where you will find any factual news accounts. What you will find on this page are the author’s opinions on various topics, too few letters to the editor, and on most days, a hand-drawn topical cartoon.
Even though I’m no journalist, what I do is part of the news profession, helping to keep people’s interest in picking up the paper so they can read a few words, then nod their head in agreement or shake it in disgust. Of the scores of columns I’ve written never once have any of my words been censored or changed. Proofread? Thankfully, yes, but the content has never changed.
Never would I submit for print anything vulgar, hateful or advocating criminal activity or violence – but the First Amendment allows me and all of us to do that if we choose. Even though my weekly intent is to entertain or educate, somehow my column manages to offend someone, somehow. At some point an editor at the paper, more experienced than me, must chuckle when reviewing these columns, knowing that something will soon strike a nerve. Even so, my words are printed unrepressed.
Surprisingly, there isn’t uproar over the decision last week by media giants Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter to censor content and the outright banning of certain people’s message. Specifically banned were Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Louis Farrakhan, James Woods and a couple of others deemed to use “hate speech.” Censorship in America should send a shiver up your spine.
Hate-speech may be vile, repugnant or racist, but it is still someone’s speech, which is protected by the First Amendment. To be clear, I am not endorsing or condoning any hate-speech message or its messenger. Because every occupation I’ve taken required me to take an oath to protect and defend the constitution, the bedrock document which protects citizen’s right to pretty much say their opinion anywhere, anytime, I’m sensitive to eroding any of our freedoms.
There have been countless examples of artwork protected under the First Amendment which depicted the flag of the United States in a toilet or being trampled; which is repulsive to me. Recently, in the halls of Congress, a student art display encouraging people to kill police officers; the actual words were “we need more dead pigs in a blanket.” The KKK is infamous for getting parade permits so they can gather in a community square to make a spectacle and rotten tomato target of themselves. All of these are in poor taste, yet protected speech. It is our choice and responsibility to ignore it and carry on with our lives.
Without freedom of the press and speech, we would not know about the evil and ugly thoughts that rattle around in some people’s brains. It is better to have knowledge about this than to live life blissfully ignorant of the existence of vile people and their thoughts. The old adage, “forewarned is forearmed” comes to mind.
It is understood that Facebook and YouTube are private corporations which can do as they please - to an extent. It does make one wonder where their community-minded censorship was when fake Russian accounts were swaying our thoughts and votes during the 2016 elections? At some point, the US Congress may consider anti-trust legislation to break up this media monopoly just as the telephone company was dismantled in the early 1980s.
Instead of censoring online content, I believe it is better to let the ignorant individuals spew their ugly comments and allow rational people to decide for themselves what is right, wrong or good and bad. We should be trusted to filter our own information intake and should never depend on the government or private corporations to decide what information will be deemed worthy, true or legitimate on our behalf.
History has shown us the best way to counter hate-speech is by more free speech. More people speaking out freely against hateful viewpoints are the best way to educate the masses and squelch the ugly messages. History has also taught us the pendulum swings back and forth, meaning today’s unbearable speech might be mainstream in the future with the only constant being the constitutional right to say and print the words.