Why does The New York Times want you to have less free speech?
Today, The New York Times continued its mission of trying to eliminate free expression for everyone that isn’t part of the elite media family. In an authoritarian and dangerous article called “Free Speech Is Killing Us,” Andrew Marantz argues that free speech is not, in fact, for just anybody. Forgetting, of course, that it’s for everyone.
After all, Marantz has spent “the past few years embedding as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy.” So he “no longer [has] any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood.”
You see, Marantz is basically a hero. It’s a miracle that he managed to make it out alive. He actually had to hold his nose and spend social time with unwashed, uncivilized people he thinks are deplorable. He’s basically the 2019 version of a SCUD stud.
Marantz boldly explains to us regular folk why we should be okay with the erosion of our rights to expression and why corporate censorship is a “good thing”:
Using “free speech” as a cop-out is just as intellectually dishonest and just as morally bankrupt. For one thing, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. Even the most creative reader of the Constitution will not find a provision guaranteeing Richard Spencer a Twitter account. But even if you see social media platforms as something more akin to a public utility, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment anyway. Libel, incitement of violence and child pornography are all forms of speech. Yet we censor all of them, and no one calls it the death knell of the Enlightenment.
The argument that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies, that censorship can only be perpetrated by government authorities, is disingenuous in a society where, as Chief Justice Earl Warren noted in his opinion on the companion cases of Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts and Associated Press v. Walker (1967), “increasingly in this country, the distinctions between governmental and private sectors are blurred.”
This is even truer now than it was in under the Warren court, and it behooves individual citizens to assert their rights. There is a blurring of the lines between government and corporate authority in that so much of our daily activity is facilitated by companies and not government entities. However, privatization does not diminish our rights, and the rights of the corporation to their policies etc. do not outweigh those of the individual.
The terms of service of social media platforms are often applied subjectively, and getting out of social media jail can be tedious or impossible, given that there’s no one on the other side to communicate with. Twitter and Facebook may have very public facing CEOs in Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg, respectively, but that doesn’t mean anyone is picking up the phone to speak to users about their complaints, confusions, or deplatformings. There is certainly no guarantee of anyone’s “right” to a social media account, but until the standards are applied along clear, understandable, objective guidelines, every account but Twitter’s illustrious “blue checks” are in daily danger of violating shifting terms.
Libel is defamation, and defamation is not free speech. This was determined by the Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964. This was a case where L.B. Sullivan, police commissioner of Montgomery, AL, sued the New York Times over an ad they allowed to run which contained misinformation about circumstances of police conduct in Montgomery. The New York Times had not fact-checked the ad before running it. Sullivan was awarded damages, but this case also set the standard for libel. A defendant would be required to prove malice before libel could be determined, and damages awarded. This prevents people from simply claiming libel and defamation because it requires that the evidentiary onus be on the accuser. Libel is not a frequent charge, the burden of proof is high, and one hopes The New York Times is better at fact-checking now than they were before Sullivan.
Incitement to violence, or the “imminent lawless action test,” is still being sorted out. The cases of Schenck v. United States (1919), Gitlow v. New York (1925), Whitney v. California (1927), Dennis v. United States (1951), Yates v. United States (1957), Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), Hess v. Indiana (1973), and Stewart v. McCoy (2002), show that the Supreme Court, and the American public, are trying to figure out where to draw the line between an incitement to violence such that there would be jurisdiction over preventing it, and free speech by individuals and groups who are working hard to make their points and wishes heard. Marantz glosses over the 100-year-long controversy, which is undoubtedly still in flux.
Child pornography is not free speech because that which is being done to children in the images and videos is illegal, and the videos and images are evidence of a crime. This is the difference between legal pornography featuring consenting adults, which is protected under free speech laws, and criminal sex abuse against children. Child pornography is not protected speech, it is not free speech, it is a scourge on children, the internet, and any publication, hard drive, or messaging service that contains these images. The New York Times had a recent and tragic unveiling of just how many images containing child pornography circulate on the internet, in excess of 45 million, and the struggle of law enforcement to contain it.
Maratz goes on to argue:
Congress could fund, for example, a national campaign to promote news literacy, or it could invest heavily in library programming. It could build a robust public media in the mold of the BBC. It could rethink Section 230 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — the rule that essentially allows Facebook and YouTube to get away with (glorification of) murder. If Congress wanted to get really ambitious, it could fund a rival to compete with Facebook or Google, the way the Postal Service competes with FedEx and U.P.S.
To put it simply, this is nonsense. There is no way to “protect unpopular speech” while simultaneously “mitigating” the “risk” of unchecked speech. If you are checking speech and mitigating the risks of it, you are censoring. You are violating free speech.
The 2019 federal budget had funding for libraries that remained steady or increased. The Department of Education received funding for educational programs within libraries. Library advocates were happy with the budget. What sort of programming is Marantz advocating for? There have been many ruffled feathers over library programming that caters to special interests and does not actually meet the educational needs of children.
Who would decide what this programming entails? Would there be a commision set up to determine what sort of programming libraries need in order to ensure a better informed public? If so, who would be on this commission? What would their perspective be? How soon before it was tagged partisan in some way, or not inclusive enough, or discriminatory, or simply a waste of money?
There’s a reason the US doesn’t have “robust public media” in the form of the BBC, and it’s because of that pesky First Amendment that Marantz is railing against. Americans prefer when the government keeps its dirty fingers out of the press. Americans also prefer when the press doesn’t tell them what they can and cannot say in real life or online.
Section 230, a law written in the 1990s, at the dawn of the internet age, was about shielding burgeoning internet platforms from liability for user content. Changes to the law are unlikely to make any substantive changes to practice, because the monolithic social media platforms will be able to simply alter their terms of service in order to still do as they please with regard to users, data, or ejections from their town-square replacing platforms.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling for a breakup of the tech giants in order to make room for new competition in the industry, per antitrust regulations. That would be a more practical way of addressing some of these concerns because companies could engage in competitive practices to draw users to their platforms, rather than the long arm of government dictating corporate practices.
Other nations have enacted regulations and taken pledges, such as the Christchurch Call, to restrict, regulate, and remove unseemly content from the web. This kind of far-reaching government interference may sound like a good short term solution, but an infringement on speech rights is not something that can be done simply because there’s objectionable content online. That there are numerous Supreme Court cases trying to figure out the line between speech that incites violence and that which is protected exemplifies just how dicey and essential this conversation is, and how careful we should be in trouncing on speech rights.
The concept that the federal government of the United States should have its own social media platform or search engines, to rival Facebook, Twitter, or Google, is entirely bats. Does anyone really want an email address with a backdoor into the State Department? This is the fear that the US Feds have with regard to the use of Chinese tech, that it has a hidden opening that can be accessed by Chinese officials for purposes of spying. It’s not a totally crazy concern, and it’s one that any and every American citizen should have with the idea of a state-run search engine, or social media platform.
While for sure there is no privacy on existing social media, and users should be aware of that with regard to every single thing they post, there are still massive objections both in the corporate realm as well we among individuals to tech companies handing over user data. Libraries won’t do it, phone companies won’t do it, and neither should tech companies. Exactly who would the government petition to get a warrant for user data on its own platform? Itself? Marantz’s comparison to competitive mail carriers, FedEx, UPS, and with the US having its own US Postal Service is a little backwards. The Pony Express was launched way before its rivals and is not doing so great since those two package giants broke the USPS monopoly.
But Marantz has even more solutions:
Tomorrow, by fiat, Mark Zuckerberg could make Facebook slightly less profitable and enormously less immoral: He could hire thousands more content moderators and pay them fairly. Or he could replace Sheryl Sandberg with Susan Benesch, a human rights lawyer and an expert on how speech can lead to violence.
Social media companies have shown how quickly they can act when under pressure. After every high-profile eruption of violence — Charlottesville, Christchurch and the like — tech companies have scrambled to ban inflammatory accounts, take down graphic videos, even rewrite their terms of service. Some of the most egregious actors, such as Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, have been permanently banned from all major platforms.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are already facing a great number of challenges both from private individuals and from Congress for their demonstrably and admittedly liberal bias. Antitrust legislation may be inevitable because these platforms are, when it comes down to it, monopolistic, and If you don’t have a voice online, then you don’t have a voice. It’s painfully obvious to see that what starts with the censuring and elimination of fringe voices like Jones and Yiannopoulos quickly erupts into a censorship free-for-all, with mainstream voices like gender critical feminists like Meghan Murphy and prominent psychologists like Jordan Peterson being labelled as “alt-right” and having their voices silenced as well.
What moralistic scolds like Marantz and his kind want is control. They want to monitor your speech so that they never feel uncomfortable, and so that only the views they agree with are heard. They yearn for fiats. They are certain that if they just shut you up, then some sort of social justice utopia will surely emerge. What they never seem to understand is that they’re next. For some reason, they always assume that they have immunity from the mob. Wise observers of our culture over the last few years know that no one is safe. Marantz and The New York Times are free to rail against free speech, but it is unwise to do so. Free speech is one of those sacred, fundamental rights that, once taken away, is impossible to get back.
Bruce Arthur, dubbed Sportswriter of the Year in 2012 by Sports Media Canada and featured in Sports Illustrated’s list of top 100 people to follow on Twitter, may sound like your average sports columnist, but there’s much more to the man than hot takes and sports. He also has a passion for hurling abuse at strong conservative women. Specifically, Candice Malcolm.
Malcolm is the founder of True North, an independent media outlet in Canada. She tweeted out a reply to Justin Ling, a man who describes himself as a “consulting killjoy,” “perpetually unemployed” and “painstakingly uninteresting.”
Ling had said in a Hill Times article that True North, the independent news outlet founded by Malcolm, was a “tiny start-up” from “worrying ends of the spectrum.”
Malcolm stood up for herself and her outlet:
And this is when Bruce Arthur showed exactly why he was voted by SI as one of the top 100 people to follow on Twitter, saying to Malcolm: “You’re garbage.”
At first, I was confused by this nasty response. But then I looked into who this guy really is. It turns out he’s the kind of guy who would imply that if you watch conservative news programs like former hockey legend Bobby Orr does, then you might be a “white supremacist.”
Slandering people and blithely calling a woman “garbage”? I think Trudeau should reconsider all of that media bailout money he’s giving the Toronto Star and Arthur.
According to today’s woke standards, Arthur—a mediocre white male—should be cancelled for typing such a reply to a female journalist. It’s the kind of thing that is condemned as “hate”—rooted in misogyny and toxic masculinity. Will that happen in this case? Of course not. You see, Malcolm is conservative and Arthur is liberal. The standards are never applied equally.
Candice Malcolm has stood up for Canadians, our freedom of speech, our servicemen and servicewomen, tackled terrorism, broken stories others only wish they could have, and has taken the Trudeau government to court for and won on behalf of freedom of the press. For a sports columnist to state that Malcolm, an obvious pillar of Canadian media is “garbage” is completely inaccurate and out of touch.
Freedom of speech belongs to everyone. That freedom should not be limited or suppressed. Arthur has the right to hurl insults at conservative women all day long if he so chooses. But it does speak to his lack of character. How we use our language is a choice we make, and this choice was, quite frankly, garbage.
Bruce, if you want to save your credibility, take the plank out of your eye before commenting on the speck you see in someone else’s. Or, just stick to the sports highlights and leave the real work to Candice Malcolm and True North.
I guarantee that Malcolm would still defend your ability to speak freely and call her names. That’s the kind of professional she is.
“The world is going to hell.” Every day, in every news outlet, we are bombarded with this notion. Climate change irrevocability, civil strife, increasing racism, terrorism, homophobia, and poverty. The west is in a navel-gazing spiral of negativity and self-hatred. We verbally flagellate ourselves with condemnation of our own wealth, of our carbon footprint, of our inability to fix all the problems instantly, effectively, and permanently. We are stuck in a loop of negative self-critique that any therapist would diagnose as suicidal, and in fact, suicide rates are rising. But it’s time we looked at some facts and started telling ourselves a new story. As it turns out, we don’t suck.
One of the biggest critiques of the west is that there is rising inequality, that the poor are getting poorer while the rich keep getting richer. However, that’s not actually true. It’s a lovely narrative for those who favour wealth redistribution because the perception of injustice spurs people on to figure out how to rectify that. The only problem is that it’s untrue. Of course, there are problems, there always are, but they’re not nearly so bad as we are led to believe by popular media representations, and they’re getting better.
A recent article in The Economist shows just how off our thinking has been with regard to wealth inequity. New research confirms that the basis for this belief in increasing financial disparity is inaccurate. The claims of inequity were founded on four presumed truths. These are that the top 1% of earners have soared high above the rest of us in wealth accumulation, that household incomes have languished, that worker exploitation has hurt labour while lining the pockets of wealth capitalists and that the accumulation of assets the wealthy hold have been skyrocketing in value.
However, “…some economists have re-crunched the numbers and concluded that the income share of the top 1% in America may have been little changed since as long ago as 1960.” Unaccounted for in the analysis of wealth inequity were the changes with regard to Medicaid expansion, pension dividends that go to middle-earners, the vast underestimation of “inflation adjusted median income growth in America from 1979-2014.”
While we could always do better, the fact is, we could do much worse. It’s hard for us to believe that we are not the worst people in the worst time frame in the entirety of human history, but as we berate ourselves for being so terrible, we should take a moment to note that poverty is in drastic decline worldwide.
In a Q&A on his YouTube channel, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson notes that: “It is by no means self-evident that things are getting worse… In the last 15 years, the millennium goal for the UN was to have world poverty, like absolute poverty, that’s less than $1.50 [down] by 50% within 15 years, and that was actually reached ahead of schedule. We’ve lifted hundreds of millions of people into the middle class in the last 30 years. There is increasing inequality in the west because the working class has taken the brunt of that redistribution to third world countries. But really there’s no starvation in the world anymore, except really for reasons of misdistribution and political purpose.
“People are becoming richer and more educated all the time. And we are waking up to our planetary responsibilities, and once people stop starving to death, and having to burn dirt and eat substandard food that they’ve scraped out of the ground they do start to turn their attention to things that are more aesthetic. … I don’t see an alternative [to capitalism] that has manifested itself that doesn’t have far more negative consequences. … The most successful societies by virtually any metric are the capitalist societies.”
Shocking, I know, but it’s true. The west and western culture is not the worst thing ever to happen to the world and humanity. We don’t have to wipe ourselves off the face of the earth or stop having babies just to save everyone from our wretched, horrid, greedy, trolling selves. We have actually been helping. Poverty is in decline, and along with it, our general sense of self-respect.
It’s time to tell ourselves a different story, one that involves trying our hardest to make things better for all people, because that’s what’s really going on. People are getting tired of this same, sad story. David Byrne recently launched Reasons to Be Cheerful as an antidote to all the bad news. It collects stories about all the legit good things happening in the world, and those that reflect innovation, compassion, and cooperation between people and cultures.
A narrative that gives us an inkling into our successes, not just our failures, would help us to push forward more than the hopeless one we are constantly being fed. One of our biggest issues is that, as things improve both in the west and worldwide, we raze the definition of success and replace it with an even higher measure.
We have lived up to so many of our goals, yet every time we attain one, we move the goal further on. It’s like we’re climbing a ladder and with every rung, we look up at the next one and see how much further away it is than the one we just climbed. This is not a call to let ourselves off the hook, we know how much work there is to do, we hear about it from every source every day. But the progress of democratic capitalism, with a healthy amount of checks on the power of the free market, is an effective tool for the betterment of us all. Let’s stop hating ourselves—what we’re doing is actually working.
A Quebec judge rejected part of comedian Mike Ward’s appeal regarding a joke about a disabled boy.
Ward was ordered to pay $35,000 to Jeremy Gabriel, who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes facial deformity and affects his hearing, due to a joke the comedian told at shows between 2010 and 2013.
Two of three judges ruled Mike Ward’s comments regarding Gabriel were not justifiable in a society where freedom of expression is valued.
Ward was originally ordered to pay an additional $7,000 to Gabriel’s mother—a fine which the courts overturned due to the indirect relationship between the joke and the boy’s mother.
The joke in question was regarding Gabriel’s disability. In 2005, Gabriel sang to Pope Benedict and Celine Dion to flesh out his dream of becoming an international singer.
Ward’s jokes called Gabriel a bad singer, stating that he was “terminally ill” and that Gabriel not passing away meant that his “Make a Wish” was invalid. Gabriel was not actually terminally ill, as Gabriel’s genetic disease—Treacher Collins syndrome—does not generally have an effect on lifespan. He was also not a Make-a-Wish kid, as Ward was embellishing the story for the sake of the joke.
Ward added that he tried to drown Gabriel, but he wouldn’t die.
The Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the joke discriminated against Gabriel and his parents, ordering Ward to pay damages for “making discriminatory comments regarding Jéremy Gabriel, infringing his right to equality.”
Ward later tweeted that he would not be paying any fines, and planned to take his case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“In a ‘free’ country, it shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a joke on stage,” he wrote. “The people in attendance laughing already answered that question.”
Ward’s lawyer, Julius Grey, believes the decision seriously impacts the world of stand-up comedy.
“In this particular case, if the judgement is maintained, no one will be able to dare to be a stand-up comic, because normally you make fun of things that are controversial—otherwise it’s not funny,” Grey said. “If anything that is controversial can authorize someone to say ‘I was hurt, I’m going to court,’ we’re finished.”
Ward will appeal the case to the Supreme Court, Grey said on Thursday.
While the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression, the Appeals Court ruled that Ward had gone too far, passing what’s permissible by law.
“What is funny for some can be considered bad taste by others … Humour, especially the kind of humour that Mr. Ward practices, can appeal to sarcasm, mockery and even insult. The border between a limitation to freedom of expression in the name of dignity and censorship is thin. … Comedians must realize, however, that artistic freedom is not absolute and that they, like all citizens, are responsible for the consequences of their words when they cross certain limits.”
Prisoners often find themselves mixed up in ideological warfare that has nothing to do with their rehabilitation, and everything to do with opposing cultural forces. Such is the case with born-again Christian pop star Kanye West’s recent visit to the Harris County Jail in Texas. West brought his musical worship service to prisoners, leading with light and God’s love, to the people who need it most. For that, the local Sheriff Ed Gonzales, West, and the prisoners were admonished by anti-faith group The Freedom from Religion Foundation.
Sheriff Gonzalez and the prisoners at Harris County Jail had a different take.
While The Freedom from Religion Foundation primarily files lawsuits and does not go into prisons to help prisoners in their journey toward atonement, forgiveness, and reentering society, they took issue with West’s work to actually help people. This is some of the most elitist, entitled, patronizing displays of legal bludgeoning since The Freedom from Religion Foundation took issue with the federal funding of a mentorship program for the children of prisoners.
West made the appearance at the Harris County Jail for a worship service prior to attending televangelist Joel Osteen’s ministry, and repeatedly told the crowd of men in orange jumpsuits that “This is a mission, not a show.” It was that mission that got him in trouble with the atheists, who must think there is some better way to salvation and healing than seeking forgiveness and absolution from a higher power. Perhaps they have a plan to go into prisons and give a concert about how a secular life of consumerist materialism will lead to healing. But probably they don’t.
Despite the downturn in religious practice in the United States, faith in God is still often a way for people to discover a healthy path toward healing and becoming their best selves. While the argument against the intrusion of church into state affairs is judicially established, the emergence of atheism as a religious force should now be subject to those same considerations. Organized atheism is very similar to organized religion, except adherents rally around the absence of God instead of his existence.
Atheism is not neutral, it is, in fact, its own growing belief system. It is just as intrusive to bar religious practice in favour of anti-religious practice, because both are belief systems. If prisoners would rather not be party to either kind of faith practice, or worship service, or nothing service, they don’t have to be. What The Freedom from Religion Foundation doesn’t want to admit to is that putting trust in a higher power in order to become a better person more aligned with the values of kindness, love, and forgiveness, works.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has that much beef with God and faith that they deny a person’s betterment by demanding that only non faith-based intellectual and emotional tools be sanctioned. Their argument is that classic separation of church and state squabble that keeps prayers out of schools, the mention of God off of memorials to fallen soldiers, and money flowing away from programs that actually help people instead of keeping their feet nailed to the same detrimental path that brought them to prison in the first place.
The argument made against West’s mission was that the prisoners are “literally a captive audience—who have a deep and immediate interest in being seen favourably by the jail staff.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation thinks so little of prisoners’ ability to think for themselves that they would rather deny those who want to participate in religious service than believe that those who don’t want to attend will feel coerced to do so.
Perhaps up next will be the legal removal of every kind of religious services from prisons, chaplains from the armed forces, and crosses atop churches from being visible. If these atheists really cared about the welfare of those men and women suffering in our overcrowded prison systems, they would use their legal funds to bring programs to those incarcerated souls who need uplifting, who need to hear a message that life has meaning and that caring and love are truly possible. Using the court system to belittle and demean those who have already been subjected to the inequities of that system is certainly unreasonably cruel.