Political Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Today, Facebook made two announcements. If you’re reading this and thinking that this is old news, you’re right. I’m over a week ahead in these posts. As I write this, in fact, I’m in a motel room waiting for tomorrow and the start of the Renaissance Fair, but it’s on my mind tonight.
The first announcement is that the decision to suspend Trump’s account, maybe seven or eight months ago, has been extended to two years. It’s been so long since the story that I kind of forget the exact time, but basically his account was suspended then for violating community standards for inciting violence and spreading lies. Furious at the action, Trump of course lashed out claiming it was a violation of his free speech and that he was targeted by liberals. I found this ironic as several of his rants were actually calling for violations of the Constitutionally guaranteed free speech, particularly by the free press.
The second announcement was what was called a “reversal” of their “free speech” policy. Specifically, they announced that politicians would all be held to the same community standards as the rest of the users of their service. In other words, as I understand it, they will begin fact-checking statements made by politicians, flag lies and suspend accounts that spread hate speech.
Frankly, it’s about time. First of all, let’s discuss the concept of “free speech”. The Supreme Court had already judged that hate speech is not protected in the first amendment. Speech designed to incite hatred and violence, like referring to a cultural group as “murders and rapists” is not protected by the first amendment. Today, there is a new politician making a name for herself with hatred and racism. Marjorie Taylor Greene has made a name for herself with tone-deaf, racist and offensive comments such as comparing public health initiatives to protect people from the Coronavirus to Nazi actions in the holocaust.
I’ve been in Facebook Jail. I poked fun about the election date, suggesting that Republicans vote a few days after the actual election date. Personally, I assumed that this was such an outlandish claim that any reasonable person would realize it was a joke and would not take it seriously. Yes, this is the same defense Fox News has recently made of their broadcasts in court. Facebook, however, did not agree, and into Facebook Jail I went for, oh, I think it was a week.
There should never, ever, be different rules for any class of person. Politicians should not be exempt from scrutiny and “Facebook Jail” for things they say. The right to free speech for all of us should be identical, regardless of our chosen profession. Some years ago, Republicans made yet another play against the Affordable Care Act but buried within the bill was a statement that politicians were exempt for employees in their office. I wish I could remember the specifics and when this bill was introduced, but I distinctly recall being rather exceptionally offended that the bill specifically exempted members of congress. In the movie Excalibur, the character playing King Arthur had a great line when he said, “My laws must bind us all, high and low, or they are not laws at all.”
Let’s be honest; Facebook is not bound by the laws of free speech. The reality is that it is a privately owned company and can set their own standards for what people may or may not post, but they’re smart. They know full well that the outcry about Trump’s false claims could easily have cost them a lot of users, which translates to loss of money (by advertisers since it is a free service). Right now, there is a lot of awareness of unequal and biased rules, so the easiest thing to do is to set standards that apply to everybody, which is what they did. The actions today are not directed against either political party because it holds everybody, politicians and regular users, to the same standards. I find it ironic when one person or party lashes out, claiming they’re being unfairly targeted, by a policy that levels the playing field. That’s a clear indication of deceitful practices all along. When one group of people are suddenly held to new standards, it will feel unfair even if those are the standards other to which others are held. We see this a lot today when old white men complain about how they miss “the good old days”.
It’s a start. We need other services to do the same thing, namely censor hate speech and lies, and hold everybody to the same standards.