Kevin Bae

Non-Social in a Socially Networked World

What are we allowed to say?

I posted the quote below on Facebook last night. I found it after the Internet seemed to explode over calls for President Trump to resign or be impeached and after he was banned from Twitter’s platform. Glenn Greenwald is referencing a case when white merchants filed suit against the NAACP alleging they advocated the use of “force, violence, and threats” to effectuate a boycott of their businesses. The U.S. Supreme Court rightly decided that while you can punish people for the consequences of actual violence you cannot punish people for expressing their thoughts about violence or even discussing it.

These calls for censorship, online and official, are grounded in the long-discredited, oft-rejected and dangerous view that a person should be held legally accountable not only for their own illegal actions but also for the consequences of their protected speech: meaning the actions others take when they hear inflammatory rhetoric. That was the distorted mentality used by the State of Mississippi in the 1970s to try to hold NAACP leaders liable for the violent acts of their followers against boycott violators after hearing rousing pro-boycott speeches from NAACP leaders, only for the Supreme Court in 1982 to unanimously reject such efforts on the ground that “while the State legitimately may impose damages for the consequences of violent conduct, it may not award compensation for the consequences of nonviolent, protected activity,” adding that even “advocacy of the use of force or violence does not remove speech from the protection of the first amendment.

Glenn Greenwald on Substack

What did Trump tweet that finally got him removed from Twitter?

On January 8, 2021, President Donald J. Trump tweeted:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

Shortly thereafter, the President tweeted:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Here is Twitter’s analysis of those tweets:

We assessed the two Tweets referenced above under our Glorification of Violence policy, which aims to prevent the glorification of violence that could inspire others to replicate violent acts and determined that they were highly likely to encourage and inspire people to replicate the criminal acts that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

This determination is based on a number of factors, including:

President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate and is seen as him disavowing his previous claim made via two Tweets (1, 2) by his Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Scavino, that there would be an “orderly transition” on January 20th.
The second Tweet may also serve as encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a “safe” target, as he will not be attending.
The use of the words “American Patriots” to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol.
The mention of his supporters having a “GIANT VOICE long into the future” and that “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an “orderly transition” and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.
Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.

Twitter is a private sector entity and they can and should be able to do what they want with their platform… within reason. They should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of ideology or thought. They should not be able to project thoughts onto tweets as interpretation is highly subjective. If they are calling their service a platform then either they allow people to speak their minds or they do not. Once they have policies that editorialize they cease being a platform and now are a publisher. They should now be held accountable for any tweet that any reasonable person believes caused a harm.

The bigger question is, what are we now allowed to say? Is everything I wrote above an endorsement of what happened in the protest at the capitol? Are my writings an endorsement of President Trump? How do you know exactly what is in my mind and what my thoughts are?

I think freedom of speech is fundamental to our a free people. Anyone should be able to speak their mind regardless of what another interprets those words to mean. People should be allowed to say even the most repugnant things. The rest of us should be allowed to rebut those words.

Words are what they are… just words. Even if those words inspire someone else to take a heinous action. It’s the action that is prosecutable. That’s where the line has to be drawn. It is a crime to kill your neighbor because you hate them but it is not and should not be a crime to hate them.

Am I allowed to say any of this?

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay