Seriously, Have Republicans Even Read The First Amendment?
Conservative talking points on free speech completely miss the mark.
The Right is Claiming To Be Censored
One look into the mainstream Republican media, or the words of their political leaders, and you’d think their free speech rights are being suppressed on a daily basis.
Parler, the conservative answer to Twitter, gained half a million new users last month, undoubtedly accelerated by Trump’s recent attacks on Twitter. Parler calls itself as a “free speech haven” and has a “lack of censorship”. It’s designed to be the antidote to liberal safe spaces — where “special snowflakes” suppress free speech.
Parler has handles from many prominent Republican leaders, including Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. After perusing the site, I was struck by how similar it was to Twitter. You can’t “retweet” but you can “echo”. You can’t “like” but you can “vote”. Beat-for-beat it’s just the blue birdy platform but with red elephants shouting from the rooftop.
Then, in a twist of fate, Parler, a supposed “free speech” paradise, immediately started censoring people.
Profanity, NSFW images, lewd profiles — you name it, Parler bans it. It’s not just images of tits and shit that get users banned — a Parler user was banned for creating a satire account of a conservative Representative. In a cruel twist, four out of Parler’s five ‘bannable’ offenses are allowed on Twitter, the very platform Parler believes to be restricting free speech.
Any censorship present on Twitter is running far more rampant on Parler. It’s clear that Parler’s supposed mission statement is nothing more than a rhetorical device to sway conservatives into ditching Twitter.
This isn’t the first that conservative leaders have cried wolf over censorship. Devin Nunes, a Republican representative from California, sued Twitter for 250 million dollars. The reason? Two parody accounts: Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Alt-Mom. Man, Devin cannot take a joke.
The case was, of course, thrown out, as these accounts are clearly within the realms of parody and Twitter is not legally responsible for what their users post online. And, in a hilarious and predictable, twist of fate, the lawsuit actually helped the accounts gain nearly a million cumulative followers.
And, of course, Trump. The boy who cried fake news.
After Twitter issued a warning above President Trump’s tweets, calling them inaccurate and inciting violence, Trump signed an executive order targeting social media. He said the order was to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history”.
In each of these cases, both Republican leaders and journalists betray a fundamental understanding of what the First Amendment actually says. Have they even read it?
The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. — First Amendment
That’s it. That’s the entire First Amendment.
Free speech is what’s known as a negative right — essentially, the government has no business interfering with the words you say, so long as they don’t cause harm. The government cannot infringe on your right to say whatever you want.
Not other people. Not private companies. The government.
If you call me a mean name on social media, you’re not violating free speech. If I block you from contacting me, I am not violating your free speech. If the social media company suspends your account, they’re not violation your free speech.
But, if the FBI hacks your account and starts deleting posts — that is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Or, say, if police officers routinely shoot tear gas and rubber bullets at reporters without cause.
When Tucker Carlson blames Google for stifling free speech, he is making a fatal error. Google, as an independent company, has no obligation to promote certain forms of ads or words on its platform — if someone wants to advertise something hateful on the website, Google can say ‘no’. That’s not a violation of free speech.
Medium, the website we are on, has a list of rules that apply to anyone who wishes to post on their site, forbidding threats of violence and hate speech. If a user consistently threatens others, and Medium blocks their account, Medium did not violate the First Amendment. They’re just following their own policy.
Neither the FCC nor the Supreme Court nor the U.S. Constitution prohibit a website owner from blocking, altering, or deleting anything on the website they own. — Dell Cameron
The First Amendment concerns our negative rights to have the government not suppress our words. Not the positive right to go around saying whatever the fuck we want on other people’s platforms.
The Right’s Stance on Free Speech is Full of Contradictions
The Republican stance on the First Amendment is fundamentally flawed and hypocritical. They decry anyone who doesn’t fall in line with conservative thought while simultaneously claiming that their own free speech is being infringed upon.
The modern Republican party claims that Democrats’ intolerance is suppressing free speech. On college campuses, on social media platforms, in mainstream media — anywhere where people freely discuss political issues.
A recent phenomenon is that many liberal students, professors, and administrators refuse to accept the concept of free speech. When presented with an idea that they disagree with,they shut down all conversation. Students start crying and run off to their safe space. — Gen Z Conservative
Mainstream conservative media believes in the first amendment only when it applies to them. They believe they should be free to do or say whatever they like, whenever they like, without consequences — but are unable to grant others that same power.
It’s become increasingly clear why Republicans are using the rhetorical strategy of the First Amendment — they are trying to silence their critics.
63% of Republicans believe that journalists are an “enemy of the American people”, a favorite phrase of Trump. Dissemination of truth has now become a partisan act. If Republican leaders see something they don’t like — minority voices, scientific methods to stop diseases, reports of illegal trade deals — they will immediately attack it.
I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money — Donald Trump, 2016
All the while, Republicans decry their own right to free speech. Their words are being silenced. Their thoughts are being censored. Their ideology is being oppressed.
But the government isn’t suppressing Republicans’ right to free speech. Their words are just falling on empty ears.