Is freedom of speech a principle or privilege?

Kate Tyler, Staff Writer

I think that Alex Jones is a horrible person. Jones is the founder and host of the far-right media outlet “Infowars.” On his show, he peddled conspiracy theories about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting being a hoax, as well as many other outrageous conspiracies.  Unfortunately, I find myself in the minority of people when I say that I don’t believe he should have been blacklisted from every major social media website.

We live in a world that is increasingly coexisting with the Internet. Social media has become one of the most predominant ways people communicate with one another. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become the new town square where important issues are called to the attention of the masses, and politics is debated among the average person.

Looking at these social media sites as communication platforms, we have to ask the question: Is freedom of speech a principle or a privilege?

In this case, principle would be a fundamental value we share as Americans. If freedom of speech is a principle, then Jones shouldn’t have been purged from the internet without due process. Since social media platforms are private corporations, they don’t have to abide by the free speech protections of the Constitution on their platform. If we believe free speech is a principle then that has to change.

The best way to fix the issue would be to regulate social media as a public utility like telecommunications companies. As a public utility, social media platforms would likely only be able to take down accounts that violate actual legal speech violations. There would have to be an independant and publicly accountable judicial process that would determine whether specific posts or entire accounts should be shut down.

If free speech is a privilege, then social media platforms like Facebook and Google should continue to work with the federal government, foreign entities like Israel and other corporations to target accounts which they deem unfit for their platform. If free speech is a privilege, then there’s no need for accountability because clearly tech moguls in Silicon Valley have your best interests at heart, and they are much better equipped to delete misinformation.

By trying to let these social media corporations weed out “fake news” and “propaganda,” we’re allowing these companies to create a propaganda state through censorship.

For example, a few weeks ago YouTube deleted 39 accounts connected to the Iranian government. It’s unlikely that any of these accounts actually violated “community guidelines,” but they were purely removed because they were allegedly run by the Iranian government and were thus propaganda. It’s a slippery slope that has already led to legitimate outlets being targeted.

Recently, executives from Twitter and Facebook were called to testify before Congress, and at one point Sen. Tom Cotton asked if the social media giants would be willing to purge Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, and Wikileaks itself, a whistleblowing organization meant to expose government corruption and abuse of power, from their platforms because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while Director of the CIA, had determined that Wikileaks was a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

Americans and journalists deserve to have their first amendment rights protected. If we don’t act soon, we’ll be too late.