Freedom of Expression: A core Democratic Value

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One of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” was embodied in this painting by Norman Rockwell.

This is a man standing up at a public town hall style meeting and speaking his mind.

He is not screaming at a school board demanding that excellent books be kept away from our school children, and prohibited for use by our educators.

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29 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression: A core Democratic Value

  1. Yes but the painting implicitly implies that free expression is an unquestionable good. It is not. Most people most of the time would do themselves and the world a favor if they would just shut up. Free expression is simply the negative liberty arising from the fact that the government is simply not given the power to make you shut up. That applies even if your expression is ugly, stupid, crazy, wrong or even vile.

    Freedom of expression is a great power and with it comes a great responsibility. But the government has no role in enforcing that responsibility else it would destroy the that very freedom of expression.

    1. The government does , in fact, regulate speech in many different ways, all the time. Always has. And it is legal, Constitutional, and considered quite proper to do so.

  2. The restrictions on free speech are very limited and very narrow. Wiki has a list of exceptions to free speech here:

    Notice that they are all very narrow to cover a very narrow legitimate government interest.

    By contrast the things that are covered have a vast range from telling a police officer to go fuck himself to Donald Trump praising Putin’s genius invasion of the Ukraine. Facebook could legally go full nazi and the constitution would protect them.

    Free speech is like a superpower that we all have and can use for good or evil. Before you contemplate limiting it you might want to set down with Donald Trump and discuss how he would limit it. Once you allow legislative serious limits on free speech rather than very narrow ones crafted by the courts then Donald Trump is on his way to becoming our exalted leader for life. All hail His majesty the cheeto.

    Basically this is what happened in Putin’s Russia. He got power, cracked down on opposition in ways that seemed reasonable (to Russians)at first, eliminated constitutional limits on his power and became leader for life. This is why his majesty the cheeto thinks Putin is such a genius. Its envy really.

    My only point is that freedom of expression has a light side and a dark side. But they are entwined in such a way that you cannot have one without the other.

    1. I agree with you but, unfortunately, it is clear that the current Republican Party can and will use this built-in inability to avoid a sea of lies choking out the truth, combined with red state state legislatures’ already ongoing partisan redistricting and voter curtailment, to emulate Putin’s Russia.

  3. Wouldn’t it be great if Elon Musk bought twitter and stopped suppressing free speech? Free speech used to be a core democratic value – but no more. Now cancel culture and speech suppression is a core democratic value. Hopefully this will be a fad and free speech will return to being a value and not something to try to get rid of.

    1. Twitter is not bound by the principal of free speech — it isn’t government. Cross its rules, get punished. You’d think a lawyer would know that — but it is the resident clown.

      “Now cancel culture…”

      It’s a good thing the only place “cancel culture” exists is in the small minds of bigots and racists who don’t like being identified for what they are.

    2. Yeah… no. To save effort I will just paste what I posted on the youtube channel “TheQuartering” :

      “****Why does everyone get this question so horribly wrong. The very way the question was asked shows a total misunderstanding of the principal of free speech. Free speech is the negative liberty created by denying government the power to make you shut up. Government. As a legal or even moral principle it does not apply to individuals or even Twitter. At all. Get over it. Any attempt to enforce it on them would violate their free speech, free press or free association and create a horrible world that you would not want to live in. Most people would do themselves and the world a favor if they would just shut up but government is denied the power to make them shut up.

      You can complain about their moderation policy and I might agree with you. But that is not a free speech issue. At all. No. They not only have a constitutional right to moderate just about any way they want they have a moral responsibility to moderate. If they do it poorly they can be criticized but they cannot be policed by government and that fact is the principle of free speech. The greatest threat to free speech is people not understanding this principle.

      We can and should criticize poor moderation policies but there needs to be a recognition of how impossible it is to moderate on a large scale. Musk needs to understand this simple and ugly fact before buying twitter.***** ”

      The Irony here is that the quartering is a more conservative place and many of the commenters there are convinced that Musk could restore free speech to twitter and restore Trump to power. The irony is that both Trump and Biden want to end section 230 protection in order to protect free speech. The irony is that Texas, Florida and Georgia are passing laws to regulate social media to protect free speech. The problem is that they are grossly unconstitutional because of the way they violate free speech.

      Texas, Georgia, Florida, Biden, Trump and apparently you need to learn what free speech is.

    3. Now that Elon Musk owns over 9% of twitter and is on the Board, hopefully twitter will change its moderation policy to be less evil (i.e. speech suppression). I am looking forward to the changes which I expect to roll throughout all corporate owned social media platforms.

      As always, the solution to speech which you (not referring to any “you” in particular) disagree with is more speech – not banning the public airing of opinions which you think are wrong.

  4. It’s been my observation that the issue of restriction of speech is neither a left nor right issue, it’s an authoritarian issue. Banning books, calling for women to be silenced for “transphobia,” laws preventing the teaching of CRT in public schools, content moderation on social media, (including on the right wing alternatives to Twitter and Facebook,) and other examples, are not rooted as principle in liberal, nor conservative ideology. It’s a matter of not wanting to hear what may counter your own beliefs, and using what power you posses.

    Or the Overlord “THEY” that Kevin Trudeau warned you about who don’t want you to know about superfoods and debt strategies.

    Neil Young had a problem with Spotify carrying Joe Rogan’s show and used what power he had to try to get them to stop carrying him. It didn’t work, and probably gained subscribers for Rogan, but it was an authoritarian attempt to if not silence, limit access to Rogan’s questionable choice of guests regarding Covid-19.

    We all have a tendency to plug our ears when we don’t want to hear something, turn away, mute a conversation on Twitter, unsubscribe from a blog, etc. Some people take it further and try to gag anyone who talks bad words so no one else hears them. A few of them actually have power to do so.

    And while content moderation is often necessary (have you ever looked at GETTr? lots of loons take advantage of reduced content moderation,) there is a fine balance that moderators will get wrong.

    1. I agree that this is an authoritarian issue and not necessarily connected to either the left or the right. But we should avoid any false equivalency here. The right has long been recognized as the authoritarian daddy of the two parties. On many issues from support for racial discrimination, laws against gay sex, opposition to gay marriage and support for police power they have earned that. The left practices a more nanny state authoritarianism. Not good but they are somewhat less likely to shoot you or jail you.

      “****Neil Young had a problem with Spotify carrying Joe Rogan’s show and used what power he had to try to get them to stop carrying him. It didn’t work, and probably gained subscribers for Rogan, but it was an authoritarian attempt to if not silence, limit access to Rogan’s questionable choice of guests regarding Covid-19.****”

      Again, no. You cannot believe how painful it is to see people just not understanding something so simple. Neil Young is not government. Neil Young can remove himself from Spotify for any reason at all or no reason what so ever. Neil Young not only has a right to choose who or what he is associated with but a moral duty to think carefully about those associations.

      If we were to seriously call Neil Young’s actions authoritarian then any protest, any boycott or even any published critical opinion would necessarily need to be called authoritarian.

      Cancel culture may often be just wrong. It can be dangerous and may hurt innocent people. That is the thing about free speech, it is a dangerous power. But unless it uses government power or threats of violence it is just free speech. This sometimes happens. Colleges are losing court case after court case over fireing staff or suspending students over free speech issues or discriminatory processes. But they are using the power of government.

      Joe Rogan is a clown and I have no use for him. I wouldn’t cross the road to piss on him if he were on fire. But he has the same right of free speech as anyone else and Neil Young is not interfering with that.

  5. You’re not arguing with what I actually said, though. I never claimed that Young is government, but that he wanted to use power to change the way that Spotify hosted their podcasts. That’s an authoritarian tendency, which is not the same thing as authoritarianism in government.

    I’m a Neil Young fan, although I think he uses his power as a musical superstar in ways that are detrimental; another example is when he made a film supporting a farmer who was trying to plant seeds in counter to an agreement he signed when he bought the seed that he would not do so. It was a violation of copyright, something that Young guards jealously when it comes to his music (and rightly so.) He used his music to spread misinformation about GMOs and Monsanto on an album (The Monsanto Years.)

    He was trying to silence Rogan, it didn’t work.

    1. Well yes the left has some silly ideas about GMOs but yes Monsanto has really earned the hate. But all that is off topic.

      It makes no difference if Monsanto is an angle or a devil. Neil Young has a right to express his opinion and exert his political pressure as long as he does not use force. Nothing authoritarian in it. The Ku Klux Klan can boycott a church for doing interracial marriages. The Klan has authoritarian goals but this boycott tactic is a bog standard strategy that is not in itself authoritarian. Anyone can do it and everyone has been doing it since the founding of America. A hundred years ago suffragettes in London were boycotting the census. Fifty years later South African products were being boycotted. Investment banks were being boycotted later for the same reason. Students were boycotting classes to protest the Vietnam war. Its almost like a Billy Joel song.

      Today some musician boycotts some dumb-ass clown? Kind of a letdown if you ask me.

      It is only in recent years with the rise of the internet that made such protest easy and far reaching that some are concerned. Yes we have a cancel culture powered by the internet but the tactic is the same as has always been used. The very purpose of free speech is to protect this tool.

      The picture Greg Laden posted strikes me as creepy. You have a guy standing in religious ecstasy surrounded by people looking at him as if he were an angle. It reminds me of old soviet era art. That’s not free speech. Free speech is often an ugly and brutal process and its power is often dependent on that ugliness.

  6. Interesting discussion here.

    I agree that Twitter has the right to moderate the speech on their platform anyway they want. I agree that their private speech suppression isn’t government censorship and doesn’t violate the constitution (and therefore the 1st amendment).

    But make no mistake – it is speech suppression and can be called out by the public. If every user of twitter wanted to cancel their account, I suspect Twitter would get the message and would change their policy to be more even handed and less political. That would be cancel culture also – but hey, the left likes and supports cancel culture so they shouldn’t be upset if the right emulates them – right?

    Even just the conservatives cancelling their accounts might achieve the same result (but maybe not). I even read that Trumps new platform was boring because it was an echo chamber – so if all the conservatives left twitter it would probably die on the vine.

    However, if the private company is under new ownership and the new owner wanted to change the private speech suppression policies of Twitter, there is nothing anybody could do about that either. That is what I was hoping for (i.e. Elon Musk buying twitter and changing their moderation policy).

    That is the great thing about the free market – companies are subject to the free market themselves and can be controlled by larger entities with more money (in this case the richest person on Earth).

    I get that what twitter is doing isn’t government censorship – but what twitter is doing is bad for our country and deserving of being called out by other peoples free speech rights being exercised. So I hope something forces them to change their moderation policy – and a buyout by Musk (or other richer entity) could be the ticket which could fix that problem.

    The private suppression of the truth (like the Hunter Biden laptop story) by twitter is just bad for the country in general – and most right thinking people can see this was bad. Claiming suppressing the truth isn’t government censorship doesn’t mean suppressing the truth isn’t objectively bad.

    I agree Neil Young has every right to his free speech attempt to cancel Joe Rogen – but it is objectively bad to try to cancel Joe Rogen when he is actually bringing true things to light – even if other misguided people call it misinformation. Even if he is wrong about a fact or two, being wrong is no reason to be cancelled.

    For example, we now know that cloth masks are useless. The science has spoken. I believe it was Indonesia which ran a study and showed absolutely no difference between the cloth mask group and the no mask group. Questioning the usefulness of government mandates related to something which doesn’t work (cloth masks) is just good and could inform better government policy for the next pandemic. That is just one of the many many things which Joe talked about which others called “misinformation”. Sometimes “misinformation” turns out to be the correct information and the virtue signalers shouting “misinformation” are the ones actually spreading it.

    Food for thought.

    1. “like the hunter biden laptop”

      You mean the story where there’s no “there there”? God, you’ve gone from science denier to conspiracy monger, all the while being totally unconcerned with the attempt by your favorite (because he’s a racist and bigot like you) president’s attempt to have lackeys overthrow an election. Your other substance-free whinging about “free markets” and “suppression of speech” is just more of your libertarian “thinking is too hard so I’ll just complain” bullshit.

      And it’s amusing that you cite, without reference, some “study” that you claim shows cloth masks are worthless. The one that made that claim the loudest was published in Medical Hypotheses, a garbage “pay for play” journal, one put out by Elsevier — that should be enough to make you gag, or it would if you had any integrity. But don’t take my word for it: that “study” was so bad that, after getting feedback from real scientists, Elsevier’s editors retracted it.

      If you’re referring to a different study give a link.

      This link

      goes to an article from 1/16/2022 discussing the latest CDC recommendations. They say cloth masks are the least effective, but

      The CDC update doesn’t come out and say Americans should avoid cloth masks but clarifies that some kinds of masks work better than others.

      “To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, CDC continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently,” the CDC said in its first updated mask guidance since last fall.

      “Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well- fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection,” the CDC says.

      I’ll have a feeling the end times are near the day you post something that is factual.

    2. “****But make no mistake – it is speech suppression and can be called out by the public.****”

      Speech suppression is not wrong and is even necessary. And yes you should call it out when it is done badly. But dude! Different people are going to disagree on how to do it and when to call it out.

      “**** That would be cancel culture also – but hey, the left likes and supports cancel culture so they shouldn’t be upset if the right emulates them – right?***”

      Yes that is exactly right. I doubt it would work as you imagine but you are free to try.

      “*** I even read that Trumps new platform was boring because it was an echo chamber***”

      Maybe its an echo chamber because of who they ban? They banned an account named Devinnunescow. His right and not authoritarian but kinda lame for someone claiming to not ban anyone.

      Kevin Nunes OTOH is an authoritarian f***. He filed massive numbers of law suits on anyone who talked about his cows. He lost them all but still cost them millions in lawyer fees. We need a national anti-slap law to protect our freedom of speech from people like him. People like him is why we need section 230 protection. People like him is why I really do not like Biden.

      “****…Joe Rogen when he is actually bringing true things to light…”

      Joe Rogen is a clown. My problem with him isn’t that he spreads misinformation. He does but the problem is he does not care about truth or politics or reasoned discussion. He sets fires and then dances in the flames to the cheers and jeers of the people. He is a clown.

      And this whole thing about Musk buying twitter and fixing moderation is perverse. I like Musk. I spend a lot of time in the spacex forum at nasaspaceflight. I keep up with Tesla as electric cars have always fascinated me. But I can think of no person with a personality less suited to moderating social media than Musk.

      But the big thing is that there is no way to moderate social media at that scale. Nobody can do it. Not Trump. Not Musk. Nobody. That’s why I don’t do the big social media platforms for the most part. We all think we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is either stupid or evil. The reality is that we are all a complex mixture of good, evil and stupid. Moderating such a mess is impossible. Both the left and the right need to recognize this ugly fact.

  7. Joe Rogen when he is actually bringing true things to light…

    I missed that. You think rogan has said anything true? About what?

    God, you’re demonstrating that you’re more and more delusional every day.

    “That is the great thing about the free market ”

    Believing in a “free market” is folly.

    And (just a fact thing here) — perhaps trump’s racist media sites are having problems because the people behind them put no effort into security and even some of the loons who support trump don’t want their information stolen again.

  8. My issue with Rogan is that he brings his guests in without thought to vetting what they say nor countering their claims with evidentiary disputes.

    He is a comedian, he was very funny in News Radio and I even watched Fear Factor for a while before it started getting repetitive. But no one should take his show seriously, and he has no motivation to change it since it’s bringing in the doe.

    Mask studies need to be carefully evaluated for the claims that they make.

    But, just use a bit of logic here, RickA. If masks were worthless, would your surgeon be wearing them when they cut you open? They aren’t meant to protect the operating room staff, they are meant to protect the patient who is not protected by their nose’s filtering mechanism’s when the body is exposed. The mask block droplets, on which germs catch a ride.

    Here’s an illustration:

    And even a reader of “Encyclopedia Brown” can see the holes in the Hunter BIden Laptop story.

    1. Medical masks are one step above regular cloth masks – and even so surgeons are not supposed to be working when they are sick (although they often do). Take a look at this article:

      With all the masks that are worn by medical personal – why are medical workers the source of so many outbreaks? Because even medical masks are not perfect.

      Still – I am not advocating that medical personal shouldn’t wear masks. I am merely pointing out that mandating the public wear cloth masks wasn’t an effective health intervention, according to several studies. Maybe the government should have mandated N95 masks – that might have had a better medical result.

      As they study all the mandates and look at the pros and cons, I am confident that most governments will decide that future mask mandates (and lockdowns) are actually not worth it from a cost/benefit point of view. I guess we will see.

  9. I mention Neil Young in context of his album to note that he is guilty of spreading misinformation, too.

    I should probably clarify that I am referring to “authoritarian” as a scalar between libertarian/authoritarian. I am not a perfect libertarian in free speech(yelling fire in a theater etc,) so I acknowledge that I have some authoritarian tendency.

    He used his free speech to attempt to influence Spotify to reduce the access to Joe Rogan’s show. Nowhere do I claim that he has the power of government, but he does have influence based on his popularity.

    Does that help?

    1. All free speech is intended to influence for good or for ill. In your house you can require people be careful about their language around your children. You may even see it as a moral duty. On your internet forum you can disenvowel me if you wish. Your property your choice.

      This is the libertarian perspective. Libertarians get real antsy when you try to tell them how they can use their property. They view such a thing as authoritarian.

      At this point we are having a pointless discussion over the use of language. I reserve the word “authoritarian” to the use of force. I see little utility in the way you use it other than to complain about people saying mean things to you. Saying mean things is not only legal but is often deeply moral.

      Donald Trump is a narcissistic asshole and I would sleep on the street rather than pay to sleep in one of his hotels. He is psychologically incapable of holding any coherent political position at all. He has ripped the the heart out of any thinking conservatism and taken a bite out of it for the world to see. To any halfway intelligent libertarian he represents the worst of both the liberal and the conservative world. I literally know the shape of his dick because of the testimony of multiple porn stars that he payed to have sex with while his wife was too pregnant to service his needs. Yet the religious right see him as some kind of super christian. To use a religious metaphor he is the beast that the fallen church on earth rides. The harlot surely does intimately know the shape of his dick. He seemed to have some kind of man crush on Putin yet he is seen as some kind of super patriot. All his life he has been a small time grifter cheating hard working people out of their labor. His charities have been nothing but a cover to pay his legal bills. I invite the world to sleep on the street with me.

      The above is mean. It contains a threat to withhold my business. It contains a public display of disapproval. It contains an invitation for people to join me on the street. This is the soul of free speech in America. It would be hard for me to hear this kind of speech about someone that I admire. It would still be the soul of free speech. I would still defend the speech because I’m not a butt hurt little…

      Free speech can be mean. Sometimes it should be.

  10. RickA

    An epidemic is a game of numbers. If each infected person infects more than one other person then the epidemic grows. The higher that number the faster the epidemic grows. The point of masks was not to stop covid but to slow the epidemic so that it did not overwhelm medical resources. You can stop some epidemics but covid is very very infectious and we were never going to stop it. But we could slow it down. Not wearing masks because they are not perfect really really misses the point.

    There was a shortage of n95 masks, not enough even for nurses. The FDA had to approve the reuse of masks, using masks out of their good date and using uncertified masks from China. There were fewer n95s for the rest of us.

  11. A mask is a slice of Swiss cheese. So is social distancing. So is an imperfect vaccine. Going out less, washing hands more, getting take out or deliveries, all imperfect slices of swiss cheese.

    Get enough slices of Swiss cheese, the mustard stays on one side of the sandwich.

    1. I don’t disagree with this opinion. I just don’t think the government should be mandating what type of cheese you should put on your sandwich.

  12. Elon Musk to the rescue again! What great news. Elon offered to buy twitter and it is hard to see how the Board will be able to turn down his offer (which is above market value).

    I watched Elon’s TED talk interview of this morning and he wants to:

    1. Publish the algorithm to github and allow people to critic it. It is a black box now.
    2. Have an edit button for a short period of time after a tweet is published.
    3. Get rid of the report tweet item and the army of tweet bots.
    4. Get rid of permanent bans. Short suspensions ok, permanent bans not ok.
    5. Allow free speech to the limit of the law.

    I am eager for Elon Musk to be in charge and change twitter’s bad moderation policy.
    Today is a great day. The free market is wonderful.

    1. I*m sure many racists like you are thrilled that they could have a space to spew hate speech, insult women and minorities, and repeat your asinine conspiracies without fear of retribution since, in your minds, consequences should apply to you.
      The fact that you’re stupid enough to think that a private company enforcing its own rules is an infringement of your right to free speech tells rational people everything they need to know about you clowns.

    2. It looks like the deal is going through! It might be announced today. This is good for free speech in America. Even though what Twitter is doing doesn’t violate the 1st amendment – it is bad for America. New moderation policies, tweet edit and transparency on the algorithm can only help free speech. It is a good day (again).

  13. A more direct point: none of the low life clowns rickA follows has been cancelled at all. They’re still getting their messages of hate and general lies out.

    That doesn’t mean musk doesn’t have a right to try to buy and then ruin twitter, but justifying it as a fight against the non-existent “cancel culture” is just a ploy to attack the weak minded and generally dull folks.

  14. Freedom of Expression: A core Democratic Value – Not True.

    Democrats only like speech they can control and which agrees with them.

    Hence the distaste for Musk buying twitter. Democrats like the censorship of twitter and don’t want it to end. They like people like Trump being cancelled and banned from Twitter.

    Democrats don’t want to hear the truth, or even things they disagree with.

    Truth like people cannot change biological sex. Sorry – this is a fact. It therefore follows that men cannot be women and visa versa. The attempt to redefine men and women to encompass the opposite biological sex fails. Sorry – words have meaning and cannot be changed just because of how people feel.

    Truth like people cannot be racist just because of the color of their skin – it requires intent to be racist. No – white people are not inherently racist because they are white. Another fail.

    Truth like climate models are terrible and cannot be relied on for predicting future temperatures. All we have to do is wait and measure the temperature and this will become more and more apparent over time.

    Truth like 100% renewable power is not currently technologically possible. Nuclear power is the way to go (if you are worried about global warming). Otherwise we are just going to put more carbon into the air.

    It will be nice to be able to talk about these things on twitter again and not be subject to an army of cancel culture anti-free speech zealots.

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