Owen’s Opinion

Protect free speech — even when you don't agree

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Freedom of speech is a right that we enjoy without appreciating it. As Americans, we express our opinions every day without punishment and have very few laws that limit what we can publish or access in print and online.

That being said, there is a current trend of some individuals in the American press advocating for limits on speech despite making a living by exercising their First Amendment rights.

Journalist Kara Swisher wrote in an opinion piece in the “New York Times” last week that President Donald Trump should be banned from Twitter because he makes “incendiary tweets and rage-filled tweets and appalling tweets and reckless tweets and misleading tweets.”

In the United States, the concept of freedom of speech isn’t exclusive to language that someone deems “appalling.” Swisher enjoys her right to free speech every day, and is paid to do so. Suggesting that Trump shouldn’t enjoy his right to free speech as well is hypocritical.

Swisher asserts that President Trump’s tweets are too dangerous for the public, citing a tweet Trump reposted that read, “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation.”

Swisher claims that by reposting a comparison between the Civil War and impeachment politics, Trump is encouraging a violent reaction from his supporters. Swisher then writes that Twitter should ban Trump for “inciting violence,” which is prohibited in the platform’s Terms of Service.

Swisher’s claim that Trump is implying anything related to violence is not backed up by evidence. Trump’s retweet did not make a reference to violence, nor did it allude to it. The tweet only says that America would experience a “Civil War like fracture” in politics, not that the country would experience an actual war.

Twitter’s Terms of Service state that individuals are not allowed to “promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”

No explicit evidence in Trump’s tweet comes close to suggesting that he promotes violence, and Swisher acknowledges that when she writes in her article “the tweet’s message was implicit rather than explicit.”

Swisher wrote this piece so that she could say in a verbose and indirect way that she does not like Trump’s content, and for that reason he should be banned from social media. If everyone had the ability to ban someone they didn’t like from speaking their mind, diverse voices would be silenced. Minority ideas would not be voiced, and groupthink would not only be pervasive, but it would go unchallenged. The voice with the loudest megaphone would win.

Banning speech on the premise that individuals don’t like its message is not only antithetical to the First Amendment, but it is also counterproductive.

Censoring speech erases the possibility for intelligent and respectful dialogue from people with different perspectives, and opens the door for both groupthink and censorship by those in power.

As Americans, we need to challenge ideas of censorship put forward by writers like Swisher, but also appreciate the fact that she expresses her mind freely.