“At the end of the day,” former Reddit CEO Ellen K. Pao tweeted Tuesday, “the free-speechers really just want to be able to use racist slurs. CW: racism, immaturity, stupidity, and even more racism and extreme stupidity. They really don’t care about sharing new ideas or encouraging freedom other than the freedom to harass other people off the platform.” Pao included a screenshot of a message she apparently received, loaded with anti-Chinese slurs.
That’s all that people who say they want free speech are really about, you see, at least in the view of fashion-monitoring Leftists: insulting and hating people. But if Pao has such a dim view of “free-speechers,” what is she, exactly?
The same question could be asked of an increasing number of prominent Leftists, including Barack Obama, who claimed Wednesday that he was “close” to being “a First Amendment absolutist,” but then in practically the same breath called for a “combination of regulatory measures and, uh, industry norms” that would restrict speech on the Internet that he considered to be “disinformation.” You know, like the Hunter Biden laptop story was until a few weeks ago.
Pao was reflecting the mindset of others who have headed or still head the various social media giants. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said in 2018 that Twitter should “focus less on thinking about free speech, but thinking about how the times have changed. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard. And so increasingly our role is moving towards how we recommend content … how we direct people’s attention.” Sure. If those “free-speechers” were given free rein, they might end up directing people’s attention away from the opinions and views approved by the elites. People might even start thinking for themselves. Can’t have that.
Meanwhile, Facebook, according to Fortune magazine, has been “clamping down on hate, increasing penalties for users who repeatedly share misinformation, and linking readers of any post related to COVID-19 to information from government sources.” What if those government sources share “misinformation”? That possibility is not considered; nor is the change of what constitutes approved opinion over time.
This creeping authoritarianism and the increasingly open opposition to the freedom of speech of Pao, Agrawal, and others strikes at the very foundations of free society. The freedom of speech is an indispensable prerequisite for any society truly to be free. If speech that is not calling for or justifying violence or criminal activity can be proscribed for any reason, then a tyrant can take advantage of speech restrictions in order to silence opponents and dissidents.
In America today, however, fewer and fewer people understand or believe this. In October 2019, the Campaign For Free Speech (CFS), a pro-First Amendment advocacy group, released poll results that showed, the CFS stated, “just how vulnerable free speech protections” were in America today.
The CFS poll showed that “51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be rewritten” and “48% believe ‘hate speech’ should be illegal.” This was up from a 2017 Cato Institute survey, in which 40% of respondents said that the government should stop hate speech.
The increase is no surprise, since the establishment media and its ancillaries in the educational system and entertainment industry have been working hard for years to popularize the concept of “hate speech,” one of the most dangerous and insidious ideas ever to become widely accepted in the United States. Pao showed in her tweets that she thinks the freedom of speech is essentially just a justification for “hate speech,” and hers is an increasingly common view.
“Hate speech” is dangerous because it is left undefined, and yet those who use the term generally assume they know what it means. It’s generally understood as referring to speech that is disparaging, offensive, and insulting to a particular group, or to an individual because of his group characteristics, but the groups in question are invariably ones for which the Left is showing particular concern.
As hateful as Leftists can be — and are — toward those who dissent from their agenda, they virtually never get charged with “hate speech.” The reality is that the designation “hate speech” is a tool, used by those who hold power in order to discredit and silence their critics by stigmatizing them with this label. Tyrannical forces can keep the masses complacent and silence dissidents more easily by branding them as purveyors of “hate speech” than by admitting openly that they do not believe in the First Amendment, and do not want to accord its protections to their opponents. Or at least that has been so up to now. Ellen Pao’s sneer at “free-speechers” may indicate a new openness on the part of the Left in its ongoing efforts to silence all dissent.