Freedom doesn't have to be pretty
November 6, 2019
Facebook and Twitter are social media platforms that set the world-wide gold standard for their particular brands of dialogue-inducing software.
Their inventors set them up as neutral media for communicating and disseminating information. In that way, the platforms are like the printing press, broadcast airwaves and the internet.
As with the older media, anybody can put anything on them — informative stuff, warm stuff, cold stuff, funny stuff, good stuff and very bad stuff — anything short of criminal stuff.
That’s what freedom looks like on a neutral platform. That’s what it has looked like since Gutenberg started printing Bibles on his printing press in 1452.
Remember, the printing press also produced Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” which helped inspire the American Revolution, and the “Federalist Papers,” which explained the Constitution to citizens of the new United States of America.
The printing press, however, also printed Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and Marx’s “Communist Manifesto.” Not to mention a whole lot of pornography of every stripe.
And yet, freedom of speech and the press are part of the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Today, broadcast media include MSNBC and Fox News. On both, fact-checking often takes a back seat to how well a story advances the cause.
The internet includes Vox, a very liberal website, and Breitbart, an ultra-right site.
Politicians are demanding that Facebook and Twitter be held accountable for fact-checking, when other media have been allowed to be cavalier about it for decades.
Here are some examples from TV ads that today’s politicos would require Facebook and Twitter to censor:
• 1964: Ads showed Republican Barry Goldwater’s face and then showed an atomic bomb mushroom cloud to suggest Goldwater was a warmonger.
• 1988: Ads associated Democrat Michael Dukakis with Willie Horton, a prison inmate who was freed for a weekend furlough and terrorized a Maryland couple before being recaptured, to imply that Dukakis was “soft on crime.”
• 2004: Ads belittled Democrat John Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam.
• 2012: Ads against Republican Mitt Romney used an illegally captured video snippet of Romney telling a private gathering of GOP donors that nearly half of the American people won’t take responsibility for their actions.
Why suddenly is social media, a new neutral platform, under pressure to watchdog politic content when the others are not?
Maybe it’s because while print and broadcast media have many owners and the internet has none, Facebook and Twitter have identifiable owner-inventors: Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, respectively.
They make easy targets.
If all other media were required to conduct similar fact-checking, political advertising would die.
Libel law bends over backward to promote freedom of expression, facts optional.
I agree with Zuckerberg that social media should also be free to accept political ads, even those strongly suspected of containing false information, from all comers.
Law enforcement should flush out and halt foreign interference, not media.
Freedom doesn’t have to be pretty, and even ugly freedom is more attractive than most of the best-dressed restrictions against it.
Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a semi-retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: