THE GREATEST AUDACITY OF SOCIAL MEDIA.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
The major buzz last Wednesday was not the ever-important Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearing. It was not the presidential race. It wasn't even the stalled negotiations on the latest incarnation of the COVID-19 relief bill. In fact, even the most shocking story of the day, one published by the New York Post that potentially tied presidential candidate Joe Biden directly to the international manipulations of his son Hunter was not the most prominent item in the national conversation. Instead, what captured the attention of most were the brazen attempts by Twitter and Facebook to inhibit the sharing of the Hunter Biden story in social media.
The controversy began early Wednesday morning, when the New York Post published a story indicating that Hunter Biden had arranged for the introductions of a Burisma executive to his father while the latter was Vice President of the United States. If true, the story would directly contradict the former Vice President's claims that he had never spoken with his son about Ukraine or any matters dealing with Burisma. The story would also lend more credence to suspicions that the younger Biden's appointment to the Ukrainian energy company was solely the result of corrupt political connections.
The reaction from the Left was predictable. A story with implications scores broader than Watergate was summarily ignored. More ominous was the conduct from the larger social media outlets. Twitter blocked feeds from the likes of Senator Josh Hawley and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany with the intent of keeping them from sharing the story. It even blocked the New York Post's feed. Meanwhile, Facebook openly said it was obstructing the sharing of the New York Post article.
Facebook's and Twitter's oppressive actions sent shockwaves throughout the nation as elected officials and users alike expressed their opposition to the social media platforms' draconian measures. The Guardian called the move "unprecedented." For its part, Twitter initially defended its actions claiming that their policies prohibit the use of content that "contains private information."
But the outrage grew very quickly, forcing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to deliver a cryptic non-apology. "Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great," Dorsey tweeted on Tuesday. "And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we're blocking: unacceptable."
Of course, the pseudo-apology was not about regretting blocking content, but rather the manner in which it handled explaining why it did so, which misses the point entirely.
The exchange resurfaced the never-buried debate about corporate censorship and the appropriateness of having a private organization decide what Americans get to see and not see. What Twitter and Facebook ignore is Americans' rich history of engaging a wide variety of speech, some of it offensive, and the Framers' zeal in defending the right to deliver it.
Consider this. Thomas Paine referred to King George as a "worm." Benjamin Rush called Alexander Hamilton "a bastard brat of a Scotch peddler." Andrew Jackson famously expressed his regret at not having "shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun." Then-former Congressman Kenneth Raynor called Franklin Pierce "the pimp of the White House." Theodore Roosevelt said that William McKinley "had no more backbone than a chocolate éclair." Lyndon B. Johnson said of Gerald Ford that he was "so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time." A list of insults and offensive comments uttered by famous individuals and news outlets throughout this nation's history would trail longer than a line for a Trump rally.
And as to accuracy? Well, all we need to do is recall the sinking of the Maine. Then there was the slew of articles stemming from the McCarthy era. And of course, what about the fraud of Russian collusion perpetrated against President Trump by the press when the ones actually colluding with them were Hillary Clinton and her allies?
The fact is that despite its offensiveness and our displeasure at witnessing such exchanges, the right to engage in all forms of speech, except that calling for violence, must be zealously guarded. The immortal Thomas Jefferson wrote about the importance of protecting a free exchange of information—and misinformation—in his Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. "[The] truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them."
So, here is what we have. In Twitter and Facebook, as with all social media outlets engaged in interference, we see the "human interposition" against the truth of which Jefferson wrote, when in reality, "the truth will prevail if left to herself." If the New York Post is correct, then let the truth prevail. If it is wrong or misleading, then free argument and debate is the greatest weapon truth can deploy in prevailing, not the interference that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are throwing at it.
Thus, we come to the greatest audacity displayed by Twitter, Facebook, and all social media outlets engaging in such activities. It is not that they have the nerve to block a bona fide news outlet, which also happens to be the oldest newspaper in the country. It is not that they are blocking the accounts of public officials. Nor is it that they are suppressing the speech of the President of the United States. No. The greatest audacity from Twitter, Facebook, and other media outlets is that they believe they can be the purveyors of truth and that they can facilitate our discovery of it. In point of fact, their actions are not helpful, but rather disruptive to our political discourse and to our social fabirc, while their elevated views of themselves along with their conduct are decidedly un-American.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the author of numerous books including The Federalist Pages, The Case for Free Market Healthcare, and Coronalessons. He is available for appearances and book signings, and can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopedic surgeon living in Florida. He is a lawyer, author, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives. He is available for speaking engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org