Friday, May 29, 2020

Oh, 2020!

     Found myself having to explain the First Amendment to some grotty little "conservative" on Facebook yesterday, over the (early stages) of the spat between President Trump and Twitter.

     In a recent tweet, President Trump implied that voting by mail leads to widespread voter fraud.  That's an opinion, and what little data there is does not support it;* so Twitter fact-checked and tagged the tweet with a link to more information; they did not suppress or alter what the President wrote.

     There was much outrage among supporters of the President over this.  Apparently a privately-owned platform ought not even question the assertions put forth by the people who use it (for free, no less).  So much for property rights, I guess.

     What got me was the statement by one of them, summing up an often-repeated talking point:
     "When they start taking sides and regulating the speech of their users, they become editors. As editors, they can be regulated and held responsible for the content that is published on their sites."

     This is directly contradictory to the limitations on government power to be found in the First Amendment, specifically, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."  It is quite specifically unconstitutional for an "editor" to be "regulated" by the Federal government.

     There's a little more nuance to his other claim, "they can be...held responsible for for the content...published...."  Maybe, though there is a lot of leeway, and were it true, fact-checking and linking to supported data as Twitter did would be no more than prudent action.  But in fact, other than certain very narrowly-defined exceptions that include specific kinds of incitement, some pornography, "fighting words," counterfactual statements, threatening the President (yes, you can't do that) and others in the line of succession and IP violations, publishers -- even online ones -- can publish or not publish whatever in the hell they want to.

     It's a fundamental principle of the United States.  Like the other rights recognized and protected by the first ten Amendments, it is an inherent right that precedes the document. The Bill of Rights limits the government; it does not grant you any rights, because you already have them.

     If you are not okay with the Bill of Rights, you are not okay with the United States of America.  If you feel strongly about it, my advice would be to get the hell out and find someplace where the Press is regulated -- Mr. Putin's Russia, for example.

     Overnight, it appears the President used Twitter to directly threaten the use of force against rioters in Minneapolis.  Per the Constitution, policing is a state-level power, not a Federal one, and Twitter takes a dim view of the advocacy of force; they stuck the tweet behind a "click to view" with a notation that the tweet promoted violence.  I expect predictable outrage to follow from those "conservatives" who have decided the Constitution of the United States of America doesn't rate being conserved.†

     If not that, then what, exactly, are they after conserving?
* As a third-party voter, I do not take part in primaries and have no strong opinion on voting by mail, other than to point out there's a lot of confusion between applications to do so and actual ballots going on right now.

† They have company on the Minnesota State Patrol, who arrested a CNN reporter and crew live, in front of their own camera, as they covered the rioting in Minneapolis from a spot the police had told them to use.  You don't have to be a fan of CNN to know this is wrong.

No comments: