Freedom of Speech and Social Media

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There has been a lot of discussion lately in social media on the topic of freedom of speech. Oddly enough this seems to happen absent a definition of what freedom of speech is. There is a broad assumption that everyone already knows what freedom of speech is and what an abrogation of freedom of speech looks like. Having reviewed some of the social media discussions on this topic, it seems most don’t not know precisely what freedom of speech is, so let us begin with a definition.

Freedom of speech is a guarantee made by governments to its citizens that they will not use state power to muzzle expression or opinion. Note that not all governments offer such guarantees. In the US, this guarantee is provided by the first amendment to their constitution. This amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. In Canada, these rights are outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The takeaway here is that freedom of speech, along with other rights and freedoms, is a guarantee provided by the state to limit the use of state power in ways that would abrogate the freedoms of its citizens.

Freedom of speech however, is not unlimited. When speech is used to intentionally cause harms it can be censured. This is a tightrope which the state must walk to ensure only the most egregious violations are acted against. The oft quoted example is an individual falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre to intentionally induce panic and possible injury.

There are other examples when speech is censured, but these are related to defamation, which may result in civil proceedings in a court of law. While these are technically not state actions, lawsuits are mediated by state courts to determine if the speech in question has produced damages which could result in a state enforced remedy (i.e. money changes hands).

The guarantee of freedom of speech allows citizens to criticize their government or members thereof without fear of reprisal.

There is no guarantee that those who wish to express their opinions will be given a platform to do so.

There is currently a self-proclaimed free speech advocate by the name of Brian Rose who operates a Youtube channel named “London Real”. Youtube has removed some of the content from the London Real channel, prompting Mr. Rose to claim his freedom of speech has been violated.

Let’s dig a little deeper here.

Mr. Rose often invokes Alex Jones in his discussions around freedom of speech. Alex Jones had a Youtube channel which has been expunged, but for many years, he had a successful supplement sales business which benefited significantly from the notoriety created by his Youtube channel.

Jones pioneered a method of business promotion which was very successful. His various websites and his Youtube channel provided content which was highly controversial and featured so called “conspiracy theories”. As an aside, the term “conspiracy theory” is pretty much meaningless, but seems to be widely used to describe a narrative that diverges from the commonly accepted narrative of a particular event.

The important point here is that Jones, provided controversial content to drive his supplement business. The more outrageous and controversial the content, the better, since it created a good deal of reaction and buzz. This approach is based on the notion that there is no such thing as “bad publicity”. For Jones, it did not matter why they were talking about him, all that mattered is they were talking about him. His wild personal antics also served to create more attention for him, which in turn drove sales of his supplements.

This business promotion method also creates a cadre of loyal followers who believe they are somehow participating in a counter-culture or anti-establishment movement and standing up for (among other things), freedom of speech. Which of course makes them the perfect demographic to sell products or services to, since they are already sympatico.

Unfortunately for Jones, he pushed the controversy button a little too hard and got his Youtube channel permanently removed. By the way, Youtube does not offer a guarantee of freedom of speech on their platform. Youtube, like other social media platforms, operates under an agreement with their users referred to as “Terms of Service”. Violation of these terms of service can result in banning of content or deletion of a Youtube account.

Enter Brian Rose, a much more sophisticated version of Alex Jones. Rose offers a more polished and reasoned persona which makes him more believable and of course more effective at selling his services.

Rose has refined the “Alex Jones Method” to make it much more slick, but still understands that controversy and notoriety are the central keys to making sales. Having some of his Youtube videos removed, allows him to posture as a victim who is leading the good fight for all of us and in particular his cadre of followers he has dubbed “The London Real Army”.

One has to grudgingly acknowledge that Mr. Rose’s refined Jones methodology is working very well for him and his posturing around freedom speech definitely serves to drive business sales very well.

Rose claims that Youtube acts like a “public utility” and therefore any removal of his content is tantamount to an action of state censure. Not really, Youtube is a corporation not a government and there are other video streaming services available, so it certainly is not a public utility.

Rose further claims that he is being targeted in the same way minorities are when they are denied services. This is technically not a free speech argument but an argument of discrimination. So on what basis is he being discriminated against? Is it the class of people who use free streaming services to drive their businesses? Old white guys? People who climb up on the faux soapbox of freedom of speech?

If you believe Mr. Rose has suffered at all from having a few Youtube videos yanked, you may have failed to notice how well this serves him. For Mr. Rose, it is simply one more golden opportunity to self-promote.

Compare the “suffering” of Mr. Rose to those who really have faced the oppression of state power for exercising their freedom of speech. Edward Snowden now lives in exile under threat of prosecution by the US government for his revelations on the abuses of the US military and the surveillance apparatus of the US state. Dissidents in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia face censure, arrest and detention. Mr. Rose continues to stroll around London a free man, where he opines at length about the injustices of Youtube. Nice work, if you can get it.

For those who are deeply concerned about free speech you might want to direct your time and money to those worthy of your support.

Here is a good place to start:

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