A Legal Test Case on Freedom of Speech
10 November 2023
Freedom of speech is much-praised, but with the rise of social media, which allows unusual or non-mainstream opinion holders to meet and amplify their voices, there have been discussions of the need for censorship of opinions likely to be detrimental to society as a whole.
This censorship voice was amplified by some significant events:
The FBI alleges that the Russians interfered in the 2016 US election via social media to sabotage Hilary Clinton and helped Donald Trump to win.
The myth that the 2020 US election was stolen and that Trump won was perpetuated by some, even by Fox News, which was scared of losing its audience (and the ad revenue it derived from them) if it did not give credence to the theory. This helped the assault on the Capitol, which made the US look like a tin-pot dictatorship.
The COVID epidemic, which initially had no cure, led to a number of conspiracy theories, largely spread by social media which significantly reduced acceptance of the vaccines, particularly in the USA.
This has led to calls for social media to be responsible for the posts that they transmit. Algorithms were devised to shut down certain opinions and there are groups tasked to do this. One such group is Newsguard, which tried to stop articles on Ukraine from a left-oriented alternative news site, Consortium News. If a news organisation is classified as fake news, its credibility is undermined and it is not transmitted by media platforms. Its circulation and revenue suffers accordingly.
Consortium News is small and its chief editor is a very experienced ex-Wall St News journalist, Joe Lauria. They sued Newsguard for defamation, then discovered that Newsguard had a contract with the US government to shut down sites that were not conducive to its interest. Effectively the US government had a privatised censorship agent working for it.
Ironically it is the US Democrats who are mainly in favour of censorship, largely because of the events described above, whereas the right-wing Republicans are more for freedom of speech, never mind the consequences. So most of the support for the left-wing Consortium News is coming from the right-wing Republicans. There is quite a lot of interest in the case, as it will determine how censorship is done.
It might be noted that Newsguard also put a warning label on Wikileaks.