I have recently begun to pay attention to Twitter.
For years, I ignored it, putting most of my efforts into Facebook, but Alicia Brooks, my literary agent strongly suggested that I become a ‘presence’ on Twitter, as most publishers spend a lot of time there, so last week, I started @Rosenblumtv. (Feel free to follow me, I am going to need a lot of followers!)
In any event, and of course, owing to Elon Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter for an eye-watering $44 billion, there has been a great deal of discussion about ‘free speech’.
I have always been a great advocate of free speech, but I was astonished to see so many postings from people who declare themselves liberals calling for all kinds of what is essentially censorship on Twitter.
Here’s but one example of the kind of stuff that is regularly there:
I have no idea who Shibetoshi Nakamoto is, other than they have a rather astonishing 1.9 million followers, so their opinions carry some weight.
What then is ‘free speech’?
In 1977, the American Nazi Party planned to hold a march through the center of Skokie, Illinois, a decidedly Jewish suburb of Chicago.
This was clearly a provocative act, and as Shibetoshi Nakamoto might observe, it is literally showing up at your house and screaming in your face- not virtually, but actually. If ever there were people who should ‘not be allowed to see abusive stuff,’ it was no doubt the Jewish residents of Skokie, home to hundreds of holocaust survivors.
The Village of Skokie went to court to get an injunction to stop the parade, and it was then that the Nazis contacted The ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union.
For those readers unfamiliar with the ACLU, it has always been a pillar of the American liberal or left, decried by generations of Conservatives.
The Nazis asked the ACLU, of all people, to take the case and defend their First Amendment rights. The ACLU accepted and a lawyer named David Goldberg took the lead.
The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in the end, the courts ruled that the Nazis had a First Amendment right to hold their rally in front of the Skokie Village Hall.
The case provoked enormous outrage from both liberals and Conservatives, Jews and Gentiles alike. But David Goldberg and the ACLU held their ground. Goldberg wrote: “…the Nazis are not the real issue. The Skokie laws are the real issue.”
Over time, the Skokie case became a landmark defense of First Amendment rights.
As David Goldberg would later write:
There were times when, during speeches I gave about the Skokie case, Holocaust survivors courageously stood up to say that I was right to have represented the Nazis. Several years later, another survivor sent me a letter saying the same thing. These survivors said that they did not want the Nazis driven underground by speech-repressive laws or court injunctions. They explained that they wanted to be able to see their enemies in plain sight so they would know who they were.
A free press is messy. It is supposed to be. That is the very essence of a free press, a place where all opinions, no matter how repulsive in some cases, my be heard.
If you isolate people from opinions with which they don’t agree or might find offensive, all you succeed in doing is driving the offensive underground. They still exist; they still fester.
As Hubert Humphrey once said, ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant,’ and he was right.
Last week, former President Donald Trump (and current candidate for 2024) had dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, both noted and now well-known antisemites.
We know who they are and how they feel, no matter how revolting their opinion because they are able to express them in a free and open press. That’s what a free press is for, not just to allow those with whom we disagree (or cannot stand) to speak, but to make sure that the rest of us clearly hear what they have to say and then take our own judgements.
Justice Louis Brandeis put it best when he said, ‘the best remedy for bad free speech is more free speech’. Better than censorship and banning. In China and Russia, the expression of ideas or opinions that might be ‘upsetting’ to people are banned.
The path to oppression is often paved with the best of intentions.
If you found this interesting, please take a look at my new book: THE RISE OF THE MEDIAVERSE. Alicia Brooks with thank you.