You Can’t Have Freedom Without The Freedom To Be Wrong: Twitter Hearings

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You can’t have freedom without the freedom to be wrong.

Those were the words of journalist Matt Taibbi during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the “Twitter Files” Thursday.

The headline from the hearing might be the Democrats erupting over Taibbi, rightfully, not disclosing his sources.

But just as notable was his exchange with Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX).

Allred pressed Taibbi on the case of Kanye West. Twitter, under Elon Musk, removed West last December after he posted an image of a swastika inside the Star of David.

Taibbi acknowledged that this is a difficult question to answer.

“[But] hate speech is protected in the United States,” he responded.

“One of my heroes growing up was the Ukraine-born author Isaac Babel,” Taibbi continued. He gave a speech at the first Soviet Writers Congress and he was asked if any important rights had been taken away. And he sarcastically answered, ‘No. The only rights that have been taken away are the right to be wrong.’ The crowd laughed.

“But he was making an important point, which is that in a free country, you can’t have freedom without the freedom to be wrong.”

Well said. Though the answer, even in the case of Kanye West, should not be all that “difficult.”

As we wrote in an October column, following the corporate ostracism West faced, practices like censorship do not subside. They only intensify.

Censorship started in a more benign place than to where it escalated.

In 2018, policing the thoughts of social media users crept into the mainstream when services de-platformed radio host Alex Jones for “abusive behavior.” The public collectively dismissed suppressing Jones as an appropriate punishment for a vile provocateur.

It was no big deal, they thought.

But it spiraled from there. Tech companies became in awe of such consolidated power. We explained, in short:

De-platforming Jones empowered Big Tech. Jones’ rhetoric opened the floodgates for tech leaders to gain control over online discourse. Censorship heightened in 2021 with the banishment of Alex Berenson, an independent journalist who held government officials accountable during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Internet suppression progressed from a tool to prevent baseless conspiracy theories to a means to silence individuals who challenge government rule. 

The latter sentence was the consequence of uncontested social media suppression.

The government cannot censor the public on account of the First Amendment. But as #TwitterFiles and leaked communications involving Berenson prove, the government sought a third party to subvert the foundation of the First Amendment.

Communication platforms, beholden to a protection called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, dutifully complied to be that third party.

Particularly, Twitter.

The service engaged in politically-motivated censorship at the behest of the DNC and Biden Administration. That’s obvious. There are pages of communications between officials and Twitter executives that conclude just that.

Now, Twitter does not abide by First Amendment laws. It’s a private company. Correct.

However, what we had with Twitter under previous ownership was a presidential administration using its power to turn the private platform into a “state actor,” a private company that governs on behalf of the state.

And as the Wall Street Journal reports, citizens can sue a “state actor” for restricting First Amendment rights. Thereby censorship in conjunction with the government can be, in fact, a constitutional concern.

Thus the relevance of Taibbi’s quotes today.

The answer to hate speech is more speech. The answer to fake news is more news. The answer to untruths are more truths.

Censorship, suppression, and the burying of information — all of which defined the pandemic — are not the answers. That creates a war on information, the thesis of my latest column.

Users should be able to share an opinion that runs afoul of the prevailing narrative. They must be allowed the freedom to be wrong, as Taibbi put it.

They must be allowed the freedom to not be at the mercy of tech and government overlords settling which facts and speech are wrong, the catalyst of social media censorship.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest media topics as well as trending sports, cultural and political stories.

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcast and radio stations.

Previously, Burack was a writer at The Big Lead where he covered similar topics. He also hosted an eponymous podcast where he interviewed several personalities such as Joe Tessitore, and Adam Schefter.

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