Now I’ve been a strong advocate of free speech for years, and working as a journalist has reinforced my zeal for protecting free speech. I have never wanted the principle fettered or diminished in our society. I believe our governments – locally and nationally – should be as open as possible, as should public corporations.
But I do draw a big red line at allowing blatant political falsehoods that directly slam an opponent with fabrications and untruths. Even more important, I don’t want ANY foreign intrusion via social media into our elections – be those intrusions from Russia, China, Ukraine or wherever.
And that’s the important part of why, to me, Zuckerberg’s defense of totally unfettered free speech was so wrong. There are times, and these are the times, when false statements should be kicked off the Internet.
I read a lot of news daily, and I view social media daily, but I am not sophisticated enough to know what I just saw could be a Russian incursion into a political campaign or Chinese one. I don’t know who is paying for the ads that intentionally and erroneously criticize a candidate, be it Trump, Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders or Joe Blow.
There are historical constitutional precedents for limiting free speech. Justice Oliver Holmes in Schenck v. United States in 1919 said, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
In contrast to Zuckerberg’s stance, many major broadcasting stations, including cable networks CNN, MSNBC and NBCU, decline to broadcast ads that they feel contain falsehoods and violate their standards. Airwaves do not allow pornographic material; some inflammatory words are bleeped, hate speech and violent content are carefully reviewed and oftentimes removed. Some programs never get to air.
Newspapers have similar standards. An editor chooses what is to be printed, usually according to common journalistic standards of decency and honesty.
Zuckerberg tried to use the Constitution as a shield for his position to let everyone post what they want, and then each of us can decide what’s right. We should be confronted with ideas that challenge us, he said. He added that his company would not moderate politicians’ speech or fact-check their ads because these statements, right or wrong, were newsworthy.
Is he masquerading for free speech while actually thinking of profits? Just asking…well, perhaps.
I think it’s time for Mr. Zuckerberg to realize he is not just the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company ($55.8 billion in annual revenue according to The New York Times) and that he cannot do whatever he wants to make more money. He is also a publisher, and in that role conveys news and events of the world to the world. Publishing has its own responsibilities for caring what goes into print, on air, and on the Internet, and Zuckerberg should acknowledge and follow them.