On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 217A, known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The backdrop behind its passage was the Holocaust of European Jewry, in which an entire people was dehumanized, hunted and slaughtered, and the consequent global goal of making sure that it never happens again.
The first two stances in the resolution’s preamble make this clear:
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,”
All people inherently deserve “freedom, justice and peace” and the common goal of humanity is the enjoyment of “freedom of speech and belief” as well as “freedom from fear and want.”
The resolution goes on to enumerate many ways to achieve such goals, such as banning slavery (Article 4) and torture (Article 5), the ability to marry and divorce (Article 16) and change one’s religion (Article 18). While these seem fundamental rights in the western world, they are unfortunately not present in much of the Middle East and Africa.
But the western world has its own challenges with other items published in the UDHR, that of freedom of speech in the world of social media. Article 19 states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The notion that people have the right to “impart information… through any media… regardless of frontiers” is specifically being called out in the western world today.
The CEO of Facebook has been called before Congress and people have argued that Facebook must fact-check items before posting them as well as ban political ads.
At a speech before the Anti-Defamation League, the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen argued that Facebook, Twitter and Google have created “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” one that would have allowed Hitler to run 30 second ads contributing to fringe ideas “going mainstream.”
But such condemnation should be addressed towards the individual or group posting the vile viewpoints, not the platform itself. Facebook is a megaphone / modern soapbox for ideas. It is not a newspaper with a staff which writes opinions of its own.
We have become enamored with attacking the large social media giants by adopting false progressive notions that: 1) social media is media; 2) any kind of “fear” is real and should be considered; and 3) simply being large and powerful is inherently evil.
Social Media versus Media
Social media enables millions and billions of people to connect with each other. The platforms enable third parties to share ideas and pictures with both friends and family as well as people they’ve never met. The interactions may be cordial or hostile; the content, funny or sad.
The social media companies are distribution companies. This is vastly different than a media company which either writes and produces its own content or pays people to write content for them. As companies like Google begin to hire professionals to produce content on platforms like YouTube, it is only at that point that they become media companies themselves.
These distribution companies decide for themselves whether they wish to publish particular content. If Twitter opts to not publish political ads, that is its choice. If Facebook does not want to be a platform for nudity, it has full discretion to do so.
But it is the content itself which should be the focus of attention and possible derision.
Freedom from Fear
While Article 19 of the UDHR clearly articulates that all opinions should be available on any media, the preamble to the resolution makes clear that people should be able to live with “freedom from fear.” As such, any content which calls for violence against any person or group should be banned from all platforms. No ifs, ands or buts.
But what constitutes “fear?” A perceived insult or slight might trigger “microaggressions” such as using the wrong pronoun for a transgender person. But that cannot truly be the benchmark of what the UDHR had in mind.
Many videos by the conservative Prager U have been banned by YouTube, despite the videos not advocating any violence. Dennis Prager testified before Congress in July 2019 that the social media platforms have been banning conservative voices because the media outlets are run by “coastal liberal latte-sipping politically-correct out-of-touch folks,” as President Obama called them. Prager said that “liberals and conservatives differ on many issues but they have always agreed free speech must be preserved. While the left has never supported free speech, liberals always have.”
Prager considered that “the left” has become overly sensitive about a wide range of issues and have used that as an excuse to shut down free speech with which they disagree. The notion of “freedom from fear” is being abused to shut down free speech.
The Powerful Institutions versus the Common Man
These same alt-left progressives have taken to the notion that large institutions like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Goldman Sachs and Walmart are inherently evil. The socialists in Congress have been looking to pass numerous laws to punish them, tax them and break them apart. While Prager sees the social media companies as liberal outlets, the left sees them as corporate thieves who helped defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.
As such, the left-wing socialists have waved the banner of support for the failing media companies who have peddled their half truths for years, arguing that they are on the front lines of democracy. (If only it were true.) But these media outlets can still write their pieces – and use the social media companies as outlets for distribution.
The big social media companies should NOT be in the fact checking business. However, they can improve upon their core distribution business by allowing people to see the source of the content placed before them and have greater control of the algorithms which tailor the content they see.
Allow people to have “freedom from fear” but not freedom from opinions of which they disagree.
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