Blood On Our Hands: The Insurrection at The Capitol and Why We’re ALL To Blame
Where’s the line between hate speech and freedom of opinion?
Freedom of speech has become a bone of contention. I found myself questioning Trump’s removal from Twitter — not because I want to read the lies and vitriol, but because I believe in freedom of speech.
If we cannot speak freely, are we truly able to live fully and authentically?
Until now, I’ve taken free speech for granted. I haven’t questioned it. I’ve never considered the difference between free speech and hate speech. Who gets to decide where the very thin boundary lies?
In the case of social media, the tech giants make the decisions, often via AI or algorithms. And we all know how well an algorithm can work out, right?
Social media puts us all in a position of ‘journalist’, only unlike in the mainstream media, we are allowed to be biased. We are permitted to share opinions that look like fact. We can even choose to lie should we wish to. Our ‘message’, good or bad, false or true, can be disseminated worldwide in a second!
I suppose that’s where it matters in Trump’s case — his number of followers. For me, I can spout some nonsense and it is shared with a handful of people. For Trump, millions have seen his Tweets within a literal click of a button. I believe this readership was a reason for Twitter to be monitoring Trump more closely than other users. I believe it was their duty to censor his lies and anything bordering on incitement of violence.
And it’s always censorship. Whether you agree with Trump or not — and I don’t at all — it’s still censorship.
The very fact that social media businesses need the option to silence their users is a tacit acknowledgement that it can be dangerous. Whilst it offers a fascinating insight into so many people’s lives in all walks of life, there are also some immense downsides to what we see and read.
There’s disinformation and misinformation aplenty on the social platforms. Everyday, I scroll Facebook and see disinformation (the non-malicious spread of false info). I get that people ‘read and believe’, but when we share things, I believe we have a duty to fact and source check them.
And yet, it doesn’t stop there because how do we even define disinformation in this strange ever-changing world?
At the commencement of the pandemic, for example, many people advocating the importance of Vitamin D in contracting the virus were silenced by social media. Understandably, the platforms and search engines wanted to ensure that people were getting information about Covid-19 from ‘appropriate’ sources, like the NHS, CDC, and governments.
Those wanting others to know that improving their Vitamin D levels may help them recover more quickly from the illness were not ‘approved’, since their information was untested.
Subsequent research uncovered a possible link between low levels of Vitamin D and a greater risk of suffering adverse effects from the virus. And yet, at the start of the pandemic, that information was labelled anecdotal and thus branded ‘disinformation’.
The world is ever-changing. Disinformation can become information at the drop of a hat.
But, of course, Trump’s anger, lies and vitriol are far more dangerous than whether or not you top up your Vitamin D more often. It’s not even about the wording — Trump didn’t say, “Go and swarm the Capitol, seek bloodshed and violence!” It’s about the sentiment that is created behind posts on the platforms, and that’s incredibly difficult for the algorithms and AI to properly understand. This means that whilst Trump has so many followers and such prominence that his posts are reviewed by humans at the social media companies, many others are not.
Terrorists and those inciting hatred in a similarly subtle way, but with small numbers of followers, risk going unnoticed on the platforms. There’s even research that suggests many who become a part of hate networks do so because they are encouraged by Facebook’s algorithm of friend suggestions.
It’s not all bad, of course, and that’s perhaps part of the problem. Anywhere there is good and bad information being shared, it’s incredibly difficult to draw a boundary. In this current pandemic, for example, many organisations have used their social channels to spread messages about ‘hands/face/space’ and so on. Charities who’ve lost swathes of their income have been able to go online to try and make up for that lack of donations. Many positive causes have been progressed by our presence on social platforms.
Are We Banning Freedom To Hate Now?
Are you allowed to hate? Yes. Freedom of speech allows us to love, hate, and everything in between.
I see a lot of hypocrisy online — those who dislike Trump’s views about immigration, for example, saying they hate Trump for his views. Hate begets hate. Just because free speech allows us to comment in a hateful way, doesn’t mean that hatred is an emotion we should harbour.
The aim we should seek is harmony between all of us. You may think that sounds idealistic and it probably is in many respects. However, I know that if I am dismissing those who speak of hatred with my own form of hate, I do nothing but perpetuate it.
So how do we balance freedom of speech and the encouragement of harmony? I don’t know. I think it comes from from an acceptance that other people have differing views to us. We do not all think the same. I think it comes from kindness towards others? I think it comes from a degree of open-mindedness and understanding, realizing that whatever opinion somebody has comes from their past experiences and environment.
Once we get to know the core of other people’s opinions, those roots are what will help us begin to solve hatred.
I do not ever condone the violence of Trump’s fans at the Capitol. They were committing acts of domestic terrorism. But I understand that those people who do those things have a different viewpoint to mine.
Freedom of action and freedom of speech are incredibly important. They are the fabric of the greatest societies in the world, and are what underpins a democracy in my opinion.
Freedom of speech is about sharing your opinion and thoughts. It is not about inciting violence. Trump had a duty of care to the US to protect the Capitol and not encourage rioting.
The incitement of terrorism, hatred, murder, bloodshed is not free speech.
Of course this is where the social media giants need to clamp down, but it’s also about each and every one of us thinking about what we are posting and reading. We all have a duty to protect our societies.
This is our job. It’s my job. It’s your job. Whatever your political leanings, you and I should be on the same page about making sure the internet is a safe place where violence isn’t incited, where criminal behavior isn’t encouraged.
We allowed the insurrection in The Capitol to happen. We were not all as proactive online as we could have been. Who knows, if we were all doing our job, we could have protected free speech and prevented bloodshed.
Now it’s time to take our job seriously.