Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The first amendment

This is Joseph.

The first amendment is a very American idea and not one that is widely shared by other countries. It is a unique response to the repression of political speech at the time of the American Revolution and has resulted in an extremely open culture. You can sure have a modern democracy without it (see Canada) but it does have some advantages.

However, the consequences of free speech are, well, consequences. The freedom to speak is not the freedom to be without consequences. One place that this has really bit in is with pseudo-anonymous accounts, where the person shields themselves from the immediate consequences of their speech. This can be helpful -- the bold truth teller might lose access to inside information. But that has always come with the risk of being unmasked and facing consequences. Reality Winner, for example, was convicted of leaking information on Russian interference with the 2016 election, a matter of great public importance. 

More recently there has been controversy about a recent Washington Post article talking about the identity of a person who runs a major TikTok account:
The anonymous account’s impact is deep and far-reaching. Its content is amplified by high-profile media figures, politicians and right-wing influencers. Its tweets reach millions, with influence spreading far beyond its more than 648,000 Twitter followers. Libs of TikTok has become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community.

A Twitter account with hundreds of thousands of followers is influential the article notes that the name is being trademarked as a news reporter service. This is public facing speech. 

Now, the irony here is that the same free speech that allows this platform to be so controversial is why exposing the person behind the account is ok. You may want a kinder public forum but it is odd to attack your political opponents and then be unwilling to stand behind your words. But this isn't a very useful perspective:

After all, the account exists to publicize offensive content, at least content offensive to a right wing perspective. One key thing in the Washington Post piece is that it is clear that specific people are identified in the account, which is fair play. But I think if we apply equal standards to the account then it is just applying the same principles consistently. 

This was a good ideas for the sort of journalistic principle involved here. Insofar as the person in question is a political operative, and the article makes a good case, there is a lot of room to consider this to be in the public interest. 

I think one could ask whether the first amendment should consider respect and kindness as possible features. But I understand why it does not. But if you are going to advocate for it, then the natural result of this type of "market place of ideas" is that you will need to accept the consequences of your speech, Free speech, without consequences, is privileged speech (like that of a king) and exactly what the amendment was intended to avoid. 

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