Last week I was reading some alt-right pundit who was beside himself with joy over what he claimed was Elon Musk’s ‘restoration’ of free speech on Twitter by giving a new account to Donald Trump. And in general, Elon Musk is now being promoted by the alt-right as a defender of the Constitution versus the attempt by the woke crowd to censor and prevent good, loyal, God-fearing, and patriotic Americans from saying whatever they want to say.
The idea that who says what on Twitter has anything at all to do with the 1st Amendment is a total load of crap. And yet people fall for such nonsense because of how the concept of ‘free speech’ is misused, particularly these days by the alt-right.
Actually, what we really should be looking at is not ‘free speech,’ so much as ‘free expression,’ because with the internet, so much for what involves the movement of information from one person to another involves pictures rather than words.
In that regard, I’m reminded of what I believe was the best statement ever to come out of the mouth of a member of the Supreme Court. It was said by Associate Justice Potter Stewart who, in an early SCOTUS debate about how to define pornography, said, “I may not know how to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”
Which is more or less what I think about comments made by Trump and the other members of his gang on Truth Social, ditto what Elon Musk outs out there on Twitter. These guys aren’t in the slightest bit interested in advancing anything having to do with free speech at all. They are interested in promoting a certain political agenda which, as far as I am concerned, is nothing more than a way to spread hateful and malicious beliefs about anyone who doesn’t agree with their views on what needs to be done to make America and the world a better place.
What this whole issue of speech gets down to is how we define ‘public’ versus ‘private’ space. A public space is any location which owned by a public (i.e., government) agency, be the agency a village, a town, a city, a county, a state, or the government of all 50 states.
The governing agency can set certain rules for how people must behave in a public space, but the only speech which can be regulated is if someone says something that could create a threat to the health and welfare of someone else.
Think back to January 6th and the behavior of the bunch who stormed the Capitol to protest the ‘theft’ of the Presidential election from Donald Trump. If they had just marched around chanting something about how Trump had gotten screwed and deserved to have the votes counted again, not one of them would have been among the thousand who were criminally indicted after the event.
Many of them were charged with criminal trespass because they entered areas in the Capitol which are not considered to be public space. Others were charged with assault because they punched, kicked, or otherwise tried to inflict physical damage on a cop or someone else. Still others were charged with destruction of property because they damaged furniture or furnishings inside the building or made off with some item which didn’t belong to them.
The rioters who were charged with sedition were violating laws which make it a felony to plan or carry out an activity designed to prevent the government from doing what the government is legally required to do, such as to validate votes cast by members of the Electoral College after an election for President takes place. You can stand up and scream all you want that an election was fraudulent and all you’re doing is engaging in free speech.
But getting a bunch of guys together and telling them to break into the Senate chamber while the counting of electoral votes is taking place and your behavior isn’t protected by anything in the Bill of Rights.
Now here’s where the rubber meets the road. Everything which I have enumerated above for what does or doesn’t constitute free speech falls by the wayside when the individual who is speaking is occupying a private space. With few exceptions, private ownership trumps public speech, and I can stand in my own front yard and yell my head off just about anything without suffering any legal or criminal penalty at all.
The idea that Elon Musk is ‘opening’ Twitter to more free speech is absurd because Twitter happens to be a private space. Ditto Facebook, TikTok, and every other communications enterprise on the internet these days.
My problem is that I wish my liberal friends would stop being so polite and concerned about whether they are being seen by the alt-right as enemies of free speech.
If Elon Musk wants to give Donald Trump the opportunity to make more noise on a private property which Musk happens to own, that’s fine. But he’s not promoting the Constitutional protections for free speech or anything else.
He’s just promoting Donald Trump.