Archived Opinion

We should restrict lies, misinformation

We should restrict lies, misinformation

To the Editor:

Americans have created for themselves quite a quandary trying to interpret both the literal and the intended meaning of the First Amendment to the Constitution. That portion that states: “Congress shall make no law abridging (which means to shorten or reduce) the freedom of speech” seems now to beg the question; can the ideals of free speech and social justice be in harmony?

A conflict exists between advocates of liberal principles of individual freedom and champions of traditional republicanism, which emphasizes pursuit of the common good. Civil libertarians seem to idolize freedom of expression above all other considerations while others insist that the right to self-expression must sometimes yield to the greater good of society as a whole. Case in point: COVID-19.

Writers, journalists, newspaper editors (and the like) brood constantly whether protecting the rights of people to express themselves is compatible with reporting, factually, the events of our time. Many people believe that stating: “Views expressed are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of the publisher, editor or staff” are sufficient to absolve any publication of responsibility for what’s printed within its pages. Legally, that’s probably true.

We cannot go back in time and sit with the framers of our Constitution and know for sure what was debated. However, having read the Constitution many times over, I speculate they favored telling the absolute truth at all times. I know of nothing that would disprove that assessment, although reading some letters to editors (for example, from Messrs. Gaston, Stern, and Taylor), obviously we are not all in agreement on matters involving facts and truth. My BS detector fires off frequently with an ear-splitting clang.

I’m of two minds. As the editor-in-chief of The New Republic (Win McCormack) writes in the September 2021 issue: “One of the most compelling examples of the use of free speech on behalf of the greater good is that of Frederick Douglas, an ex-slave whose writings and oratory helped inspire the abolitionist movement.” Douglass’ views on free speech were unequivocal: “To suppress free speech is a double wrong,” he said. “It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

The question whether to protect the freedom of the individual to speak freely disregarding the truth or misrepresentation of known facts; or whether to consider the greater good and harm that comes from spreading misinformation, will not be easily resolved. People who choose to remain unvaccinated do so believing they have the right to put other lives at risk. I don’t believe they do but rather are in violation of the spirit and intent of the Constitution.

As COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, especially in areas with higher levels of community transmissions and lower vaccination coverage, I personally lean heavily toward serving the greater good. If that means restricting harmful speech (lies and misinformation), or at least revealing it and condemning it in order to save innocent lives, then that is what we should do.

David L. Snell 

Franklin

Leave a comment

2 comments

  • Thank you. I don't think our Founding Fathers anticipated the power of social media, and the stupidity of the American people.

    posted by Deni Gottlieb

    Monday, 08/30/2021

  • STFU David L. Snell, you rotten Communist. Why don't you go save innocent lives in Afghanistan you virtue signaling idiot.

    posted by Paul

    Friday, 08/27/2021

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