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Opinion/Column: Free speech is being tested again

Opinion/Column: Free speech is being tested again

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Twitter and Facebook have permanently banned President Trump from their social platforms. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell have also been permanently banned, as Twitter announced a purge of “accounts dedicated to sharing content related to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.”

Trump has now also been banned from Instagram, Snapchat and Twitch, and Parler.

Trump has hinted he may announce an alternative social media platform, possibly one created by him.

The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed “concern” over the action by the social media giants. In a statement, Kate Ruane, the ACLU’s senior legislative counsel, said: “We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”

The late writer Nat Hentoff, in addition to being an authority on the history of jazz, was also a fierce defender of the right to free speech. He once told me the answer to speech you don’t like is not less speech, but more speech. Banning offensive speech encourages radicals in their extremism. We no longer talk to each other. Too many read and listen only to what supports their point of view and demeans people who believe differently. This is unhealthy for a free society.

Facebook and Twitter made their decision after the president incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop lawmakers from formalizing Joe Biden’s election victory. Perhaps they believe they have nothing to fear from a Democrat-majority Congress. Republicans in the Senate had been holding hearings into charges by conservatives that social media outlets censor conservative opinion. With Democrats in control of the Senate additional hearings are unlikely to be forthcoming.

In another display of the double standard, the two social media giants still allow the Iranian leadership and people associated with the Chinese Communist Party to maintain their accounts.

Distrust by many conservatives of virtually all media has given rise to fringe platforms that seek to tear us further apart and undermine democracy, while claiming to protect it. These divisions have deepened since the November election, as Trump supporters believe the election was rigged. Trump voters deserve to have their concerns addressed, or the cynicism and division will only get worse, as will the potential for more violence. The best way to lower the temperature would be to create a forum that would fairly and accurately examine all claims of voter fraud and ballot manipulation.

As for attempts to ban speech some people don’t like, I give you the lyrics from that 1960s musical, “Hair”: “Let the Sun shine in.” Indeed, let it in, because sunshine — and free speech — can lead to “the mind’s true liberation.”

Cal Thomas is a columnist syndicated by the Tribune Content Agency. Email him at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

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