Former President Barack Obama does not believe in free speech for his political adversaries.
In a speech given at Stanford University on April 21, Obama declared himself to be a “First Amendment absolutist” while calling for social media regulations. The self-described constitutional law professor needs to reread the First Amendment and the Federalist Papers to understand how the latter recommendation contradicts his absolutist claim.
Let us examine the issue.
What is Free Speech in a Modern Context?
The First Amendment is crystal clear about the sanctity of free speech guarantees for all Americans (emphasis added): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
If Obama truly believed himself to be a “First Amendment absolutist,” he would have remained silent on the professed need to regulate social media, which has become the modern-day equivalent of Revolutionary War-era broadsides that were used to “disseminate news, announce legislation, recruit and instruct troops, celebrate great events, or sway public opinion.”
America’s Founds themselves employed broadsides to “get the word out” to their friends, neighbors, and others and helped shape our constitutional republic.
There is another interesting parallel between those old broadsides and Twitter. Broadsides “were typically considered ephemeral items to be discarded after their original use,” according to the American Revolution Institute. How better to describe the daily changing narratives, dialogs, debates, and individual tweets on Twitter? Except that old tweets—like old broadsides—frequently come back to haunt the originators when embarrassing truths subsequently emerge.
The Founders did not want broadsides and other free speech to be curtailed or regulated in such a way as to diminish Americans’ ability to engage in dialog on just about any topic, primarily political.
What would they say about attempts to restrict speech via social media?
For that matter, what would they say about the constitutionality of Section 230, which shields social media companies from lawsuits for content posted by third parties?
Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has defined various free speech exceptions, including advocacy of the use of force in imminent actions (also referred to as “incitement to riot;” see Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969), obscenity that violates contemporary community standards (Miller v. California, 1973), and threatening the President of the United States (under Title 18 Section 871, U.S. Code).
However, none of these exceptions target a reduction in political speech, and any legal attempts to curtail political speech are judged by a strict scrutiny standard in order to provide the strongest possible protections.
What Obama Said
Here is what Obama advocated at Stanford University in the way of social media regulation: “A regulatory structure, a smart one, needs to be in place, designed in consultation with tech companies, and experts and communities that are affected, including communities of color and others that sometimes are not well represented here in Silicon Valley, that will allow these companies to operate effectively while also slowing the spread of harmful content.”
These seem like altruistic words, especially if he intends to conform to the commonly understood meaning of free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, and that those rights would be upheld for all Americans regardless of their political persuasion.
However, during his speech, Obama telegraphed his true reasons for advocating government regulation of social media: “[I]f the vast majority of elected Republican officials keep insisting that there’s nothing wrong with saying an election was stolen without a shred of evidence, when they know better, this [regulating social media] isn’t going to work.”
In short, Obama seeks to use the force of government to ensure that social media regulations curtail the free speech rights of those who disagree with Democratic Party opinions, policies, and objectives.
And he would be pleased to reinforce — and extend — the left-wing community standards already being used by social media companies to arbitrarily curtail political speech in precisely the same manner that the Chinese Communist Party uses to monitor and control Chinese citizens through the use of a social credit and control system.
Rest assured, Obama and the Democrats would love to label their political adversaries — many of whom continue to support former President Donald Trump — as “insurrectionists” and use that label as justification for banning their speech on social media via “government regulations.” Suppression of dissent is precisely the Democrats’ political goal as they prolong their J6 star chamber farce.
Trump and Musk to the Rescue
Just as Trump raised public awareness of the reality of legacy media politicization, Elon Musk is also doing the same for Twitter, the current “big dog” of social media.
The sheer panic exhibited by Twitter blue-check pundits, cultural figures, Democrat activists, media pundits, and a garden variety of elected Democrats in response to Musk’s takeover of Twitter is a big red flag. Their strong reaction signifies they understand that Musk will likely open the books on Twitter’s community standards and algorithms that suppress political content that disagrees with left-wing Democrat orthodoxy.
These same people are also attacking Trump’s emerging Truth Social platform because they fear its political threat to the Democratic Party.
The Founders would doubtless be against efforts to curtail free speech on social media platforms. And they would probably see Section 230 for what it really is, too. While shielding social media companies from lawsuits for third-party content, the law also enables them to curtail political speech under their own so-called “community standards.”
The result? Voices that dissent from left-wing and Democrat orthodoxy are suppressed, shadow banned, suspended, and ultimately deplatformed, thereby curtailing political speech that they arbitrarily deem “unwanted.”
Consider this exercise derived from Obama’s Stanford University speech that illustrates the problem. Would Obama dare to revise and extend his above remarks claiming the 2020 election “was stolen without a shred of evidence” after he views the forthcoming documentary, “2000 Mules,” which provides indisputable video and cell phone-tracking evidence of an illicit ballot-trafficking network that was in operation during the election?
It is likely that if I had tweeted this question out, Twitter would have suspended my account under their “community standards.” So much for free political speech on Twitter!
By advocating government regulation of social media, self-declared “First Amendment absolutist” Obama seeks to curtail the dissent of his political adversaries, not expand free speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution to all U.S. citizens. If he genuinely supported free speech, he would advocate modifications to Section 230 that would preclude social media companies from violating the rights of Americans, thereby expanding their free speech rights.
And if Obama were true to his absolutist claim, he would repeat the words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall (pseudonym: Stephen G. Tallentyre) from the 1906 novel “Friends of Voltaire“: “I disapprove of what you say, but defend to the death your right to say it.”
That he never speaks these words says it all.