Free speech is a topic that is well trodden by media sources, the Muhlenberg Weekly included. Pretty much every editorial we have written this semester either directly or indirectly has had to do with free speech, whether it be through attacks on the media or protests or people choosing what to hear and what to believe. We talk about the importance of free speech and the first amendment and how to make your voice heard, but we don’t talk about how free speech is used. Specifically, how the idea of free speech is used by the powerful against those without power.
This weaponization of free speech can be traced back to college campuses. When people like Richard Spencer began to be denied and banned from college campuses, the claims that colleges hate free speech and that the left were denying people of their right to speak came flying in. But what must be noted is that when Colleges like Ohio State University denied Richard Spencer, it was usually on the basis of potential danger, seeing as Richard Spencer’s followers have a history of violence sometimes resulting in death, and not based solely on his views.
We see this from the right all the time, using free speech as a way of making their voices heard. Look at when Alex Jones was being banned from facebook and youtube, there were countless articles and posts about how it was an attack on free speech. Or consider the articles by websites like Breitbart talking about how the left has abandoned its ideals of free speech. But what those articles don’t understand is that the left has refined their understanding of free speech. The first amendment guarantees that the government shall not make laws limiting the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press. So, to say that newspapers or colleges must give space to every voice and all views is not true.
Before moving forward, it must be made clear that we here at the Weekly do believe it is of the utmost importance to give space to as many voices as possible, especially disenfranchised people whose voices are all too often ignored and suppressed based on reasons of race, class or gender, please read last week’s editorial for more on that.
“We must use our power to improve the world for all, rather than improve it for those already in power. And that is well within our rights.”
There is then the argument that, while not legally required to, there is a moral and intellectual obligation to include voices from all sides, and in general I would have to agree. What is often forgotten, or willfully ignored, is that part of the freedom of speech is the freedom to choose what not to say, especially when thinking about it in terms of newspapers. You may argue that for a newspaper to deny space for an opinion or point of view is a denial of that point of view’s right to speech as an individual, but the press also has the right to free speech and part of free speech is curating what to say and being critical of your own speech.
What does it mean to curate and be critical of your speech? It comes down to considering the effect of the speech. To deny speech to someone based on race or class or gender is deplorable because it continues to disenfranchise those who are abused by the powers that be most of all. But, to deny speech to those who are encouraging violence or are denying space for the disenfranchised, is different as those types of speech have a direct negative effect on real people. Even if someone is not explicitly saying anything harmful to anyone, if their followers are causing violence and attacking disenfranchised minorities then that affect must be taken into consideration.
A newspaper has power and a platform.
It is each newspaper’s job to determine how they will use their power and their platform. In an ideal world, a newspaper would stay strictly neutral, but our world is far from ideal. This is also true of private companies like facebook or twitter, which allow their platforms to be used for nazis and TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminists). But this is also true of you. You have the power and the right to use your voice to ensure the safety and the well being of those by not giving space for thoughts of hate and violence. We must use our power to improve the world for all, rather than improve it for those already in power. And that is well within our rights.