A recent agreement drafted for the European Union (EU) mandates that social media companies must take down terrorist content within an hour of it being flagged or risk paying enormous fines.
On the face of it, we may automatically agree that this is a good idea considering the fact that propaganda is actually dangerous due to its proven ability to influence people and sway their opinions.
Most of us would also naturally assume that the new rule will apply to ISIS videos, neo-Nazi content and the like.
But will it apply to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which churns out terrorist content on its state-run media channels non-stop for young and old? Or will the PA be given an exemption considering the fact that between 2017 and 2020, the EU’s baseline amount of funding for the PA was $1.57 billion?
Will the law apply to Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorism, and the genocidal content that regularly comes out of its leaders’ mouths? Or will the EU merely condemn such sentiments but look the other way on its social media platforms due to its financial investment of billions of euros in the Islamic Republic in the years since the nuclear deal was signed?
Will it apply to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that most countries in the EU can’t even bring themselves to ban completely, possibly due to the fact that it is an Iranian proxy?
Will it apply to Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gives cover and funds to Hamas, slaughters Kurds in Syria and incites religious radicalism to the point of worldwide terror? Or does that also fall under “complicated” territory considering Erdogan’s stranglehold on the EU vis-à-vis the immigration/refugee crisis?
Judging from the EU’s tepid response to the assassination of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani followed by its full-out condemnation of the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, head of Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, as a “criminal act – not to mention its failure to condemn Erdogan – we already know the answers to these questions.
So a very real question to ask when the dust settles is: Who defines “terrorist content”?
The relative standards of what constitutes terrorist content in our increasingly transactional world not only serves to call out the hypocrisy of this new EU mandate but represents a slippery slope to the rights of free speech everywhere, including stateside.
While Europeans have never enjoyed the freedoms of speech, expression or religion that form the bedrock of the U.S. constitution, a debate over these freedoms are raging in the public sphere in America as well.
Only in our increasingly woke America, where words are now perceived as “violence” (to the degree that students in colleges around the country need “safe spaces” from them), the term “terrorist content” has been largely replaced by “hateful content.”
This, in turn, has prompted ersatz purveyors of American culture to demand that tech companies take down “hateful content” from their platforms.
Take former basketball legend turned cultural commentator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Speaking without the least hint of irony (he says he’s been commenting about culture and politics for the last 30 years), Abdul-Jabbar wants tech companies to take down content he finds objectionable from celebrities. That content includes everything from conservative ideas to commentary about election fraud to information questioning the safety of the rapidly rolled out and experimental coronavirus vaccine.
“It would be tempting to dismiss this self-mutilation as merely the triggering of overly sensitive ‘cancel culture,’” he says about celebrities like J.K. Rowling who go against the current Leftist groupthink. “But some of this public braying does immediate harm to the foundation of society.”
(Rowling had the temerity to tweet about biological sex being important.)
Ultimately, Abdul-Jabar and many others like him would like to see celebrities like Rowling canceled altogether, so that “their professional legacies could become brief footnotes to the memory of their collection of mason jars filled with their excreted opinions.”
There was a time when cultural purveyors such as Abdul-Jabbar would have been ostracized themselves as extremists due to the centrality of free speech in the American system of liberty, but now they are positioned sturdily in the mainstream.
Take Richard Stengel, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team leader for U.S.-owned media outlets. Writing in The Washington Post just last year, Stengel argued for making hate speech a crime.
Stengel gets around the sticky issue of freedom of speech as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution by presuming to get into the heads of the country’s framers.
“… the intellectual underpinning of the First Amendment was engineered for a simpler era,” he contends. “The amendment rests on the notion that the truth will win out in what Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas called ‘the marketplace of ideas’ … [yet] no one ever quite explained how good ideas drive out bad ones, how truth triumphs over falsehood … [how] truth would prevail in a ‘free and open encounter.’”
Ignoring the obvious answer that the country is made up of citizens who are able to think for themselves, Stengel goes on to denigrate the framers’ belief that the free exchange of ideas is “necessary for people to make informed choices in a democracy.”
Somehow, he says, even if that “magically” happened in the past, Stengel says it isn’t possible today: “On the Web, it’s not enough to battle falsehood with truth; the truth doesn’t always win. In the age of social media, the marketplace model doesn’t work.”
Stengel then opines that banning hate speech was really the intent of the framers:
“Hate speech has a less violent, but nearly as damaging, impact in another way: It diminishes tolerance. It enables discrimination … Isn’t that, by definition, speech that undermines the values that the First Amendment was designed to protect: fairness, due process, equality before the law?
“Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation?” he asks.
The ideas of Stengel, Abdul-Jabar and other would-be censors and purveyors of “truth” represent a serious slide into a rabbit hole that historically has been tried and never ended well.
Whether it begins with the hypocrisy of the EU banning “terror content” on social media platforms, the condescending attitude of Stengel toward everyday Americans or the nanny state being proposed by Abdul-Jabar, the endpoint of that route is always totalitarianism.
It’s a sticky issue. Yes, ISIS videos and neo-Nazi propaganda can and should be taken down, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that criminalizing hate speech is a good idea instead of what it really is: a euphemism for silencing our political opponents. Better we should talk “hate” and let truth prevail.