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By Forrest Hershberger
View from the Handlebars 

Monitoring or Censoring


President Trump’s criticism of news and commentary desks have quite possibly resulted in unintended results.

Or did they?

I try to be careful of rabbit trails, especially those that lead to dark holes with unknown personalities. This one can go either way, a long walk on a shadowy path, or a discussion in the daylight.

Like him or not, Trump was known among things for calling out the press. “Fake news” is a label given to many reporters, stories and agencies. It became a First Amendment discussion. How do you determine what is right and what is wrong in a society of free press and speech? Constitutionally, free speech doesn’t have a framework besides causing social mayhem i.e. yelling “fire!” in a theater.

However, that wasn’t good enough. Social platforms have applied the authority to determine what is true, what is false and what is misleading. And supporters say these companies have the authority to do so as private companies. Twitter recently announced it is considering classifying comments based on how true or accurate it is. So, they are following Facebook and admitting they are moving from a platform, a device for transmitting messages, to a news source responsible for its content, especially submitted content.

The first question should be how is this constitutional? But then we have to admit there are countless examples of Constitutionality applied when convenient to the cause at hand.

The Constitution isn’t written, the text itself, to show favoritism.

The First Amendment assures the right to speak freely in most circumstances, and to peacefully assemble. If we rely strictly on the verbiage written, there is nothing requiring the government or the company to be responsible for the accuracy of the content. The Babylon Bee can constitutionally stand beside the Wall Street Journal, Omaha World-Herald or any other paper. For this example, the Babylon Bee clearly defines itself as a satire.

But in a vast sense, Congress needs to be questioned. What other time in the history of media has a method been responsible for its content to the point of appointing a team of fact-checkers? Social media was built, created, almost with the mindset of a movie quote: “We were so busy trying to see if we could, we didn’t stop to consider if we should.” Better said, it was collectively created without definition or limit.

It is a superhighway where the designers are expected to police the drivers. The guy in the shirt and tie walked away from the drafting table to put on a whistle and reflective vest so he can watch the flow of traffic; ill-prepared but expected to follow through.

If we as a society truly acknowledge and respect the First Amendment’s assurance of our right to free speech, we need to see these platforms for what they are: platforms, bulletin boards where a message can be transmitted. They are not newspapers in the sense of needing a good dose of editing before being released to the public.

Trump’s reference of fake news should have led to the question of how does he know it is fake instead of people wringing their hands in disbelief that a president would question the media. News writers aren’t perfect any more than their readers. The good ones do their best to stay objective, and by the facts. Those too focused on a crusade make news sound like thinly-cloaked commentary. That should be the first clue of fake vs real.

Either way, we also need to ask when we became so thin-skinned we need someone else to decide what is fact and what is fable. We need to ask why the designer of the highway became the road cop, and why we’re ok with it.

Highways have everyone from provisional drivers to criminals on the run. Frequently, they are intermingled on the same pavement. Yet, when we do the same for dialogue, we expect writers to produce only works of the most acceptable and factual accounts. The social platforms on the Internet are not like highways in the sense, they lack definition.

They are not print, but they are not broadcast in the traditional sense. Yet, they are held accountable by people whose values don’t always the consumer.

Any agency that labels i.e. monitors the content of dialogue is in effect censoring it. He is telling the reader what it is before he or she has a chance to digest it.


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