Brynn Bryan Tannehill and the American Left Love Them Some Freedom of Speech and of The Press . . . For Themselves. For Conservatives? Not So Much!

I will admit it: I had not heard of Brynn Tannehill before seeing this tweet from my good Twitter friend Robert Stacy McCain. Now I don’t know what Mr McCain tweeted to her that she found blockworthy — though blockworthy seems to have a pretty low threshold among many on the left — but, as I frequently do when I see something like that, I checked out the blocking author.

It didn’t take too much scrolling down to find this tweet in Miss Tannehill’s file. She is exercising her freedom of speech and of the press to tell us why other people ought not to have the same rights. That is, sadly, far too typical of the American left!

Why Elon Musk’s Idea of “Free Speech” Will Help Ruin America

Twitter without content moderation—and with Donald Trump and others reinvited—means that lies and disinformation will overwhelm the truth and the fascists will take over.

by Brynn Tannehill | Wednesday, October 26, 2022

After months of legal wrangling, Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter appears to be finally going through. Musk and the right see this as a great thing because it will restore “free speech” to Twitter. Any suggestion that the sort of “free speech” they envision can have highly undesirable consequences is met with howls of “Libs hate free speech” or other accusations of fascism. Similarly, warnings that unfettered free speech results in dangerous misinformation spreading are derided with “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” and the libertarian belief that in the marketplace of ideas, the best will always win out.

These theories will be tested quickly. It is being reported that after the sale is finalized, Musk plans on laying off nearly three-quarters of Twitter’s staff and that one of the first things to go will be any corporate attempt at content moderation and user security. Musk also plans on restoring the accounts of high-profile sources of disinformation and violent messaging who were previously banned, most notably former President Trump.

Well, of course it’s all about Donald Trump, who has been living rent-free in the heads of the left since before he was elected, and still now, after he’s been out of office for 21 months. We have often noted how some of the major organs of the credentialed media, including those who have so vigorously defended their own freedom of speech and of the press, have advocated censoring other people’s freedom of speech and of the press, all as the left scram that evil reich-wing Republicans are the fascists! That Miss Tannehill has previously accused Republicans of wanting to ban books only makes it more hypocritical, and more humorous.

OK, at this point, I need to make a serious correction. When I originally wrote this article, which was published on Thursday on my poor site, I made a huge, huge error: I failed to check the author’s biography, and did something silly like use the feminine honorifics and pronouns. It turns out that Bryan Tannehill was a 1997 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and began to ‘transition’ in 2010. I left the above part of my article in place, as written, but shall now correct the rest of it.

The pro-Musk arguments are complete nonsense, and there are innumerable historical and modern examples of why social media platforms with nearly unlimited freedom of speech produce horrors. The Supreme Court decided free speech isn’t absolute long ago, when Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that you can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, for obvious reasons.

As happens so often among the anti-free speech crowd, Miss Mr Tannehill wholly missed the point. From Schneck v United States, 249 US 47 (1919), internal citations omitted:

But it is said, suppose that that was the tendency of this circular, it is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Two of the strongest expressions are said to be quoted respectively from well-known public men. It well may be that the prohibition of laws abridging the freedom of speech is not confined to previous restraints, although to prevent them may have been the main purpose, as intimated in Patterson v. Colorado. We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. Aikens v. Wisconsin. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. Gompers v. Buck’s Stove & Range Co. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

The entire opinion is short, and can be easily read in just a couple of minutes, but what Miss Mr Tannehill and others have so often forgotten is that while Associate Justice Holmes — he was never Chief Justice of the United States, as Miss Mr Tannehill claimed, though he was once Chief Justice of the Massachusetts state Supreme Court — said that the First Amendment does not protect a man from the consequences of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater and causing a panic and, presumably, a stampede for the exits, he never stated that the worry that someone might do such, without real information about a specific, real, and credible threat justifies the law disallowing him from entering a theater in the first place. Miss Mr Tannehill and the like-minded left are basing their desire to shut down access to the most important organs of free speech these days to those they fear might shout “Fire!” in that crowded theater.

First, freedom of speech has caused untold death and suffering when used to disseminate hate or spread disinformation. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a fabricated antisemitic text that purported to expose a global baby-murdering Jewish plot bent on world domination. Mein Kampf was Hitler’s autobiography, which blamed Germany’s post–World War I woes on a global Jewish conspiracy. Both were readily available in the Weimar Republic, which had no First Amendment per se but guaranteed freedom of speech. They were key contributors to the fall of German democracy, the rise of the Third Reich, and the Holocaust itself.

Godwin’s law, also known as Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies, “is a statement maintaining that if any online discussion continues long enough, someone will almost certainly compare someone else to Hitler. Typically, the comment likens someone to Hitler or calls that person a Nazi, and the individual described in that way is often a participant in the discussion. The law is thought to apply to conversations about any conceivable topic.” Miss Mr Tannehill leapt to that in just four paragraphs!

In modern times, lack of moderation on social media sites has repeatedly contributed to mass murder. The Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter killed 51 Muslims at two mosques after being radicalized on YouTube, 4Chan, and 8Chan. The shooter who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had been radicalized on the social media site Gab, which advertised itself as the “free speech” alternative to Twitter. Dylann Roof killed nine people at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, after he self-radicalized online. Investigations revealed that Google searches steered him further and further into extremist propaganda and hate.

Conservatives might just as well have stated that the free dissemination of the unfortunate death of George Floyd during a legitimate arrest helped lead to 2020’s summer of hate riots under Antifa and #BlackLivesMatter, though I suspect that Miss Mr Tannehill might disagree with that. If the freedom of speech and of the press are to be restricted because they might lead to harm, it has to be remembered: the speech that will be limited depends upon who is doing the limiting. Had President Trump been the horrible fascist that the left told us he was, he might have just suppressed the freedom of speech and of the press of the left. Oddly enough, the proposal for having Nina Jankowicz to lead a Ministry of Truth “Disinformation Governance Board” under the Department of Fatherland Homeland Security never occurred under President Trump; that was a (quickly trashed) idea of the Biden Administration. Washington Post writer Taylor Lorenz was aghast that it had been torpedoed:

But within hours of news of her appointment, Jankowicz was thrust into the spotlight by the very forces she dedicated her career to combating. The board itself and DHS received criticism for both its somewhat ominous name and scant details of specific mission (Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it “could have done a better job of communicating what it is and what it isn’t”), but Jankowicz was on the receiving end of the harshest attacks, with her role mischaracterized as she became a primary target on the right-wing Internet. She has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral.

Of course, Miss Lorenz being appalled that the “Disinformation Governance Board” was a flopped idea, was somewhat hypocritical, given that Miss Lorenz had been most recently famous for her investigation and doxing of Chaya Raichik, a Brooklyn-based real estate saleswoman and creator of the Twitter site that the left hate, Libs of TikTok. Freedom of speech is for the left, not the right.

There’s a lot more at Miss Mr Tannehill’s original, trying to tell us all about the horrors that freedom of speech has caused, and telling us that the “libertarian fairy tale” of the “free market of ideas”, that “truth will inevitably conquer demonstrably false narratives” but then she he concludes with a strange paragraph:

As far as the free market goes, people forget that the usual result of completely unregulated markets is monopolies. Ideas within social media are no different. “Free speech” competitors to Twitter such as Gab, Parler, Truth Social, and GETTR (which exert little to no moderation) are uniformly conservative monocultures full of the worst kinds of misinformation and hate outside of 4Chan and Kiwifarms. Parler’s former CEO has begged liberals to join the site and even offered people $20,000 to do so, without any success. Musk himself has made it clear that he plans to follow down the path of Parler and Truth Social, posting a meme of himself, Donald Trump (owner of Truth Social), and Ye (formerly Kanye West and now owner of Parler) as the Three Musketeers.

It’s also true that Gab and Parler and the rest are simply not very large; begun to compete with Twitter, they can’t hold a candle to Twitter’s success. However good or bad they are, they are not winners in the competition for customers. Liberal Twitter has been winning, in part because conservatives like Mr McCain, and me, have been using Twitter because it allows a far more widespread dissemination of what we want to say.
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