Is Free Speech Weakening Our Country?

Free speech has become a polarizing issue in our country. Should social media platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter be treated as publishers or platforms?

Myles Hazen and Luca D'Agruma

Anti Restrictions


Free speech can be argued to have resulted in terrible things. For example the Capitol riots might have been prevented had we censored Trump or QAnon instead of allowing their free speech.

Furthermore, dictators like Mao and Hitler came into power by spreading their messages to the people. In Mao’s case, calling people to action to fight against the government, and in Hitler’s case, gaining enough support to be appointed to a position of power, with large rallies that were not restricted and spread their dangerous ideas.

Conspiracy theories are experiencing a renaissance in part because of unrestricted free speech online. An example of this is QAnon, which has adherents from right-wing groups.

Conspiracies can be harmful by making people think that the world is entirely different from how it actually is. People have committed violent acts based on these theories that are not true.

If all this is true, shouldn’t we limit our freedom of speech?


Despite all the negatives of free speech, there are also many positives. For example, that democracy cannot function in a system where certain people are censored.

If people’s voices cannot be heard, how are we supposed to have people’s ideas represented in the government? Sure, anti-democratic ideas are dangerous for democracy.

Still, if we believe in democracy, in a scenario in which the majority of people believe in authoritarian ideas,  we should allow democracy to be used to overturn it, as democracy puts who the people want in power.

If you don’t believe that democracy should be allowed to bring about authoritarianism, free speech is also necessary. Many people would want to start an insurrection against the government, with reason, if a true authoritarian came into power and began violating basic freedoms. In this scenario, an ability to call for violence against the government becomes justified, and as such, this ability must be protected at all costs.

Once we give up rights like these, they’re not coming back, assuming that the rise of authoritarianism, both left and right wing, around the world and in the U.S. holds true into the future.

This right to insurrection and calls to violence can be misused. For example, calls to violence were used to organize the capital riot this January.

It is essential to qualify this by saying that many of the people involved genuinely believed that they were protecting democracy by stopping the certifying of the vote. Still, whatever they believed, their end goal became tearing down democracy.

Despite how it may seem, censorship is one of the worst possible things you can do regarding conspiracy theories and the aforementioned people.

Depending on the scale of the censorship, it may be possible to stop the spread of the ideas. However, you confirm those conspiracy theorists’ ideas making them even more dead set in their beliefs.

You also take their ideas out of the marketplace of ideas. No one can debate them and expose them to contradictory facts or expose the flaws in their arguments.

It is terrible to assume that people who have embraced conspiracies cannot come out of it as many do. If that was true, how come people can come out of cults, and some people have come out of conspiracies. It may be a long process and unpleasant for those involved, but conspiracy theorists have an internal struggle when shown facts.

While meant to stop conspiracy theorists, censorship supercharges them and gets rid of the potential to bring them back from their false ideas.

Censorship can also make something popular. For example, the song “Relax” by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood was censored by the BBC.

The controversy boosted a song that most likely would’ve faded out with time to the most popular song in the United Kingdom, which is an example of what can happen if censorship isn’t fully implemented.

The controversy over the issue draws people in and allows them to learn about what the censoring person doesn’t want them to.

There is also the legal issue about whether social media companies should be treated as publishers or platforms.

Social media companies should be one or the other. At this point, however, social media has become public discourse. People talk online sometimes more than they talk in person.

As such, social media companies should be platforms for public discourse. Censorship online is equivalent to stopping people from advocating their beliefs on the street. Furthermore, a ban from a social media platform is equivalent to forcible exile from that street.


Pro Restrictions


We have a massive problem online. Conspiracy theorists, propaganda and alternative facts have already convinced 17% of Americans that a secret cabal of pedophile “satan-worshiping” elites are trying to control our politics, and white supremacists are radicalizing an entire generation of young susceptible white men.

Baseless claims of widespread voter fraud incited thousands of Trump supporters to violent insurrection, and COVID-19 denial inspired militia members in Michigan to plan to kidnap and murder Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

We are in the death knells of our democracy unless we act: fast.

We already have rules on what you are allowed to say. Though some may dispute this on ideological grounds, our laws already restrict free speech, by preventing people from freely slandering, inciting violence, disseminating child pornography, classified information, trade secrets and much more.

In addition, the argument that the government cannot legally restrict social media is factually incorrect, as we already have massive regulations on the airwaves.

Our democracy didn’t crumble when airwaves were regulated, or when we collectively decided it was bad for society to have it legal to shout “FIRE” in a crowded theater.

The Supreme Court held in “FCC v. Pacifica Foundation” that it was constitutional to ban things that are considered constitutionally protected outside of the airwaves. It is also considered constitutionally permissible to restrict the manner in which people might speak if they have enough other options.

Due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, platforms are NOT legally liable for content spread on their platform, but they ARE allowed to moderate their content, meaning it is legal to ban, restrict or remove content even if it is constitutionally protected.

So companies have a legal and moral right to moderate their content. We have seen the failures of completely free sites like 4chan and Parler, where the platforms have been completely infested with Nazis who post content advocating for race wars and for the murders of political officials.

If companies couldn’t moderate content, the internet would quickly become an inhospitable place.

However, it’s clear the current system isn’t working. Section 230 is vital, but it needs to be reformed so that companies ARE treated like publishers and can be held accountable for letting constitutionally-restricted content be spread.

In addition, the government must regulate these massive social media companies like they do the airwaves, by requiring fact checks and moderation of conspiracy-theories.

This isn’t an ideological issue, it’s a public safety issue tied to the survival of our democracy. We can no longer stand by and let millions of people turn to lies and hate.

We have a moral right, to protect the vulnerable against intolerance and violence, and to keep our nation safe from those who would wish to take away our rights and liberties.

The path forward is easy. We just have to alter one law: so that publishers online are held to the same standards as every other mode of communication.