Editorial: Social media access denial raises freedom of speech debate

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The recent decision made by social media giants Twitter and Facebook to block the current president of the United States from their platforms has raised questions about infringements on freedom of speech south of the border. The decision by those private companies to restrict access is viewed by many as an infringement on their “rights.”

The US is one of the most stringent regimes in the world when it comes to the right of people to express their opinions, with a constitutional amendment—literally the first—enshrining the people’s right to freely express their thoughts. It is a right that has been protected and supported by courts at all levels. Canada’s protections fall far short of that mark.

When it comes to news organizations, a Fox News-led effort established that news organizations in the US were under no obligation to report the truth—lending significant credence to accusations of “fake news” on all sides of the political spectrum and providing a foundation for misinformation in the name of profit and encouraging an even more extreme polarization of news sources along partisan lines. With that nation’s population seemingly split nearly in twain into mutually exclusive “realities” it seems reporting the middle ground with balance is not in the shareholders’ interest.

So how is it that the soon-to-be former occupant of the position of “most powerful man in the world” could be muzzled? The simple answer is the position is not blocked, the individual sitting in the chair is and that individual is now deemed a danger to the bottom line.

The US First Amendment protects a US citizen’s right to freedom of speech without interference by government. So far, Facebook and Twitter are not “government,” despite those companies’ ever-increasing power and influence over our lives and the status of profits without taxation they currently enjoy in this country—but we digress.

The Expositor allows for public expression of thoughts by individuals through our letters to the editor page, as evidenced by this weeks’ crop to be found below on this and the following page as well as in the comments section below our online posts, but we have strict rules that govern publication and reserve the right to filter those expressions as follows: no libel, no hate, no racist or blatant misinformation (as distinct from differences of opinion or interpretations of events). Sometimes readers do infer such messages from the letters we run and this paper has wound up pilloried at some length for running letters that fall close to (not over) the line, but inferring motive to otherwise legitimate expressions is a tricky slope to maneuver. We would argue this newspaper’s editorial judgement has proven, on the main, to be sound.

When a letter does not meet the bar, we normally contact the writer to mediate the issue. If it is a minor issue or not germane to the thoughts being expressed (and/or if the length is too unwieldy) we reserve the right to edit the text, always keeping the original intent of the letter in front of mind. Online comments that cross the line are usually simply hidden (there are only so many minutes in a day and trolls can be so time consuming if you feed them).

Although Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are ostensibly “free” for users (they are not, your data and advertising revenue sent to the US pays the freight), they are private enterprises and governed by a very different set of rules than government agencies—and they should be. We are not living under a communist regime, despite what some far-right pundits and groups like the Proud Boys would like us to believe.

As such, our editorial page has seen lively and healthy debate on the issues of the day, and we would not have it any other way. Those who take the time to set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to express your thoughts or to respond to those of others are also expressing confidence in our newspaper—thank you.