A week before last Christmas, an entourage of SUVs arrived at a clinic in the affluent area of Oxfordshire, 90 km from London. It was time to close the post, but an exception was made for an elderly man. Protected by security guards, he went to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, after making sure that the scene was not documented by cell phones.
On Monday (15), an estimated 4.3 million television audience in the United States alone was served with attacks on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. The author of the commentary was personally chosen by the elderly man to run one of the most popular programs on US cable. The serial liar is news anchor Tucker Carlson and his vaccinated protector billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 90, founder and chairman of Fox News.
Carlson has been dubbed by one media critic the “New Trump” because the original was silenced by the owners of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Anything Carlson says on the air, misinforming the pandemic or fabricating facts to bolster racist arguments, is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It guarantees the freedom of the press and of expression, the freedom of religion and of assembly.
Last September, a federal judge dismissed a libel action against Carlson in response to a particular argument from Fox’s lawyers: the viewer should not believe it. What Carlson is reporting on the air is not a fact, the judge concluded, it is a “non-literal comment.”
Since the First Amendment was passed in 1791, it has been tried in court, but the combination of social media, Donald Trump, and far-right media has offered powerful new challenges. American jurists have been divided between purists who see the amendment as an untouchable democratic pillar and those who question whether it undermines democracy.
The debate over what constitutes censorship was sparked before the emergence of social media, when the democratic internet allowed online harassment and the spread of conspiracies and made it easier to teach how to make explosives at home.
The pre-Internet amendment’s vision focused on protecting against authoritarianism and suppressing dissent. To exercise their rights, citizens must have unlimited access to information. What if the information ecosystem becomes an adversary to the exercise of democratic rights?
How to protect freedom and, at the same time, the viral spread, reinforced by algorithms, of information that leads to disease and death, such as that Covid-19 is just the flu, chloroquine is a treatment and accumulating at parties is not a risk?
How can we protect the democracy that began with the adoption of the First Amendment if 47% of the 74 million people who voted for Donald Trump last November say they do not intend to be vaccinated?
Trump’s ban on social media was a sweeping feature adopted by the Silicon Valley oligopoly. These are companies that have gone years without admitting the scorched earth they created, with Facebook-instigated mass killings in Myanmar and Russian trolls calling for racial protests in American cities during Operation D interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The First Amendment, written in pen and ink by candlelight, protects the enduring values of freedom. But the debate in the United States is growing over how to protect the same values in light of 21st century technology.
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this column? The subscriber can release five free accesses from any link per day. Just click on the blue F below.