I find it unfortunate that, in today’s world, many young people fail to realize why the Constitution is so important to the United States of America. If you go to a college campus and ask students what the crucial document is and why it exists, you’ll probably be met with some blank expressions and misconstrued answers. Alternatively, you might find that students no longer place a value on the Constitution in the first place, which I find to be quite humorous because they would not be able to express that opinion if it weren’t for the Constitution’s existence. Furthermore, they would not be able to freely speak their mind if it weren’t for the First Amendment, and I would not be able to write this in heavy opposition to their viewpoints either.
However, I am not writing this editorial to solidify my own beliefs; I am writing this to challenge them. Is it true that our First Amendment is still protecting us from the silencing of our opinions? Is it still as successful of a document as it was back then?
After taking some time to consider this question, my answer is a bit pessimistic: no, not really.
When the First Amendment was made, along with the Constitution in its entirety, it was made to ensure that our government could not silence us to push their agendas. This is exactly what the British Empire did to the colonies before the American Revolution. One of the earliest instances was in 1734, when British governor William Cosby filed a libel case against John Peter Zenger, publisher of The New York Weekly Journal, as a result of his criticism of Cosby’s government. Thankfully, Zenger was acquitted, but this would be one of the numerous cases that convinced the founding fathers to protect freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly from government tyranny.
The First Amendment, thankfully, has functioned as it should for the majority of its existence, protecting our natural birthright to speak up against authority. However, over the last fifty years or so, our world has technologically evolved at unprecedented levels, especially in the communication sector. Nowadays, people rely on their electronic devices to conversate in day-to-day life, and while this is, for the most part, a perk, it has people raising their eyebrows. People want to know how their rights, especially those protected within the First Amendment, will be protected in a world where communication can be held in the palm of their hands.
And this brings me to one very important, but quite controversial, question: at what point will we, as Americans, begin to realize that our media overlords are silencing us in a way that’s akin to our government? When will we realize that they are slowly but surely acquiring a level of power that, if witnessed by our founding fathers, would likely make them feel obligated to rise against them? I say this for multiple reasons. Media censorship is, of course, the biggest one. If you’re politically outspoken with opinions that are any further to the right of Joe Manchin, then you’ve probably heard of shadowbanning before. It’s a silent tactic that’s been used by platforms such as Instagram for a while now, in which the algorithm places certain content on the unseen corners of their page, making them less likely to be viewed or interacted with. I can vouch for this myself; usually, the posts on my personal Instagram page get somewhere between four-to-five-hundred views each, but since I’ve been more outspoken lately, my recent posts have been getting a measly average of one hundred and fifty views each. This is in spite of the fact that my follower count has been steadily increasing since the start of the year. While you may look at this as a coincidence- one algorithmic issue amidst hundreds of productive pages- I am not the only one who has dealt with this. I have dozens of friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who work in politics and could detail their own shadowbanning stories.
In many other instances, social media platforms will remove the content outright, whether it be a comment, post, or an entire page. It started with the removal of smaller commentary platforms, followed by pages with multiple million followers, eventually leading up to when Twitter chose to remove President Donald J. Trump’s account from their platform following the events of January 6th, 2021. This was the moment in which the media’s undying thirst for power was truly revealed for all to see.
Some may argue that Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other private platforms are allowed to remove these individuals’ accounts. I wouldn’t blame them for believing this; after all, these platforms are currently permitted to do so under the First Amendment, as they are not owned by the United States government. One may also argue that this censorship shouldn’t be a problem because individuals are still allowed to make their voices heard outside of these pages. However, I follow this stance up with a very simple question: Are they, though?
If you’ve been actively aware of American politics in recent years, you may have heard of the term “cancel culture.” No, it isn’t just a hip new thing that all the young folks are talking about; it’s real, and it’s a serious threat that is used to exploit our God-given right to free speech. A recent example of cancel culture at play is when numerous artists threatened to pull their work from Spotify if The Joe Rogan Experience wasn’t pulled from the platform. Thankfully, Spotify has not bowed down to these demands, but many others have. Take actress Gina Carano, for example, who was fired from playing Cara Dune on the viral Disney Plus show The Mandalorian following the right-leaning posts she added to her social media. Another example is Scott Cawthon, creator of the viral video game franchise Five Nights at Freddy’s, who stepped down as head honcho of the production when it came out that he donated to various GOP candidates, such as Mitch McConnell and Kim Klacik. “I miss making games for my kids, I miss doing it just for fun … All of this is to say that I am retiring,” he stated in his announcement.
This cultural divide has made itself heavily prevalent among the civilian population as well. According to a Cato national survey, 62% of Americans feel that today’s political climate prevents them from expressing their beliefs, because people may find them offensive. Breaking it down further, 77% of “strong conservatives,” agree with the previous statement, while 42% of “strong liberals,” and 62% of moderates also do.
However, in spite of these fears, it appears as though those same citizens are feeding into the culture that has allowed this to happen. The survey also reports that 50% of “strong liberals,” support firing Trump donors, while 36% of “strong conservatives,” feel the same about Biden donors.
This brings me to my main and final point: How have we gotten to the point in our country where people believe that someone should be censored, banned, doxxed, or have their lives ruined just because they have a viewpoint that is in opposition to their own? How have the morals of everyday Americans gotten so low?
How did we let it get this way? Why should a run-of-the-mill political enthusiast have to worry that his hobby will be cut short because the folks over at Instagram disagree with him? Why should an actress worry about losing her job because some Twitter users are calling her a Nazi? Why should a businessman, game developer, and most importantly, a father of multiple children have to worry about his address being leaked because he donated to some campaigns?
And call me selfish, but why should I, as a sixteen-year-old with my entire life and career ahead of me, have to worry about losing everything because I chose to fight for something that matters?
This isn’t the country that we started off as. When our nation was founded, it was founded with blood, sweat, and tears, but it was founded with hope. It was founded with the idea that every last American citizen will have free will to say or think what he pleases, government be-damned. The founding fathers didn’t worry about businesses acquiring the same amount of power as our government, because, why, the people wouldn’t let it get to that point! They didn’t think that Americans would allow the media to become so authoritarian in its ways, and beyond that, they didn’t think that the American people would one day stoop to the level of the Englishmen who once ruled over them!
But the unfortunate truth of the matter is that we have. We let it happen. It’s mostly a matter of cultural shift. We have gone from a nation that encourages traditionalist values of putting God, family, and country first, in that order, to one that opts for progressive ones, and because of this, the morals of loving thy neighbor have gone out the window. If your opinions do not align with the norm, then they will be shot down, and your livelihood will be shot down with them. Our education system is also at great fault. Children are no longer being taught or encouraged to practice values that have been proven to make our country successful. Instead, they are pitted against one another as a result of unqualified teachers who care more about their school’s image than their school’s students. It’s a matter of appearance and appearance only, and when a student genuinely has the potential to do something great with themselves, it is often ruined because the staff does not provide the tools that they need to allow this to happen. We are no longer a country that should be praised for its quality educational systems; that standard died long ago.
This crisis will probably not be solved any time soon. Our elected officials have not proven that they have the spines to clean up the mess they’ve made, and with election integrity being heavily questioned, who knows if better ones will take their place.
The simple but unfortunate truth is that we do not have freedom of speech anymore; it died not with the loudest of roars, but with the smallest of whimpers.
All that we have left is fear of speech.