By Gabriel Nadales
Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley was recently caught in hot water after suggesting she would work to ban anonymous accounts on social media if she were elected President. Her concerns include the fact that Russia, Iran and China take advantage of America’s robust protection of online free speech to spread anti-American propaganda, but this is an argument to expand freedom in those countries, not to diminish it on our own.
Haley has backtracked her comments and, to some extent, she is highlighting a real issue. When speech is free as it is in America, foreign adversaries and bad actors will exploit these protections and spread hate speech and anti-American propaganda to young American audiences.
There are fewer places in the world that have as many protections for all voices, even those even many we wish would remain silent. People like Nazis, white supremacists and extremists of all races and ideologies who say truly horrible things often take refuge under First Amendment protections.
This is especially chilling as one of the most recent anti-American propaganda pieces to surface on Tik-Tok is a “Letter to America” penned in the aftermath of 9/11 by none other than Osama Bin Laden.
The infamous letter argues that every terrorist attack to which innocent Americans fall victim is the fault of American foreign policy. In short, the letter argues that Americans brought it upon themselves and many young people across TikTok agree.
When you have this type of speech readily available online, I understand the desire to stop it. There is nothing more that I want than to stop those who wish to harm innocent people. Racial supremacists, extremist religious leaders, dictators and heads of state of adversary nations are dangerous to the American way of life. There is no denying that.
But Russia, Iran and China’s governments offer the reason why speech must be protected, even at the cost of protecting hate speech or anonymous propaganda.
A basic principle of Western Democratic nations is that of Blackstone’s Ratio which states, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent sufferer.” Under our current system of government, America affords bad actors so many rights so that innocent Americans do not have to suffer.
However, if the protections were reversed, it wouldn’t mean that only one innocent person would suffer in exchange for punishing 10 bad actors. The maxim is not reversible. When you have an overzealous government, like one that goes after anonymous accounts, you give the green light to the government to go after innocent people.
If we didn’t have free speech protections, for every 10 criminals punished 10,000 innocent people would suffer. That is exactly what you have in nations like Russia, Iran, and China, where trying to speak up will cost you your life.
Free speech in America is costly. Freedom isn’t free. But these freedoms are what protect every American from living in an extreme nation that would torture innocent people. So, while it is understandable that Haley is frustrated with anonymous accounts that post horrifying things, a reduction in free speech cannot be an acceptable remedy.