Supreme irony: Wired’s unwitting case for the essence of free speech

March 18, 2024

By Tim Worstall

Wired is hugely dismissive of a Supreme Court case on social media and freedom of speech. In the same article, Wired also teaches us why free speech on social media is so vitally important.

Which is, we think, pretty good – destroying your own case within your own article.

The background here is that problem with people insisting that misinformation, disinformation, must be banned from being said. The problem is that old one of “What is truth?” and the answer today would be whatever the fact-checkers have decided it is. But no one is unbiased, and more than that, if the power to decide what the truth is resides in certain organizations, then those who want to do the deciding will be joining them. This then becomes even stronger and more dangerous when it’s the government doing the deciding.

But Wired opens this with:

Today’s Supreme Court Hearing Addresses a Far-Right Boogeyman

Well, given that the First Amendment is really pretty clear about government being able to decide what is said we don’t think it’s a “far-right” thing.

For years, government agencies have flagged misinformation and harmful content to platforms. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Murthy v. Missouri could change all that.

Well, yes, that’s rather the point. They have been doing this for years, but should they have been doing it and will they be allowed to do it in the future?

Now, this could be considered to be all just politics and so on but then we get this:

In a statement released in May 2022, when the case was first filed, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt alleged that members of the Biden administration “colluded with social media companies like Meta, Twitter, and Youtube to remove truthful information related to the lab-leak theory, the efficacy of masks, election integrity, and more.” (The lab-leak theory has largely been debunked, and most evidence points to Covid-19 originating from animals.)

That’s precisely and exactly wrong. The government did indeed insist – and the social media companies definitely worked on it – that the lab-leak theory was mis- or dis- information. Posts got removed, not just shadow-banned, for making the claim. Accounts were closed down and so on.

But now that scientific discussion has been allowed to resume – and yes, of course this conversation takes place on social media, just like conversations about everything else – the general conclusion is working the other way. It is the animal origin that is being debunked. Sure, absolute proof is still wanting, but the general opinion is that, on the balance of probabilities, the lab-leak theory is the most likely. Not, that is, mis- or dis- information but the likely truth.

The specific example Wired uses to underline the usefulness of government “guidance” of what may be said it actually the poster-child example of the dangers of that very guidance as to what is the truth that may be said.

There really is a reason that the Founding Fathers said that the government can’t go around banning things from publication, must not have the power to decide upon what people may say. It’s unfashionable to say it these days but it really is true that we never can work out, decide upon, what is the truth without being able to say things that might be wrong, might be inconvenient for someone to say even. Because it’s precisely that conversation which leads us to what is the truth.

But imagine, using the disproof of your contention as the proof of it – well done to Wired there.


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