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Biden’s Social-Media Censorship Harms Us All

Philip Hamburger
Chief Executive Officer

September 26, 2023

The Supreme Court will decide as early as Wednesday whether to stay the lower courts’ injunction against the administration’s social-media censorship in Missouri v. Biden. One of the solicitor general’s arguments in the government’s defense is that the well-documented injuries to the plaintiffs, who were direct targets of the censorship, don’t justify a broad injunction that “covers the government’s communications with all social-media platforms . . . regarding all posts by any person . . . on all topics” (emphasis in original).

But the censorship harmed all Americans, and the injunction is fully justified. Government officials repeatedly made public statements demanding censorship from the platforms. The announced policy was grossly overbroad. It thereby has directly tended to chill the speech of vast numbers of Americans, quite apart from the suppression that the government obtained through the platforms. Anyone with views opposed to the administration has had reason to temper what he says to avoid being deplatformed, demonetized or deboosted.

The chilling of speech has been doubly unconstitutional because it affects the freedom to read opposing views. The First Amendment protects not only the right to express views but also the right to hear what others have to say. Although often presented as a distinct right, the right to hear can be considered an essential element of the right to speak.

People can’t develop their views with any sophistication unless they can consider opinions that enlarge, refine, moderate or challenge their own. So, when government demands the suppression of some speech and chills even more, it reduces the diversity, value and moderation of opinion—and thereby diminishes the opportunity for every individual to develop and express his own considered views. Censorship inhibits the output of critical voices, which lessens Americans’ intellectual input, which in turn limits their intellectual output. Reading and speaking are inextricably linked in conversation.

The chilling of one insightful opinion from a scientist or physician can profoundly alter scientific and medical debate. So can the suppression of one patient’s report of an adverse vaccine event. Therefore, when vast numbers of Americans are chilled in their scientific and medical speech, it dangerously injures all of us, who suffer a diminished opportunity to learn and to reconsider and refine our own views. The government’s chilling policies appear to have had a massive and cascading effect in reducing the diversity of opinion and the quality of public discussion.

Through its chilling policies, the government has injured the plaintiffs and all other Americans directly, not only through the platforms. And because that censorship deprives everyone of access to a variety of views, the plaintiffs can’t be protected without an injunction against the full range of censorship.

In dampening public discussion, the government has directly affected every one of us, confining what we hear as well as what we say. Each of us, including the plaintiffs, suffers from the injury to the rights of others. None of us have our full freedom of speech unless everyone else has it too.

Originally Published in The Wall Street Journal