Flowers: Offense, controversy are very much needed in free society
Published 1:24 pm Friday, August 6, 2021
The other day, someone reminded me that I had a public Facebook page entitled “Christine Flowers, Columnist and Radio Host.” I rarely post there, which is why I’d almost forgotten about it.
My old editor had suggested I create a public page after stalkers and people who didn’t like what I wrote (almost exclusively readers and agitators from the left) had done some very unsavory things. She thought that setting up a “public” space would protect me and my loved ones from the usual abuses of social media.
But then a friend sent me a screen shot of my Facebook page, which included a warning advising possible readers that “This page may share content that violates our community standards. Review this page before you join.”
I scratched my head, trying to figure out (1) which of the few posts I’d made violated the community standards and (2) what those community standards were.
Because you see, it is virtually impossible to know what comments or photos or other things that fall into the class of free expression trigger Mark Z. and the woke elves who toil away at that shop of his near the North Pole, or wherever. There is no definitive standard by which thoughts can be considered “dangerous” or “offensive.” It’s kind of like when Justice Potter Stewart set out the criteria for obscenity, namely, “I know it when I see it.”
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this new high-tech imprimatur. The same thing is happening on Twitter, except not in such a targeted manner. The other day I tried to reply to a tweet about Nancy Pelosi’s belief that abortion is a civil right for poor women, and it immediately triggered this message: “Want to review this before sending? We’re asking people to review replies with potentially harmful or offensive language.”
I am certain that I used the word “beast” in my reply, since I find Pelosi’s devotion to abortion to be quite savage. Still, it’s a bit much to start flagging non-threatening comments to a public figure with a finger wagging 21st century Miss Brooks (for those of you who have no idea who that is, Google it).
I suppose a lot of this is in response to the events of Jan. 6, which have completely thrown the country off of its axis. There are those who liken it to a terror attack, those who think it was nothing more than a group of rowdy tourists, and those like me who think it falls somewhere in between the two.
Social media was blamed for allowing conspiracy theories to be foisted upon an innocent public by twisted minds with access to keyboards. That, of course, could describe the internet well before that crazy shaman fellow with the Ride of the Valkyries outfit forced himself into the capitol building.
But the left is using Jan. 6, and some repentant folks on the right, to advance an agenda that has very little to do with the danger and damage on that winter day, and everything to do with silencing dissent.
There is nothing I have ever said, done, or written that could be considered so subversive that it warrants a warning. Being offensive or controversial is common course for a pundit, and those who don’t arouse strong emotions aren’t doing their collective job.
But offense and controversy are necessary in a free society, and even the most despicable opinions (like, in my case apparently, that the women of the #MeToo movement have become terrorists themselves) have a place. If you do not want to read them, hear them, digest them, that is your prerogative.
But, the social media tycoons and their sycophants on the left should not have the ability to act as guardians at the gate of free expression. They should not, in their own way, exercise a 21st century version of prior restraint, dissuading people from reading things they themselves have decided are “against community standards.”
And the larger questions are: whose community are they worried about? And what exactly are the standards that govern that pristine and protected society?
It reminds me of that old movie, “Village of the Damned,” where the little children with their platinum blonde page boys and their empty ice-blue eyes could destroy, with a look, those who crossed and challenged them.
I am not afraid that Facebook will stop open minded people from reading my thoughts. And if they do, there are other ways for me to communicate. I’m Italian and Irish, after all. We are born knowing how to express ourselves with absolutely no ambiguity.
But I’m worried for those who actually will take their lead from the Stalins of social media and allow themselves to be diverted from “offensive” content that will trouble the waters of their gentle community.
I have asylum clients from other, similar communities, who could attest to how easy it is to be numbed into a sense of “comfort” by those who want to hide painful truths from them.
And that’s a lot scarier than anything Christine Flowers, columnist and radio host, has to say.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.