America has some of the broadest legal protections for free speech of any country. Unpopular, false and even hateful opinions are protected under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court, during the 20th century, fully embraced the aspiration of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to a “free marketplace of ideas.” Be that as it may, legal protections mean little when American culture is itself opposed to free speech. Ours is now a “cancel culture,” an unfortunate consequence of new social media technologies.
Users of social media pile on with comments to compel others to mouth politically correct opinions. What is worse is that the companies in charge of the social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have engaged in similar censorship. Facebook acknowledged the problem in 2020 when it created its “supreme court” for oversight of its community standards. I happened to be teaching a course at UST on Politics and the Media at the time, and assigned my students a paper addressing the following topic: Do the community standards of social media platforms conform to the real Supreme Court’s standards of free speech?
Of course they don’t. Here is an insight one student had, though: “The Supreme Court allows local communities to ban obscene expressions based on their morals, but Facebook and Twitter are not true communities with morals. They are virtual communities and do not reflect the views of their actual members in their rules. What many social media companies are reflecting instead, and for the whole world, are the community standards of Silicon Valley, California. The result is discrimination against moralities that Silicon Valley disagrees with including the natural law morality of Catholicism.”
Even if our culture does not stand up for free speech, we as Catholics ought to. Not because it is in our political interest (which it is), but because we believe in faith and reason. We should refuse to bully or back down to bullies on the existing flawed venues for discussion, at the same time we engage in venues that allow for the full gambit of differing views. As a Catholic university, we are especially called to a faith seeking understanding. God offers us the fullness of the Truth. It will prevail in spite of everything that tries to stop us from seeking it.