Monday, June 15, 2020
#FREESPEECH in the News June 15, 2020
As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.
On June 4, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond. A few days later, he vowed to fight a temporary injunction to its removal.
The Lee statue controversy comes amid high-profile Confederate icon removals nationwide. Although often a flash point of racial controversy, these monuments have become epicenters of widespread protests demanding systemic reform following the recent killings of black Americans such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Virginia state senator and gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase responded to Northam’s announcement with a broadcast on Facebook Live in which she claimed that the monuments were a form of artistic expression and that their removal would raise “First Amendment concerns.”
Snap Inc. Chief Executive Officer Evan Spiegel said the company was exercising its First Amendment right to free speech when it decided not to amplify President Donald Trump’s content to a broader audience -- and he’s surprised other social media sites aren’t willing to do the same.
Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have been embroiled in controversy over their handling of Trump’s message, that said in part, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” as protests were gaining steam over racial injustice and police violence. Twitter put a warning label on the tweet, while Facebook declined to do so, prompting backlash from its employees. Spiegel took a broader approach, saying if Trump wanted to promote violence and racism on Twitter, Snapchat didn’t need to post his views on its Discover page.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been reluctant to fact check or remove content from politicians, citing free speech principles. Spiegel said the First Amendment actually protects the speech of companies against government censorship.
A group of 22 media organizations, publishers and professional associations joined a brief filed last week in support of Oberlin College in its ongoing appeal of the multimillion-dollar legal judgment awarded last year to the Gibson family and Gibson's Bakery in Oberlin.
In a brief urging the 9th District Court of Appeals in Akron to overturn the verdict of the jury in last year's trial, the group supports Oberlin College's claim it was protecting students' free speech and did not act with malice toward the family-owned bakery during and following two days of protests in 2016 that led to the yearslong lawsuit and a $30 million-plus judgment against the college.
Protesters claimed the bakery had a long history of racial bias toward students and people of color in the Oberlin community, a charge the bakery and the Gibsons denied. No evidence was produced by the college to support the protesters' claims.