Are we disinformed when we say U.S. has free speech?
Updated 10:40, 26-May-2022
Keith Lamb
A phone screen displays the Twitter account of Elon Musk with a photo of him shown in the background, in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 14, 2022. /VCG

A phone screen displays the Twitter account of Elon Musk with a photo of him shown in the background, in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 14, 2022. /VCG

Editor's note: Keith Lamb is a University of Oxford graduate with a Master of Science in Contemporary Chinese Studies. His primary research interests are China's international relations and "socialism with Chinese characteristics." The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Sovereign states can be identified by many facets such as national language, flag, and geography. Besides these tangible factors, many have an ideology or mission. For example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes its inspiration from the Koran; China's mission is the construction of socialism, and for the U.S. freedom serves as its raison d'etre, where free speech forms the central focal point.

With the recent "pause" on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Disinformation Governance Board, there has been a collective sigh of relief over what is considered, by many, to be a government organ that will dictate the truth and interfere with the open market of ideas. Here, media outlets report from different angles to informed consumers, who make up their own minds, leading to collective democratic decision-making.

For many Americans, the Disinformation Governance Board would create a U.S. in the very image of their foreign adversaries who they challenge, either openly or by proxy, to bring the same enlightened U.S. freedom to foreign populaces. With this framework in mind, the U.S. has considered Russia an enemy, which, as reported by Aljazeera, has been enforcing stricter state control over independent media since 2014.

If the Disinformation Governance Board went ahead, some might ask what moral right does Washington have opposing Russia in Ukraine? Nonetheless this question is based on disinformation. Before the start of the Ukraine conflict, even Reuters was reporting that Ukraine had clamped down on free speech. Such truths are now buried in a tidal wave of disinformation.

Apparently in foreign policy, U.S. interests prevail over principles. This shouldn't be considered a new phenomenon. Looking at press freedoms of certain U.S. allies, compared to sovereign states that it has invaded, one would be cavalier to argue that U.S. principles on freedom guide anything other than propaganda used to disinform U.S. citizens into acquiescing to their government's undemocratic actions abroad.

In contrast, some argue, that while internationally the U.S., by necessity, operates at a Machiavellian level, at home, freedom of speech remains preserved. The immediate problem here is that for the U.S., which involves itself in every corner of the earth, one can't separate the international from the internal. Russia-gate serves as a prominent example.

In the U.S. there are many overt governmental restrictions on free speech. One can't incite imminent lawless action; distribute obscene materials, or advocate illegal drug use at student events.

However by focusing on government, we misrepresent the power structure of the U.S., where control over society is largely privatized. When someone is canceled, shadow-banned, or demonetized, they are done so by the gatekeepers of capital, who are responsible to its shareholders rather than the democratic will. Former President Donald Trump's banning from Twitter is emblematic of this power relationship weighted specifically toward transnational capital, which tech media, due to its ability to cross borders, readily identifies with.

The U.S. traditional media landscape is dominated by a handful of multi-billion companies and the new internet media is dominated by the centralized Google and Facebook algorithms. Naturally, they have an innate bias against views that demand greater social justice at their expense. Being privately owned makes them, by definition, non-democratic.

The fact that even non-U.S. citizens, through their data and consumption, also contribute to the private fiefdoms of "Facebook et al" is a poignant example of the sleight of hand that creates the illusion of freedom. For example, European Union citizens have the freedom to use Facebook but they are subverted to media and technological dominance by an outside power.

Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos takes part in a "digital ribbon cutting" during the inauguration of the Washington Post Headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 28, 2016. /VCG

Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos takes part in a "digital ribbon cutting" during the inauguration of the Washington Post Headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 28, 2016. /VCG

The costs of creating a media empire mean that "free speech" is prohibitively expensive for all except for those like Tesla's Elon Musk, with spare change to buy Twitter, or Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who has acquired the influential newspaper the Washington Post. From this stance, a government representing non-billionaires might be expected to interfere more to prevent the selfish interests of capital from enveloping mass consciousness to appear as common sense.

Considering capital buys elections and its corporate media works to legitimize this legalized corruption, of the democratic process, this would be impossible. Indeed, the U.S. corporate media often convinces us that government is inherently bad. No doubt, there must be a fear that, while a Disinformation Governance Board can, at present, be of use to transnational capital, when it comes to Ukraine and thwarting the Republicans, should a future election not be fixed to produce the desired results then an administration would have a tool at their disposal to oppose the corporate media.

Sadly due to structural reasons, meaningful free speech, the U.S. raison d'etre, the bedrock of its democracy, is an illusion. Thus, anyone who parades this freedom, without being conscious of this, is disinformed. Needless to say, unlikely will you be reading this opinion in the U.S. "free" media!

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