Sunset clouds blue sky
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

Editorial: Is Freedom of Speech in Danger?

I did not expect the number of responses I received in such a short period of time since I posted this article pertaining to whether the Comments section of The Gate should remain open or be closed — and frankly, I was heartened with the general response overall from you.

Editorial: Is Freedom of Speech in Danger?

Microphone at laptop computer
Photograph ©2019 by Brian Cohen.

The good news is that I have absolutely no intention of closing the Comments section of The Gate; and I further have no intention of moderating the comments themselves — other than deleting outright “spam”, of course…

…but a variety of sites have not only been shutting down their Comments sections; but they have also been editing and deleting comments altogether.

Here is a little quiz for you: can you guess to whom the following statement is attributed?

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

Before I answer that question, the line as to what is pure censorship versus what is deleted for the good of the people has become increasingly blurred this year. We can probably all agree that yelling “Fire! Fire!” in a crowded movie theater or arena where no fire exists is not necessarily freedom of speech; but rather a danger to all of the occupants if a panic to escape ensues.

Because of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, opinions have become more hostile and divided; and a plethora of conspiracy theories have abounded. Combined with the deliberate obfuscation of pure truthfulness and the irresponsible dissemination of misinformation from entities which we are supposed to automatically trust, no one knows who or what to truly believe anymore — which is one of the reasons why the now-ubiquitous mask or covering for the nose and mouth has been the center of a sharply divided debate: the wearing of the mask itself is not necessarily the loss of freedom or rights about which some people complain. Rather, the mask itself has become a tactile symbol of what is wrong with society these days…

…and when someone chides another person to wear a mask because it will mitigate the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, that in and of itself is a perceived symbol of the loss of freedom or rights — just as the person who simply refuses to wear a mask and may carelessly place other lives in potential jeopardy by unwittingly aiding the spread of the virus.

The Latest Numbers and Statistics

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Let’s throw in some numbers: at the time this article was written, at least 680,894 people — or almost 3.86 percent — have died of the minimum of 17,660,523 confirmed cases worldwide, according to this situation dashboard from the World Health Organization pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus…

…and at the same time, at least 687,072 people — or slightly greater than 3.82 percent — have died of the minimum of 17,965,567 confirmed cases worldwide, according to this situation dashboard from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

At the time this article was written, at least 154,002 people — or almost 3.35 percent — have died of the minimum of 4,601,526 confirmed cases in the United States, according to this situation dashboard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — and with an estimated population of 331,002,651 people, that means that greater that 0.04 percent of the population of the United States have died from it.

The aforementioned percentages have been steadily declining over the months since I have been keeping track of them. Is that a result of people following guidelines to mitigate the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus? Is herd immunity the reason for that decline?

Moreover, how in the world can we have statistics which are even close to accurate if the tests for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus are themselves not accurate — especially when not nearly everyone has been tested? What about stories of deaths that are associated with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus but not necessarily caused by it? If that is indeed true, does that skew the numbers towards deliberately using tactics to scare the population into something which a powerful entity — say, a political party, for example — can use to achieve its nefariously selfish goals easier and more quickly?

The population of the world is currently at almost 7.8 billion people. Using the higher statistics from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, that means that slightly greater than 0.23 percent of the population have confirmed cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, with almost 0.009 percent — that is nearly nine thousandths of one percent — of the population having died from it.

With those statistics, are we really fighting a killer virus — or has the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic been blown so way out of proportion when compared to its death rate and the death rates of other contagious diseases?…

…and if the entire situation is indeed overblown, then what are the reasons why?

Misinformation “Highly Contagious”

Question Marks
Graphic illustration ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

“Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus,” according to this article written by David Klepper for the Associated Press, which claims that misinformation pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is proving highly contagious. “Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.”

One claim which is mentioned in the article include a video which purports that you do not need masks because hydroxychloroquine is a cure for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. “Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects”, according to the aforementioned article. “Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.”

Both Twitter and Facebook began removing the video on Monday, July 27, 2020 for violating policies on misinformation pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — but the video had already been seen greater than 20 million times. Is the removal of the video a cautionary measure of protecting the public at large — or is it a blatant form of censorship?

The aforementioned article continues with other claims which have circulated: “Other baseless theories and hoaxes have alleged that the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries. One hoax from the outbreak’s early months claimed new 5G towers were spreading the virus through microwaves. Another popular story held that Microsoft founder Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in all 7 billion people on the planet.”

Political theories also have allegedly been rampant, as doctors, journalists and federal officials are conspiring to lie about the threat of the virus to hurt the president of the United States in a political manner. One such controversial video — which has been removed from YouTube and other platforms of social media — is this video in which doctors have converged in front of the Supreme Court of the United States in the District of Columbia to address misinformation pertaining to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic…

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

…and some alternative thoughts helped to fuel this fire. For example, Judy Mikovitz — who is a doctor, scientist, and virologist — said at the 20:27 marker into a film called Plandemic that “Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions; and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.”

This statement — as well as other claims which were stated throughout the film, which became viral over social media — were discredited by such entities and publications as Science Magazine: “Mikovits also accuses Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a prominent member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, of being responsible for the deaths of millions during the early years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The video claims Mikovits was part of the team that discovered HIV, revolutionized HIV treatment, and was jailed without charges for her scientific positions”, according to this article written by Martin Enserink and Jon Cohen. “Science fact-checked the video. None of these claims are true. The video is an excerpt from a forthcoming movie Plandemic, which promises to ‘expose the scientific and political elite who run the scam that is our global health system.’”

Believing the claims from Plandemic can be understandable when the quality and production of the film is slick and professional enough for the information to be believable — regardless of how implausible that information should seem in terms of logic and data — which is why the film became a viral sensation across all platforms of social media earlier this year…

…but countless other claims of wearing masks or coverings for your face being a hazard to your health are still circulating out their on all platforms of social media.

“Masks and respirators do not work”, according to this paper by Denis G. Rancourt, who is a researcher for the Ontario Civil Liberties Association and earned his Doctor of Philosophy fom the University of Toronto. “There have been extensive randomized controlled trial (RCT) studies, and meta-analysis reviews of RCT studies, which all show that masks and respirators do not work to prevent respiratory influenza-like illnesses, or respiratory illnesses believed to be transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles.”

But Denis G. Rancourt is not without controversy either, as he has been accused by the University of Ottawa — which is his former employer — of allegedly committing questionably ethical issues.

Rumors and alternative thoughts — which are sometimes called conspiracy theories — abound in mass quantities as they wend their way through every last corner of both traditional media and social media, as John Oliver of Last Week Tonight discusses in his latest video.

Think about it: at no other time in the history of this planet have human beings been able to communicate information around the world so widespread, so easily, and so quickly — whether that information is viable and credible, or simply “fake” news and “yellow” journalism.

Then again, some people believe that Anthony S. Fauci — who is the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States and has held that position since 1984 — tarnished his credibility by accepting the invitation to throw the ceremonial first pitch by the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Should he have at least waited until the pandemic subsided before accepting that invitation?

“Further Comment: From New England Journal of Medicine: Universal Masking in Hospitals:” is what Bob B — who is a reader of The Gateposted in this comment in response to this article pertaining to face mask requirements to become standard at lodging properties in the United States “… ‘We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.’ . About 150,000 people die worldwide everyday and in USA ‘covid’ deaths are primarily elderly people in Nursing homes/ long term facilities.. Why treat Marriott hotels like being in a hospital where you expect sick patients?’”

So who do you ultimately believe?!?


White House view from Washington Monument
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I write articles at The Gate not to just espouse my own opinions. I do so to start or continue a civil discourse in the hopes of arriving at a logical solution which benefits as many people as possible. I do not fear in engaging in controversial topics because not discussing them civilly does not mean they simply go away. Rather, they lay dormant or under the radar, which really does a disservice to everyone.

Part of writing those articles is to give myself a voice; but equally important to me is to give you a voice as well — even if fewer sites will allow you to do so. I welcome opinions which dissent from mine; and I encourage you to prove me wrong when I state something in an article, because that becomes a learning experience…

…and if someone wants to leave a comment which offers no substance — well, then that person is leaving someone else alone.

Sadly, politics has increasingly been affecting the travel industry and is more difficult to avoid these days — especially as travel is one of the most affected industries by the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic; and it will remain affected for years to come.

For the record, I am neither a proponent of mainstream media — in fact, my trust in mainstream media has diminished significantly in recent months — nor am I a full believer in so-called conspiracy theories. I prefer to take the middle ground and attempt to sort out the facts and the truth for myself — not that I am always successful.

I would like for this to be an ongoing discussion with you. Let’s do what we can together to change the world for the better for all of us with thoughtful discussion — which seems to be increasingly disappearing these days — and preserve our right to freedom of speech…

…but what exactly is free speech — and where does the threshold lie to when free speech becomes harmful to society?

Finally, the answer as to whom the aforementioned statement is attributed is none other than Donald J. Trump, who is the current president of the United States — which some people may find to be rather ironic…

All photographs ©2009, ©2015, ©2019, and ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Brian-
    Claiming that you don’t need a mask, because there is a cure (hydroxycloroquine) is the equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater’. In fact, it is likely to be much more harmful and result directly in additional disease, misery and death. Removing such comments, and other medical advice posted on the internet, is not censorship, but sound public health policy.
    And I can not stomach any more attacks on Dr. Fauci. He is a world leading scientist/physician who is working tirelessly to save lives and guide us towards an exit strategy for the pandemic. We are extremely fortunate to have someone of his caliber leading the response.
    And his reward is parade of death threats, wide-spread defamation, and dinner table conversation by otherwise reasonable people about whether he should be trusted.

    1. It’s due to the freedom of speech and the open marketplace of ideas that we get a Fauci who has way higher approval ratings than the Trump who whines about his approval ratings and polls and tries to take credit for Fauci (and Fauci’s work) while unleashing a dark campaign to try to discredit Fauci. That Trump campaign against Fauci hasn’t done Trump any favors, and for that we should thank the ways of the open society that keep us on the path to progress even when rubbing against a reactionary buffoon like Trump.

        1. Now go ahead and try to prove that what I said above isn’t true, as I look forward to see the results of any such effort …. if you dare.

          Or will you be like your Lord Trump with a never ending supply of unsubstantiated claims that serve neither the truth nor the general public?

          1. He is not “my Lord Trump”. He is our President. More unsubstantiated claims about his unsubstantiated claims.

            On a different topic, I do think that when people make claims and express opinions online, they should have the courage to do so with their real names (like Brian and I do).

  2. Travel Blogger, you should back away from using terms like “herd immunity” without fully understanding it. Further – it was warned back in like April, that a proper response to COVID would, after the fact, be interpreted as an overreaction. Anyone who has ever stood on a surfboard knows that waves come in sets. Congrats on your thousands of thousands assessment of the first wave.

  3. When the freedom of speech is restricted — including when it’s curtailed by those who distribute editorialized content from user contributions — the freedom of learning is also curtailed and the marketplace of ideas gets crippled in such a way as to slow longer term progress.

    As I indicated in the other blog entry about whether comments sections on this blog should remain open and how they should remain open, I mentioned the Trump Administration in my comment for a reason.

    But this is an area where we have a Trump who talks one talk but walks another walk than the one talked when it comes to information and opinions Trump and his fellow travelers don’t like. And this too is an example of how the current President is an unprincipled con-man who will say anything and do anything that he thinks can be used to serve his petty, narrow interests. The US Con-man-in-Chief talks a talk while intending to walk a twisted version of his talk; and this is an approach that is near and dear to the most awful propagandists in history.

  4. You make a lot of good points. I do think hydroxycloroquine can be an effective treatment much like Tylenol or other medicine but not a magic bullet cure. As far as freedom of speech goes it’s not hard to understand why people come up with alternative theories about issues. The news media has become so deluted and biased. If a person gets their news from John Oliver and MSNBC or from CNN, Fox News or even just from boarding area blogs it doesn’t give you the full picture. Everyone has an agenda it seems. For example we hear all this great stuff about BLM but they aren’t really what they seem politically and have polluted racial equality by the people controlling them. We don’t hear much about that. Slick productions have been called propaganda in the past. The docu-movie “An Inconvenient Truth” comes to mind. We hear people shame others for wearing a mask even if they believe they shouldn’t have to. Or even if they have a disability. We hear hateful things about how an airline or hotel should or shouldn’t require masks but much of this comes from people who on one hand are deathly afraid of getting Covid19 yet risk their life to fly or visit a hotel for vacation purposes? Seems a bit hypocritical for a person to get shouted down with foul language about wearing a mask on a packed airplane full of passengers heading to say Vegas to party that is posted on Twitter. Maybe it’s just me because I have a job that currently requires essential travel but our world has gone crazy and much of it is fueled by hate not love these days. Yes the rights of many are being robbed these days and we shouldn’t believe everything we see on the internet even if seems to support our own viewpoints.

  5. “…I do so to start or continue a civil discourse in the hopes of arriving at a logical…”
    But if the discourse isn’t civil then what?

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