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Caseythoughts I believe it may have been Thomas Jefferson that stated that without the First Amendment the next nine (in the aptly named Bill of Rights) would be superfluous, meaningless. And I believe he (or whomever it may have been who stated it early in our Republic's history) was correct.

So my initial reaction to a headline last week needed to be tempered with an understanding that so-called 'free speech' relates to "Congress shall make no law" and does not apply to the non-governmental world.

The headline as follows: "Facebook Bans 'Dangerous' Users". An array of outrageous personalities now find themselves banned from Facebook. Some of these I'm sure you have heard of, some names may be mysteries. Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan, and Laura Loomer, among others, are now personi non grati (assuming the Latin plural) and will not be seen nor heard by Facebook's billion plus subscribers.

It's also important to note that Facebook (and Instagram) would remove pages, groups and accounts set up to represent the banned people. Facebook also stated that it would remove any events when it knows one of the banned individuals is participating, as well as seriously consider clearing from its pages references of support for them.

To go a little deeper into the ban itself, look at what Facebook said it was its reasoning: "prohibiting dangerous individuals and organizations...including people or groups that have called for or carried out acts of violence, use hate speech or slurs in their descriptions or follow a hateful ideology..."

Now, I can totally react (like you, I trust) with disgust at groups that have called out acts of violence, and that is just plain common sense and humane response, as well as Facebook covering its corporate butt in a litigious (and violence-prone) society such as ours today. This is the same 'censorship' that mass media such as newspapers, radio and television employ, though it seems to be slipping downhill rapidly.

My problem is in the second part of Facebook's policy/reasoning: '...use hate speech or slurs in their descriptions or follow a hateful ideology...'.

Let's first look at the three most well known personages in our study. Alex Jones is a certified nut case (is that a hateful term?), the perpetrator of, among other things, the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre was a staged 'hoax', and also claims that Hillary Clinton is one of the masterminds of a child pornography ring in the basement of a Washington-area pizza parlor. Yikes. Someone actually believed that last year and was caught in the nick of time before they carried out a gun-toting threat.

Louis Farrakhan? A man filled with hate and vitriol toward Judaism. He once described Judaism as a 'gutter religion' and people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton refuse to repudiate him. Free speech, indeed.

'Conservative' (I wish the media would stop mischaracterizing that term) Jewish activist Laura Loomer I quite frankly had never heard of. She is virulently anti-Muslim, if you wish to characterize her thus. She claims she's already been banned from Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Venmo, PayPal, GoFundMe and Medium. That's the list she gave to the media, which is somewhat mystifying, but she was also quoted as saying: "It's absurd that this is happening in America." That may be the only thing she has said that I might agree with but my point is, how, now, will I know exactly what she is saying that's so frightening, so hateful, so violent?

Others banned are 'pro-white' politician Paul Nehlen, speaker and writer (and often dis-invited from college campuses) Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorist Joseph Watson.

So, does this infringe on our First Amendment? Loudly and clearly, NO, it does not. Facebook and other social media have the right to determine who and what have access to their 'pages'. And I have the choice to read what I wish. It's kind of strange to say that a corporation like Facebook has rights (actually, there is a long-standing Supreme Court case which has set precedent in this regard, long pre-dating Citizens United) but if Facebook et al wants to say 'No' they can do so without infringing on anyone's 'rights'. This is, in a way, a variation on yelling 'Fire' in a crowded theater, and the government has not a right to interfere, since they have 'no dog in that fight' as they say in North Carolina. 'Congress shall make no law', but in this case, Zuckerberg can, and did.

But, here's my case, and ironically, it is this Ms. Loomer who makes it. She was quoted: "We're at a point in America where if these tech tyrants in Silicon Valley don't like you, or if you piss them off, they will ban you and they will ban everybody associated with you." Well, 'don't like you' doesn't quite cover the screed, the malarkey, the Loony Tunes and the craziness that is espoused by many on social media, but her point about 'tech tyrants' could be true, or may very well become true. Sad to admit that that potential truth came from someone who apparently is a pretty hate-filled person.

Here's the larger point. Farrakhan, Jones, Loomer and anyone else determined to be using 'hate speech' or a 'hateful' ideology will just find another rock to hide under. Their words, whether they appall you or make you beat your breast in fear, will 'out' regardless; in this case, the 'dark web' which is becoming more and more ubiquitous (is that redundant?) and once you 'ban' something, you give it a dark legitimacy and draw-power which attracts the curious, the uninitiated, and the vulnerable to it like a moth to a flame. Tell someone (especially a younger citizen) something is 'verboten' and see if you can count the seconds before they find a way to find out what's so delicious that it had to be banned. Anyone with kids knows this. And now we're not only allowing Silicon Valley to determine what hate speech is, what's a conspiracy theory, what's outlandish versus true controversy, we're banishing them to much more dangerous territory: virtual private networks (VPN) and the appropriately named 'dark net' where automatic weapons, child pornography, religious extremism, terrorism, and now Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan hang out.

I have always been strongly opinionated (surprise) and one of my strongest opinions is that germs cannot stand fresh air and sunlight. You can only determine if something is hateful if you hear it, see it, and decide like a rational and thinking adult whether it deserves a second look or deserves to be dismissed out of hand. Hide the craziness, hide the illegal, hide the hate and we allow it a dark legitimacy, and it will grow like mushrooms, in the dark and covered with manure. Saying that the times require us to place a limit on thinking (no matter how Loony Tune or hateful, racist or homophobic) is dangerous, and darkening us as a free and rational people. No, the Founders could not envision this, but they had their share of troublemakers and conspiracy theorists, too. Aaron Burr wasn't the only mean person in those times, and had he had access to Facebook, I wouldn't be surprised if Jefferson and Adams would be pointing out the same things I humbly espouse, but also recognizing that he should not be 'banned' (though, in truth, Adams was so upset with rogue reporting that he tried with his 'Alien and Sedition Acts' of 1798).

And, under that above-mentioned rock, hate will flourish, though now we won't know it until it explodes into our world like it has so many times before and people will say, again, "I didn't know".

Facebook and social media followers have an absolute right to ban anyone they please. But the consequences will be reaped. Who's next on their list is a legitimate and frightening question. Will it be driven by politics or perceived public outcry? Where will the hate-mongers go? We already know that answer. Look underground, look under the nearest rock. That's where hate grows. So don't applaud yet: we've yet to see the unintended consequences of this, the latest of social media fallout.

One quick note to let Deborah Dawson of the County Legislature know that I appreciated her response to my column regarding the Tioga Street purchase. I note that, in the usual manner of many people who have been elected to do the 'people's business' that she answered absolutely none of my assertions or questions.

And, while we're at it, can the Legislators answer me this: if it was so important to build another expensive building to house county employees and park their cars, then why didn't the county keep the Cayuga Street property (asbestos-laden and falling apart for fifteen years) that they sold to Travis-Hyde for a song? The county owned that property since about 1968, and now it looks like a B-52 bomb crater which could have allowed a very nice office building to be built in the same neighborhood and violate the same property restrictions of the Dewitt Historical District that the county claims it is exempt from.

Impudent? Arrogant might be closer to the truth. I'm waiting for Common Council to speak up about the loss of another two million in taxable property and the county claim that they can ignore city board hearings and regulations. It seems that the county taxpayers are too busy to respond to another example of county legislators telling everyone what they should pay attention to, and what they can be 'trusted' to do in the people's name.


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