Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa Calls on Harvard Graduate to Support Censorship in the Name of Democracy – JONATHAN TURLEY

The Harvard commencement ceremony this week received some press attention after Harvard’s Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi confronted Maria A. Ressa, a journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, on stage over her prior allegedly antisemitic comments.  However, her commencement remarks were equally chilling in another respect; a full-throated condemnation of free speech principles and a call for a crackdown on disinformation. As is often the case with anti-free speech tirades, the speech included disinformation while seeking to silence others to combat disinformation.

The speech was alarming for many of us who respect Ressa’s courage in opposing the regime of then Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, including her struggle to support the free press and free speech that won her a Nobel Prize with Dmitry Muratov.

Nevertheless, a speech calling for censorship and speech regulation is not viewed as problematic while civil libertarian Michael Smerconish is blocked from giving a commencement address and denied his honorary degree.

The commencement speech lashed out at her critics, including those who call her an anti-Semite. She described the critics who call her views antisemitic as examples of “power and money because they want power and money.”

In her full remarks, Ressa (a supporter of Hillary Clinton) suggests that the 2016 election was substantially influenced by Russian disinformation efforts:

“If the tactic worked on us, then it was deployed for you. That’s what happened in 2016, when 126 million Americans were targeted by Russian disinformation, and on January 6, in the violence on Capitol Hill when Silicon Valley’s sins came home to roost.”

As I have previously written, Clinton and Trump were the least popular candidates ever to run for the presidency, according to multiple polls. They hardly needed the help of a dozen or so Russians in St. Petersburg to materially add to those divisions. Indeed, the sheer premise of the operation was moronic. It was like trying to speed the descent of a falling locomotive by jumping up and down on it. We were already a nation plunging into political chaos with the selection of these two candidates and long simmering political divisions stretching back to the Bill Clinton administration.

There are hundreds of “legitimate” Democratic and Republican trolling sites (some supported by campaign activities) that did little but generate gossip, conspiracies and false stories. From the descriptions in the indictment, these Russians look like the tee-ball league in comparison to these major league players of political slime.

Yet, Ressa is still citing the election as a call to regulate the Internet and curtail free speech. What is truly chilling is how these Harvard grads robotically cheered as Ressa portrayed herself as a victim in trying to silence or curtail the speech of those with opposing views.

“I said this in the Nobel lecture: an atom bomb exploded in our information ecosystem because social media turned our world upside down, spreading lies, faster than facts, while amplifying fear and anger, fueling hatred. By design. For profit…

And here’s three sentences I’ve said over and over. Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without these three, we have no shared reality, no rule of law, no democracy. We can’t begin to solve existential problems like climate change.

…Too many powerful people are getting away with impunity – from countries to companies, and it is dividing us in ways that are literally destroying us, destroying democracy, destroying trust.

In Cambridge Commons just on the other side of that gate, there’s a marker to American patriot William Dawes, who, like his more famous friend Paul Revere, rode through here sounding the alarm: ‘The British are coming.’

…I will say it now: ‘The fascists are coming.’”

Yet, censorship and regulation of speech is deemed pro-democracy in Ressa’s world. She went on to attack Elon Musk for dismantling the censorship system:

“Now, Big Tech is now choking traffic to news sites, which means you will get less news in your feeds. How do you know what’s real, how do you know what’s fact when your emotions are what’s manipulated, when our biology is hacked? Instead of facts, And instead, the “enshittification” of the internet is in full bloom: more trash, more propaganda, more information operations that push our emotional buttons. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo deleted X last year, calling it a human sewer.

We will have to struggle harder for agency, for independent thought.

And it’s not just the tech companies that abdicated responsibility for protecting us, it’s also democratic governments like the United States. Tech is the least regulated industry around the world.

That’s why the US needs to reform or revoke section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. We need to stop the impunity.”

So to sum up, you will get “less news” unless you eliminate opposing viewpoints on the Internet and “stop the impunity” in the use of free speech. You can only achieve “independent thought” by relying on the government and corporations to limit what you see on the Internet. For some of us, free speech requires a sense of impunity to exercise a human right for self-expression.

Ressa concludes by calling on the graduates to “make it a world that is safe from fascists and tyrants” by limiting free speech and supporting government and corporate regulations to promote whatever she deems to be the truth on subjects like climate change or election integrity. That does not make her or their allies “tyrants,” of course. They are simply right.

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