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Debate, dissent are essential in society

I noticed on Facebook last week a longtime friend’s post linking to a national news story discussing censorship in America.

According to the Fox News report and host Tucker Carlson, YouTube, a worldwide online video sharing site owned by Google, recently removed a video posted by two California doctors that was gaining heavy traction with more than 5 million views. The video apparently outlined some statistics about novel coronavirus and then raised questions about the manner in which the government is reacting to the virus. They argued, apparently, that the number of U.S. and California cases and deaths might not warrant the mass shutdown by our government. (I say apparently because I have not seen the entire lengthy video because, well, YouTube took it down.)

Fox News also played a news clip in which YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stated YouTube’s policy is to remove videos posted by members of the public that share inaccurate information or information that, for instance, goes against World Health Organization recommendations.

Tucker Carlson argued that the removal of the video is an indication that dissent is not tolerated in this country anymore, even, he said, when it is fact-based.

That’s a frightening prospect, for sure.

In his report, Tucker seems pretty sure that big tech companies are “working in concert” with political officials or government to limit public access by removing items that, he said, provide dissent to government policy.

He also played a clip of an interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who said his company also takes down posts that the social media giant considers to be “harmful misinformation.” Among the examples, he said Facebook has been removing posts being used in an attempt to organize gatherings or protests in opposition to coronavirus lockdowns.

I guess despite the fact that our Constitution gives us the right to assemble, Facebook thinks it’s their role to intervene based on their opinion of whether such an assembly might be harmful.

Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin on occasion rants in her columns about censorship controls that social media giants like Twitter have over posts and have even completely removed people’s accounts because they disagreed with the flavor of the posts.

My friend who had shared the link on Facebook compared removal of this video by YouTube to something that might occur in Communist China.

On the surface, it sure seems that way. Yes, all those examples sound like alarming forms of censorship, but let’s not forget, you are choosing to use their medium to post your stuff.

Further, I’m still not convinced of government’s role in these decisions.

It is the governments of countries like China, not big tech companies, that control what people there are able to view or read in mass media.

Now, I haven’t called YouTube officials to specifically question their policies, but I am hopeful that they are not relying on government to tell them what they should or should not share. As a journalist and an American, I would be appalled and frightened if that were the case.

In my newsroom, it is our mission to always publish conflicting viewpoints in our news stories. Good journalists call that “balance.”

We encourage readers to send us their differing viewpoints. Frankly, I love to publish letters to the editor and “Sound off” submissions that make sound opposing arguments on issues of the day. That’s why I think newspapers are so valuable.

For the record, I do disagree with big tech’s removal of items they view as problematic. There must be a better way to warn viewers of possible inaccuracies in the post rather than simply wiping it out.

I think we can all agree with Tucker Carlson’s assessment that informed debate is exactly what we need to make wise decisions going forward. We all have opinions, but sometimes our eyes are opened to other sides of issues through good debate, research and facts that demonstrate opposing viewpoints. That’s absolutely essential to the betterment of society and government.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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