Few Americans believe they can become a political target for their ideas, which is why we freely post videos and comments on any one of the countless social media platforms available. Americans use digital platforms to express themselves, much as artists and authors first used canvas or paper. The difference between the two is that expressions in the digital world are monitored by editors and trolls who directly decide which of our ideas are acceptable to society and which are unacceptable. Somehow social media posts are less worthy of consideration as free speech than other forms of expression.
Recently I was targeted for a Facebook live video where I likened Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to a Nazi dictator because they took a man’s business without due process. The video was taken at night while two dozen deputy sheriffs blocked the doorway of the business triggering a feeling that I was sucked into history and wasn’t in America anymore. The cause of the closure was a bizarrely arbitrary COVID restriction imposed on one side of the street while businesses on the other side of the street were free to operate. Worse is the fact that the regulation was imposed and enforced by officials who, we have learned, have been hiding information about COVID nursing home deaths and who are prone to dangerously ineffectual decision making. So much for the moral high ground the mayor and governor were claiming.
During the month the video lived on my Facebook page, it sparked considerate discussions about whether my comparison was too hyperbolic, but no one claimed it was antisemetic. The video expired then reappeared on the page of a political opponent. It was clipped and edited to make it look like I shouted a Nazi salute. Savvy viewers noticed the chop job and demanded the poster provide the entire video, which she never did. So I posted it myself along with an apology for likening the event to the horrors of the Holocaust because that is wrong, no matter who makes the comparison or why – an important lesson for everyone to learn.
Let’s be clear – the poster who repurposed the video wanted to set the false narrative that I am unfit to serve in elected office. I truly believed she would fail in her goal because I have a well documented history of working to fight racism, anti-semitism and homophobia. Imagine my surprise when newspaper reporters and editors, with whom I have worked for years and who know my history of diverse community involvement, printed headlines to make it seem as if I was caught shouting a Nazi salute.
Manipulating facts into a political narrative to destroy those with whom we don’t agree is dangerous. Senator Joe McCarthy did it 80 years ago with the help of the news media when he labeled his political enemies as communists. He was eventually stopped, but not before destroying the reputations of hundreds of people, terrorizing the country, and wrecking entire industries (film, universities, publishing, civil service). The damage McCarthy wrought took decades to unwind. Today, instead of hyping the fear of communism, media monitors and trolls are hyping the narrative that conservatism is the enemy. They portray conservatives as dangerous radicals who want to destroy America.
This form of censorship isn’t grounded in ideology or law. This muzzling of public discourse is based on concern that opinions deemed unpopular or provocative will be attributed to the media platform on which they are shared, costing them viewers and dollars while exposing them to increased pressure for government regulation. Today’s McCarthyism is fear of consumers and regulators dressed up in the guise of awareness.
Conservative values are held by people in every culture, religion and sexual orientation. I have spent a lifetime fighting for the fair and equal treatment of others. I have always held the belief that everyone – especially those with whom I disagree – have the right to express themselves. However, fueling bias against conservatives for political gain is hypocritical and dangerous and the media has an obligation, under the protection of the first amendment, to refrain from partaking in such folly lest we repeat an unsavory time in American history. We should all keep that in mind when we are asked to judge others based on sensational headlines and past social media posts that don’t present the whole picture of situations more complicated than handheld soundbites.