(Digital Editor's Note: This article was published first in the March 2023 print edition of The Stand.)
As the world continues to blaze new paths into the digital landscape, the battle for the freedom of speech has found a new front: social media.
On October 27, 2022, billionaire Elon Musk completed his acquisition of the popular social media platform Twitter. Depending on whom you ask, what ensued was either a tumultuous upheaval of all decency or a triumphant return of freedom. Musk was transparent in his intentions for the platform. The self-described “free-speech absolutist” tweeted this on November 28, 2022: “This is a battle for the future of civilization. If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.”
The Stand asked AFA’s general counsel and public policy analyst Abraham Hamilton for his insights on the state of freedom and censorship on social media.
Hamilton said, “What I see Elon Musk doing is moving Twitter closer to the federal provision of Section 230 Protection – social media serving as a platform for conversation but not as a publisher of ideas. Meaning that the platform will be one that is neutral, that serves the public by creating a space where ideas can be exchanged.”
Fighting the worldviews war
Since his acquisition, Musk has restored the accounts of “problematic” users such as psychologist Jordan Peterson and the satirical blog The Babylon Bee. Their accounts had been limited in the past due to controversy after tweeting things that were deemed unacceptable by Twitter’s past leadership. This has led to a wide and heated discussion about whether or not the mere expression of certain ideas can be dangerous.
“I don’t think ideas in and of themselves are dangerous,” said Hamilton. “I don’t think there’s any such thing as dangerous speech or anything of that nature. It takes people to implement dangerous ideas. I often say ideas have consequences, and bad ideas create casualties. That has no bearing on what ideas should be allowed in public discourse. I think the best remedy to a bad idea is a better idea, not to censor the bad idea.”
“Sin is the opposite of a plant,” Hamilton continued. “Sin grows in darkness. Sin, once exposed to the light, often is terminated. The best way to go about eradicating bad ideas is to expose them to better ideas that highlight the flaws and the errors of the bad ideas, which will deplete the air out of the proverbial balloon of the bad idea.”
In a Twitter post on October 27, 2022, Musk made this comment about the importance of a digital platform where users were free to express their beliefs and opinions: “The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right-wing and far left-wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”
But is social media a fit replacement for the public square? According to Hamilton, it is not. “I don’t think it’s a fit replacement. I think it’s a fit supplement to the public square. A lot of the dialogue and discourse today is occurring in a digital space, but it is not a replacement for real, interpersonal interaction.”
Preparing children for battle
It is no secret that children in the 2020s are internet natives. According to a study published by Pew Research Center in July 2020, more than one-third of parents polled with a child under 12 say their child began interacting with a smartphone before the age of 5; nearly one in five parents of a child younger than 12 say their child has a smartphone; and a portion of parents say their child younger than 12 uses social media.
The dangers lurking on the internet are legion. Pornography, sexual predators, and disturbing media intentionally directed at children are always a few clicks or a mis-typed search away. But there are other less obvious dangers – websites, publishers, and content creators who, intentionally or not, disciple thousands of children in an unbiblical worldview.
AFA stands for defending the sanctity of the family, and part of that is protecting children from sexually explicit materials online. But what about unbiblical ideas and worldviews? How should parents handle that?
Hamilton said, “My wife and I, subject to the authority of God’s Word and the Lordship of His Spirit, are endeavoring to control our children’s exposure to the sinful ideas that are prevalent in the world. We’re not trying to hide anything from them. I want to protect them from bad ideas that they don't know how to navigate. And until they are prepared to navigate them well in a God-honoring manner, that’s my job as a parent.”
He continued: “I have children who I hope will learn to drive a car one day. That doesn’t mean I put my 5-year-old behind the steering wheel of a Lamborghini anytime soon, because that will be destructive for them. It’s my role as a parent to help integrate my children into the world that God has ordained for them to live in and not be consumed by it.”
Finding God’s peace
Patriotic Americans understand that the freedom to speak and express ideas is a blessing and a cornerstone of our society. Without freedom of speech, democracy would crumble, and every citizen would be under the yoke of tyranny. But this freedom can be a double-edged sword if American Christians aren’t vigilant. While the freedom of speech flings wide the door for the gospel, it also allows open blasphemy and the expression of sinful ideas. Can Christians have peace in a culture such as this?
“It is in first-century Rome under Nero,” explained Hamilton, “where the Lord, by His Spirit, through the apostle Paul, tells Christians to pray for their leaders. He said we should do this so that we may be able to live tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. Someone may say, ‘Wait a minute! Nero is arresting Christians and lighting them up like tiki torches. Paul is saying we have a way to have tranquil and quiet lives?’ Yes, the way that Christians can have peace in these tumultuous times is by taking heed to the Word of God.”
Hamilton continued: “We must apply the ordinances of Scripture in every environment, every circumstance. Applying and implementing what the Lord has provided for us in Scripture is the mechanism for peace. This is not the first time when Christians have faced hostility. This is just our turn. We have ancestors of faith who have done so before us. And sure, the Lord may tarry, and there will be hostility for those that come after us. We have an opportunity to participate in our nation in this time, in what our ancestors in the faith have done in times past, and what our contemporaries in the faith are doing all around the world at the very same moment.”