New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, D, announced on Monday that the state will ramp up surveillance efforts of social media accounts and that law enforcement will take proactive measures, including contacting people on suspicion of using “hate speech.”
Hochul cited the rise in antisemitic activity in New York and especially New York City, where the world’s largest population of Jews outside of Israel resides. Hochul also mentioned alleged “Islamophobic” incidents, which she claimed were increasing and going under-reported.
The governor said she would also be increasing police presence, which she stated has been focused on protecting potential targets including “synagogues and yeshivas and mosques and any other place that could be susceptible to hate crimes or violence.”
As part of that, Hochul explained,
“…we’re very focused on the data we’re collecting from surveillance efforts — what’s being said on social media platforms. And we have launched an effort to be able to counter some of the negativity. and reach out to people when we see hate speech being spoken about on online platforms. Our media analysis, our social media analysis unit, has ramped up its monitoring of sites to catch incitement to violence; direct threats to others, and all this is in response to our desire, our strong commitment, to ensure that not only do New Yorkers be safe, but they also feel safe because personal security is about everything for them.”
She stated that everyone must work together, adding, “If anyone thinks that they can get away with spreading hate and harming other New Yorkers and violating the law, you will be caught. You will be caught here in the State of New York because we are ramping up our resources to ensure that everyone can live freely. We have been involved in this. We’ll protect protected speech. We will not protect people committing hate crimes, not here in Manhattan, not in any borough, not in any one of the 62 counties, not on a college campus, not in a house of worship.”
She told the media that the state had already “increased our capacities for surveillance as well as responding to terrorist threats in the aftermath of the Buffalo Massacre that occurred on May 14, 2022.”
Hochul’s plans drew criticism from some who called the effort unconstitutional and totalitarian.
Robby Starbuck, who hosts a podcast, posted on X: “Democrat NY Gov. Kathy Hochul says that her team is ‘collecting data’ from ‘surveillance efforts’ on social media to combat ‘hate speech’ so people ‘feel safe’. She might as well tear up our constitution, it would be a faster way to get the point across that she’s violating it.”
Last month, Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams demanded that social media platforms monitor speech and shut down “incitements to violence,” with Adams insisting, “These guys are experts. If they don’t want to do their job of policing themselves, I really believe it’s time for the federal government to step in.”
The calls come as Europe ramps up censorship of alleged hate speech, including pressuring X owner Elon Musk to censor the posts of online users. Many European nations now have laws that have made the expression of religious beliefs to be viewed as banned speech. This week Finnish Member of Parliament (MP) Päivi Räsänen and a Lutheran bishop were acquitted after four years of trials and investigations simply for sharing the biblical view on marriage and sexuality. And in the U.K., an Army veteran will soon be tried for silently praying for his deceased son outside of an abortion clinic.
In the U.S., politicians have demanded Internet censorship and have even engaged in it themselves. For example, the Supreme Court will hear Missouri v. Biden, a case which has shown that the federal government coerced social media platforms to censor content it disagreed with — even if the content was true.
Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University and free speech advocate who has written extensively on the issues of censorship and limitations on speech, has cautioned the U.S. against adopting European censorship laws that allow governments to stop people from saying things that governments oppose. Despite what many think, “hate speech,” which is subjective, is protected both by the Constitution and by Supreme Court precedent, according to Turley.
“There have been calls to ban hate speech for years. Even former journalist and Obama State Department official Richard Stengel has insisted that while ‘the First Amendment protects the ‘thought that we hate’ … it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.’
Actually, it was not a design flaw but the very essence of the Framers’ framework for a free society.
The First Amendment does not distinguish between types of speech, clearly stating: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’”
Referencing some of the many cases upholding the right to speech considered to be “hate speech,” Turley wrote that “while the Supreme Court has allowed limited exceptions, it does not bestow on the government the open right to strip protection of speech because it is deemed ‘hateful.’”
He cited Brandenburg v. Ohio, a 1969 case involving “violent speech,” wherein the Supreme Court struck down an Ohio law “prohibiting public speech that was deemed as promoting illegal conduct,” specifically ruling for “the right of the Ku Klux Klan to speak out, even though it is a hateful organization.”
Turley also noted that in the 2011 case of RAV v. City of St. Paul, the Court “struck down a ban on any symbol that ‘arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender,'” and in Snyder v. Phelps, also in 2011, the Court said that “the hateful protests of Westboro Baptist Church were protected.”
Before Disney sold its soul to wokeness, it produced one of the greatest and most poignant movies of the last 20 years. The 2014 movie “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” delved deeply into the debate between freedom and government-enforced “safety.” The film sees Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, trying to adjust to life in the 21st century as a relic from World War II. Rogers attempts to jump back into his old life of serving his country and fighting for freedom as a member of the world’s new and now largest intelligence organization, SHIELD.
He soon discovers that SHIELD is planning on launching three massive aerial command centers and will have the ability to neutralize threats long before they happen. Captain America tells SHIELD Director Nick Fury, “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.” Later, during an intense meeting, he argues, “This isn’t freedom, it’s fear.”
As the movie progresses, even Captain America is deemed an enemy due to his opposition to the new order. He is targeted by SHIELD and eventually discovers that it had been infiltrated by the evil organization Hydra, which foments chaos and fear until people are finally ready to surrender their freedom for security. Rogers discovers that Hydra will use the SHIELD program to eliminate anyone who is likely to stand in its way based on its access to a person’s data such as habits, voting record, etc. In a single stroke, it plans to wipe out millions.
We won’t give the rest of the plot away in case you haven’t seen it, but the movie is a powerful discussion on what happens when you grant government too much power.
What history has taught us is that a shadowy, evil organization from a comic book isn’t just a screenwriter’s pipedream. Real-life everyday governments are quite capable, in and of themselves, of eliminating freedom and committing atrocities.
This is why government power must be restricted, its access to citizen information and data limited, and the freedoms of Americans fiercely protected. And this is why the Constitution makes America so unique. It guarantees freedom of speech and thought and the right to dissent, and it states that the powers granted the government must be explicitly done so by the consent of the governed. Clearly, the Founders never intended surveillance of Americans to be a function of government. In fact, they would be horrified to find that so many elected leaders and government institutions are now using their power to not only monitor the words of American citizens but to actively censor and even arrest them for “unapproved” speech.
No one likes hateful rhetoric. And actual credible threats of physical violence must be dealt with. However, what politicians have repeatedly shown is that their definition of “hate speech” is ever widening and increasingly vague, so as `to use it to take down political opponents. It’s why you see pro-life activists being jailed for praying and imploring women not to kill their children, while pro-abortion activists are given a free pass when they harass Supreme Court justices and firebomb pregnancy resource centers. It’s why Americans who say a grown man shouldn’t be able to go into a women’s restroom or to dance provocatively in front of children are censored, while those who openly harass and attack Jews while demanding an intifada against America are protected.
What is hate speech, and who gets to define it? In America today, that term is defined by a government with an agenda to gain more and more control over the governed. Americans, especially those in a position of influence, must push back on this notion that spoken and written words are the same as physical violence and somehow anathema to a free society. If people are not allowed to speak, they may one day feel that they have no choice but to resort to violence. And unfortunately, as Xi Van Fleet, who lived through a similar cultural revolution in China, has explained, that will be the government’s cue and excuse to crack down on all speech and freedoms.
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