LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Trumping freedom of expression

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President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

 J. S. Mill's work is being incorrectly quoted in relation to Donald Trump's banning from Twitter, writes Tivan Leak.


The necessity for freedom of expression was brilliantly articulated by J. S. Mill in his work On Liberty.

I have seen many conservative accounts on Twitter use portions of Mill's argument with regard to Trump's banning from Twitter and other social media platforms.

There are a few things worth keeping in mind when applying Mill's thinking to Trump's situation.

The core of Mill's argument is that we shouldn't silence any opinion because we don't know the ultimate truth and that the opinion being silenced might be beneficial to society. We can, however, evaluate the truth of certain claims, such as those made by Trump, based on the evidence for said claim.

In the case of Trump's claim that "emboldened radical left Democrats" stole "a landslide election victory", there is no compelling evidence to support it. This is arguably the central claim that drove the "Save America" protest.

Trump's claim, instead of being a testable hypothesis whose validity depended on the outcome of the multitude of court cases launched by Trump and his allies, has become an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory.

READ | Analysis: QAnon and the storming of the US Capitol: The offline effect of online conspiracy theories

The result was a mass of people storming the US Capitol based on an unproven and shaky claim. When people act in such a manner it is akin to madness. When people break the law and invade, what should be, one of the most secure locations on US soil in an attempt to undermine democracy based on a shaky (very likely to be false) claim, one could argue that drastic measures should be taken.

Trump refused to concede electoral defeat even after he exhausted every lawful avenue available to him and even though his claims were dismissed in the courts. This behaviour flames the irrational fire that motivate these conspiracy theory over-enthusiasts who might truly believe that their democracy is being stolen.

Banning Trump from social media is, in my opinion and in light of the above, a rational and responsible decision.

Social media companies shouldn't have to feel obliged to ban the US president because he spreads disinformation to masses of people via their platforms. This is not only an embarrassment for Trump, the Republican party and the US in general, but also a warning to all of us of the dangers of believing claims without sufficient evidence.

I find it ironic that people who have demonstrated an aversion to truth by supporting Trump's conspiracy theories, are now using Mill's argument which places such a high value on truth.

- Tivan Leak is a Master's student in Economics at Stellenbosch University.

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