Law professor Eric Posner is no fan of the First Amendment. Never has been. Back in 2012, he argued that Americans basically need to get over the First Amendment
because free speech upsets people. Earlier this year, he argued for restricting the speech of college students because students are children who don't deserve free speech
. A few months ago, he also argued that the US should adopt a "right to be forgotten,"
because sometimes it's better to make speech disappear entirely.
So it comes as little surprise that he's now arguing that we should just dump the First Amendment, because ISIS is, like, super scary, yo
It has become increasingly clear that terrorist groups such as ISIS can extend their reach to American territory via the Internet. Using their own websites, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms, they lure young men and women to their mission—without having to risk the capture of foreign agents on U.S. soil. The Americans ensnared in ISIS’s net in turn radicalize others, send money to ISIS, and even carry out attacks.
Never before in our history have enemies outside the United States been able to propagate genuinely dangerous ideas on American territory in such an effective way—and by this I mean ideas that lead directly to terrorist attacks that kill people. The novelty of this threat calls for new thinking about limits on freedom of speech.
Posner's proposal? Make it a crime
to even visit a website that supports ISIS or to make any vaguely pro-ISIS statement:
But there is something we can do to protect people like Amin from being infected by the ISIS virus by propagandists, many of whom are anonymous and most of whom live in foreign countries. Consider a law that makes it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS or support recruitment by ISIS; to distribute links to those websites or videos, images, or text taken from those websites; or to encourage people to access such websites by supplying them with links or instructions. Such a law would be directed at people like Amin: naïve people, rather than sophisticated terrorists, who are initially driven by curiosity to research ISIS on the Web.
He admits that this might interfere with actual research about ISIS, but says there can be an exemption for those with a "legitimate interest" which he defines as credentialed members of the press or those with academic associations. Of course, he then notes that, obviously, such law would violate the First Amendment. But, no problem, he says, let's just dump that... noting that prior to the 1960s, we never really took that whole First Amendment thing all that seriously anyway, and then cites a bunch of horrifically awful examples from history of the US not respecting free expression -- basically using some of the most embarrassing examples of our past to argue that we should go back to that sort of barbaric view of the world:
However, these rules go back only to the 1960s. Before then, in the United States, people could be punished for engaging in dangerous speech. The U.S. government prosecuted Nazi sympathizers during World War II, draft protesters during World War I, and Southern sympathizers in the Union during the Civil War. It’s common sense that when a country is embroiled in a war, it should counter propaganda that could populate a third column with recruits. The pattern in American history—and, in the other democracies as well, even today—is that during times of national emergency, certain limits on speech will be tolerated.
We do not currently face a national emergency comparable to a world war, but anti-propaganda laws may nonetheless be warranted because of the unique challenge posed by ISIS’s sophisticated exploitation of modern technology.
There are, of course, all sorts of problems with his argument -- not that I think he shouldn't be allowed to say it and reveal to the world his own issues. First off, it presumes, without any real evidence, that ISIS propaganda is actually effective. Multiple studies have shown this is simply not true. Nearly all recruitment into ISIS happens within established social circles, where people already know each other -- not because of ISIS tweeting out beheading videos.
Second, it's become something of a cliche to use the argument "that's exactly what ISIS/terrorists want..." but it really does seem to fit here. Scaring the living daylights out of "public intellectuals" so that they compromise the very principles on which their society is built on, seems like the pretty clear goal of terrorism. So, step on up, Eric Posner, you're posting pro-ISIS propaganda now. Under your own proposed law, you may have just committed a crime.
Third, it way overestimates the "threat" of ISIS. I am not saying that ISIS is not a legitimate threat to cause some damage, but of all the threats we've faced over the years, this
is the one that we suddenly dump the First Amendment over? Really
? Especially when there's no real evidence that its propaganda is effective at much beyond scaring the pants off of pretend intellectuals?
Fourth, are we really so weak minded and weak willed that people can't look at ISIS propaganda and realize "holy crap, those people are crazy" -- and that such information needs to be blocked? We've spent decades highlighting how attempts to suppress and block speech tend to do the opposite. It makes those whose expressions are blocked more resolved to speak out and also makes them feel more powerful, believing they've somehow "scared" those they're speaking against.
Fifth, why shouldn't we see what they say and then respond
to it and highlight why it's barbaric and wrong? Or, at the very least, to have a better understanding of who we're dealing with. Trying to hide and stifle their speech doesn't do much in terms of better understanding the enemy.
Frankly, this really seems like Posner just looking for yet another excuse to wipe away the First Amendment. And we won't even get into the fact that he's no fan
of the 4th Amendment either...