Home OPINIONS Separating the wheat and the chaff in America’s freedom of speech

Separating the wheat and the chaff in America’s freedom of speech


The United States has always touted itself as the paragon of freedom of expression globally. The superpower has used this virtue to judge other countries’ democratic credentials, and even going ahead to enforce the enactment of certain statutes to make these countries adhere to this tenet.

But the reality in the US is different. According to a communique released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs mid-March, freedom of Speech in the US is not worthy of the name. The communique states that the US violates freedom of speech at home, and accuses the country of manipulating this freedom in foreign countries.

The communique says the US has long purported its freedom of speech and pursued double standards, covering up domestic political manipulation and social injustice with empty political slogans and hypocritical moral mask of so-called “freedom of speech”. At home, political fights trample on free speech, press interference threatens free speech, and social media violates free speech.

In the international arena, the US is daydreaming about continuing to speak for all, obstructing the democratisation of international relations with hegemonic practices, destroying international public opinion environment with smear campaigns, and deluding the international community with self-glorified images and high-sounding rhetoric.

Freedom of speech in the US has fallen in recent years. In a 2022 national poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College, 66 percent of participants say they do not believe that Americans enjoy free speech. Eight percent also say Americans don’t have any freedom of speech. In recent years, due to political polarization and political violence, people have become more cautious or even reticent when talking about political topics, fearing attacks and reprisals. 46 percent said that American society is far less free to talk about politics compared with a decade ago.

The US government manipulates epidemic information and suppresses truth-telling voices. Helen Zhu, a female doctor of Chinese descent who warned about the epidemic in the United States and reported the test results, was given a gag order by the administration. Captain Crozier, who told the truth about the epidemic on the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt, was sacked. Some officials in the State Department and Defense Department, who dared to speak the truth, have all been laid off. Fauci, an infectious disease expert known as the US ”anti-epidemic captain,” has “disappeared” many times.

Freedom of speech in the US has a problem of racial discrimination. The perception of free speech among white groups is significantly stronger than black groups where freedom of speech is more restricted. Tracing back the US history, freedom of speech has never been fully and equally applied to the black community, and state governments have used discretion to suppress rights of the black community for a long time. The black community is often treated differently when it comes to free speech.

The US government also restricts the coverage of news events by media. In 2021, a number of journalists were harassed or harmed by police while reporting on popular protests against the police killings of George Floyd and Dawn Wright. According to the US Freedom of the Press Tracker, there were 128 incidents of press freedom violations across the US in 2022, including 40 attacks on journalists and 15 arrests or prosecutions. In 2023, at least 12 journalists in the United States were arrested or charged, and several were criminally convicted for normal news reporting.

Social media and the interest groups it represented block free speech. The New York Post reported on March 30, 2023, that Twitter removed nearly 5,000 tweets about “transgender protests” outside the US Supreme Court, citing “incitement to violence.” As more and more users expressed doubts about deleting tweets, Twitter changed its excuse, saying the deletion was due to the system’s automated identification and deletion process without considering the specific content of the tweet. More shockingly, Twitter instead suspended The Washington Post’s Twitter account after it reported massive deletion of tweets on its Twitter account. The New York Post commented Twitter’s move to ban The Washington Post is “seriously inconsistent with its declared free speech.”

American media has one-sided interpretation of news events and malicious coverage of China-related news. The US media interpreted the withdrawal of American universities from the World University and Professional Rankings as a righteous act against the tyranny of American higher education, but interpreted the withdrawal of some Chinese universities from the world rankings as China’s “closed-door policy” in the field of science. Some US politicians and media denounced the US people’s siege of the Capitol over the presidential election as riots. The street violence in Hong Kong, China, however, has been glorified as “the pursuit of democracy and freedom” and “the beautiful sight.”

American social networking sites spread a large number of false information to hinder the Democratic Republic of Congo government’s efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic. In 2018, following another Ebola outbreak in the DRC, social media such as Twitter and Facebook spread suspicions saying that the outbreak did not exist and questioning the government’s rhetoric about its response to the disease, which caused severe disruption to the local fight against the Ebola epidemic. A 2019 study in the medical journal The Lancet noted that false information had led a quarter of locals to believe Ebola did not exist and a third to believe the virus was only used to destabilise the region.