Limits on Freedom of Expression – The Royal Gazette


Created: Oct 06, 2021 8:01 AM

Deputy Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes circa 1924 (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The fault lines that have emerged from Bermuda’s approach to the Covid-19 crisis and in particular vis-à-vis vaccination are deeply worrying.

It’s easy to forget, when the noise and fury is at its strongest, that the vast majority of Bermuda’s residents have already voted with their feet and been vaccinated against the coronavirus. It is also encouraging that registrations have increased recently.

But a minority – about one in four adults – remains undecided or has definitely chosen not to receive the jab. A very small minority of this group have valid medical reasons for not getting the vaccine. Another small subset, whether through social media or commenting on this and other websites, are not shy about making their views known, especially when they can do so in such a way. anonymous.

This newspaper is a strong supporter of freedom of expression. He agrees with Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the top United States Supreme Court justices, that the most effective way for the community to determine the truth of an idea is to vigorously debate it in public. It is the basis of liberal democracy – that the truth will emerge when it is tested in the marketplace of ideas.

But there have always been limits. The late US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “You have a right to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.

And freedom of speech doesn’t extend to falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater and causing panic, to apply another Judge Holmes saying.

The spread of lies that will cause physical harm and even death to innocent people is unacceptable in any society, especially in a society facing a public health emergency such as Bermuda today.

Those who choose not to vaccinate have this right in a free society. But just as they are not allowed to cry fire in a crowded theater, they should be aware that they run the risk of being banned from normal daily activities because of the threat they pose to others; and they pose a threat.

Bermuda has tried to regulate the unvaccinated using SafeKey and regular testing. The result was that testing facilities were overwhelmed while contact tracing also collapsed; which makes it difficult to determine how cases have spread or who should be isolated.

The proof is clear. Vaccination remains the best way to contain the virus. They’re not perfect, but if Bermuda were to vaccinate 80% of the population instead of 66%, it wouldn’t be in the crisis they are in right now.

Only 25% of these active Covid-19 cases were fully vaccinated, while 75% of the cases were not.

Because far more people are vaccinated than not, it means that an unvaccinated person in Bermuda is much more likely to be infected, is more likely to end up in hospital, and is more likely to die.

These facts are indisputable. And yet, a small minority of people are determined to ignore them and instead spread misinformation and half-truths to encourage people not to get vaccinated when it puts them at risk, as well as the general public.

The illogicality is mind-boggling. One of the main arguments against the vaccination was that it had only received emergency clearance, unaware that it had been tested on tens of thousands of people before it was cleared – and now in hundreds. millions with minimal side effects.

And yet, the same people who would make this argument will demand the use of drugs that have absolutely not been proven to work. It does not mean anything. Winning the argument has become more important than accepting the facts.

This places organizations such as The Royal Gazette in a difficult situation. He continues to fervently believe that the truth will come out and that the truth will triumph over those who lie and misinterpret the facts. But Judge Holmes’ argument was applied in a world before social media, where people couldn’t find constant reinforcement for their own mistaken beliefs, and where algorithms didn’t lead them over and over to sites that reinforced them. same incorrect beliefs without allowing conflicting arguments.

In a world more closely connected than ever before, people are increasingly able to stay in their own echo chambers.

In this context, newspapers must consider whether they have an obligation to filter comments on their websites in order to reduce the flow of disinformation and outright lies. Indeed, newspapers have always forbidden complete untruths, but there have always been gray areas where facts and opinions merge.

All the same, this can only be done with extreme reluctance, for the reasons mentioned above, to which is added the logistical challenge that this represents for a small operation like this one. Lies and misinformation are like mushrooms – they keep growing and spreading in the dark. But that is not enough as a reason for doing nothing.

For now, this newspaper will continue to do its best to monitor comments, but will limit the number of articles where comments can be published, especially with regard to Covid-19.

Those who present lies and systematically offer unsubstantiated claims are now being warned. False statements will be removed. Repeat offenders will be banned. And when they come back with a new identity, they will be banned over and over again if they continue with the same behavior.

Freedom of speech is a right, but there is no right to endanger lives through lies and disinformation.


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