This past month, I figured that my two-day-old post in a Facebook group for journalism school alumni and students, in which I voiced opposition to censorship of free speech on social media, was nearing the end of its active life. I reached this conclusion when one of the group’s members added a long comment below the post that featured, of all things, one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
After dozens of preceding comments below my initial post, where could the conversation possibly go now that a near-non-sequitur, comprising mainly poetry, had been brought into the mix? The thread would probably wind down and fade into the group’s archives, I thought.
I didn’t expect that the post, along with the string of comments below it, was about to be censored from the group outright.
In my original post, which included a link to my piece “I’m Sounding the Alarm: PRC-Style Censorship Has Arrived in the United States,” I wrote a brief background to my article, stating that I’d applied to Columbia Journalism School from China, where I was living at the time, knowing that in the United States there would again be access to the freedom of speech and press that I once took for granted as an American. But years after graduation, in 2021, I had been censored for the first time by both Facebook and LinkedIn after exercising my fundamental right of free speech on those platforms.
I ended the post with, “As an American who has witnessed firsthand the soul-extinguishing suppression of freedom—including freedom of speech—in authoritarian China, I’m sounding the alarm in this new piece: PRC-style censorship has arrived in the United States, and we must not allow it to stay.”
Freedom of speech and speaking truth to power are principles that journalists have traditionally held dear, so real concern about the implications of PRC (People’s Republic of China)-style censorship on major U.S. social media platforms should have been expected within a journalism group.
The conversation was quickly taken over, however, by dozens of highly vocal and politically motivated commenters—comprising only a tiny percentage of the Facebook group’s thousands of members—who had apparently reviewed my piece and discovered that the free speech that had been censored related to protesting the widespread fraud that was alleged to have taken place in the 2020 presidential election.
A number of acid comments were made below my post by political detractors while, at the same time, I received private messages of support and friend requests from members of the group who weren’t commenting on the post. There seemed to be a chilling effect whereby a small, but very aggressive, number of group members had become a deterrent to open and respectful discourse, even about a principle that would seem to be an area where journalists should have common ground: support of freedom of speech.
As I watched the comments accumulate, I never responded to any of them or made any further comment or reaction beyond my initial post. My objective, which the initial post achieved, was to alert fellow journalists to the alarming fact that PRC-style censorship of free speech on social media is now happening in the United States.
But the post seemed to have touched a political nerve among some that compelled them to continue commenting. Notably, one of the group’s administrators voiced her disagreement, but also magnanimously stated that while she disagreed with me, she thought I had the right to express my views and wouldn’t delete my post.
Before this comment, I hadn’t thought that censorship of my post in support of free speech was an option that was being considered. But, shortly after another group member had added the comment that included a Shakespearean sonnet, I clicked on a link to my post, only to receive an error message: The post and all the comments below it had been deleted.
To address this, I added a new post to the group with a screenshot of the error message, and a simple statement: “I tried to click on my post about free speech and PRC-style censorship in social media a few minutes ago … and this message came up. It appears that my post was removed from the group. Cheers.”
“Anyone know if the post was removed by FB [Facebook] or by a group page administrator?” asked one group member.
The group administrator who had said she wouldn’t delete my post was conspicuously silent.
This time, while some of the same political detractors continued their previous lines of attack, new commenters, and even some commenters who had previously voiced disagreement with my now-censored post, made statements in support of free speech and in opposition to censorship.
“Please, let’s not get Orwellian,” commented one group member who opposed the censorship of my previous post.
“Is it fair to say, regarding Columbia Journalism School,” asked another group member, “that conservatives need not apply?”
In response to this question, someone who had earlier described himself—in a comment disagreeing with my now-censored post—as “an immigrant from China” responded, “fact-respecting conservatives should absolutely apply and get baptized. I don’t think we mind the occasional twisting.”
Another group member stated, “I’m opposed to removing almost anything that falls within the range of permissible speech under the First Amendment, which tolerates almost all speech. … Cancel culture is a scourge and this group shouldn’t tolerate it. Appeals to a ‘Trump exception’ … hold no water with me.”
It was troubling and somewhat eye-opening to learn that censorship of free speech on social media could be supported by some journalists, and with a ferocity that discourages open dialogue. At the same time, it was heartening to see comments by other journalists in support of free speech, after the reality of its suppression on social media was demonstrated to them.
As we are witnessing, free speech continues to be politically and selectively censored in the United States in a way that mirrors the systematic censorship that has long occurred in authoritarian China. Some may not be overly concerned with this censorship, or may even support it, because today it’s not their free speech that’s being suppressed. Will their level of concern about censorship change, though, if one day it’s their free speech that’s painted as objectionable and suppressed by anonymous censors?
As an American, I believe that freedom of speech, including on social media, is a fundamental right that should be cherished and protected. Americans exercising free speech on social media shouldn’t be persecuted for doing so, and shouldn’t have to live in fear of making posts that politically motivated censors deem “inconvenient.”
Adam Michael Molon is an American writer and journalist. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and undergraduate degrees in finance and Chinese language from Indiana University-Bloomington.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.