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24 Oct, 2019 18:04

More than half of Americans want government-imposed press restrictions & curbs on free speech – survey

More than half of Americans want government-imposed press restrictions & curbs on free speech – survey

Some Americans are having second thoughts about the First Amendment, a new survey has found. Over half are calling for it to be rewritten, and some 61 percent believe there should be limits on freedom of speech.

The First Amendment, which guarantees Americans freedom of speech, should be overhauled to reflect current cultural norms, according to 51 percent of the respondents to a survey published on Wednesday by the Campaign for Free Speech. The campaign is hoping to call attention to the dire state of Americans' preeminent civil right with the poll, which breaks down opposition along gender, race, class, and educational lines.

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The younger respondents were, the more they supported overhauling the law to restrict speech. However, college graduates were the least likely of all educational groupings to support the restrictions, indicating that the increasingly regulated speech environment at American universities may be backfiring in some cases and producing adults who cherish their rights because they know what it's like to be deprived of them.

Over half of millennials believe "hate speech" should be against the law, though no definition of "hate speech" was given (and indeed the definition tends to vary given the time and place). Most of those who want a ban on such speech consider jail time an appropriate penalty – though female respondents were the least supportive of such draconian sentencing.

And it isn't just ordinary speech that Americans want restricted – 57 percent support government action against "newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false," with nearly half of those agreeing such offenses should carry a jail sentence. The media is not particularly well-liked in 2019, with the average American trusting the press less even than lawyers and members of Congress, and people over 65 years-old were the only group in which the majority opposed punitive government regulation.

Alternative media were the only outlets that escaped the scorn of the majority – just 36 percent agreed that the government should review online content. Even Facebook, hardly expected to be a bastion of openness, saw just 49 percent agree that the platform should censor "offensive speech." Interestingly, millennials and Generation Z were the most supportive of a censor-free Facebook, with some 47 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds telling CEO Mark Zuckerberg to get his hands off their content.

The survey did some digging into what people believe constitutes the kind of hate speech that the government should regulate, and the results were illuminating. "Racists" were the least popular group, with 52 percent calling for a government crackdown on their utterances, followed closely by neo-Nazis, who were loathed by half the respondents. Radical Islamists were not a priority for anyone but the middle class and those with just a high school education. Holocaust deniers rankled just 35 percent, while anti-vaccine advocates and climate-change deniers were an issue for a fifth or less of the population. Some 37 percent of respondents didn't think any of those groups should be banned from speaking – a figure that climbed to 42 percent among college graduates.

The 1,004 respondents were not categorized politically, though that might have provided an explanation for some of the more intriguing statistics that suggested college graduates oppose restrictions on so-called hate speech.

College conservatives are crying foul at what they believe are the stifling speech restrictions enacted on modern campuses. In Connecticut, a coalition of Republicans at 22 schools is demanding political ideology be added to the list of protected attributes in schools' discrimination codes after two allegedly racist incidents at the University of Connecticut sparked calls for stricter 'hate speech' codes on campus. 

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Meanwhile, state schools in Idaho, Michigan and Tennessee are urging professors not to grade writing on its quality, lest they somehow impose "white language supremacy" on their students. Controversial speakers have sparked riots at the University of California at Berkeley, while Evergreen College's notorious "no whites on campus" day has made headlines two years in a row. The drive to avoid racial hate has inadvertently given rise to its own form of hate, in which any view that deviates from social justice orthodoxy is demonized.

"Hate speech" has also become a cudgel for internet platforms to censor political views they dislike, from slamming criticism of mass immigration as racism to attacking critics of the Israeli government as anti-Semites. YouTube recently enraged its users by proclaiming its devotion to hosting unpopular opinions at the same time it kicked a number of popular but controversial creators off its platform.

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