By Marta Mossburg
The Hendricks County Flyer
Mon Jan 21, 2013, 03:42 PM EST
After the Newtown, Conn., massacre it seems crude to speak of rights and facts. With the unfulfilled lives of 20 children and six adults mercilessly gunned down foremost in our minds, it is more soothing to talk about safety and stopping the violence and letting those in authority do their jobs.
But this is when those who care about civil liberties have the most to fear because those who would strip us of rights know it is easier to regulate and legislate after tragedies. Psychology tells us why: Humans crave coherence and neat solutions, even when none are available.
Think of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It gave the government broad new powers to surveil individuals and search their property - with no means to test whether the new regulations would thwart terrorists.
Or think of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 in response to the financial crisis. Its regulations ensure bailouts for the biggest banks, which are larger now than they were before the Great Recession.
As President Obama's former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."
It is in that light that we should view Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance's comments about "misinformation."
In a Dec. 16 news conference, Vance said anyone who posts misleading information on social media sites about the Newtown case would be "investigated, statewide and federally, and prosecution will take place when people perpetrating this information are identified."
He added, "All information relative to this case is coming from these microphones."
It's horrible that anyone would consider posing as 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza, try to disrupt the investigation of the murders, or cause further heartbreak for the victims' families.
But what kind of precedent does it set if the government gets to determine what constitutes "misinformation"?
For starters, government is frequently the source of lies and obfuscation at every level - and not just in places like Russia, China, and North Korea. Think of the official response to the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in September. According to the Obama administration, an anti-Muslim video incited the violence, which officials knew immediately was not the case.
At the state level, what if governors were able to arbitrate the truth? Before answering, remember that four Illinois governors have spent time in federal prison in the last 50 years.
We already know what happened after Lt. Vance spoke. Social media website Facebook suspended accounts of those whose versions of the Newtown massacre did not match the government one, officially because users violated company policies but more likely to avert criminal prosecution.
Facebook is a public company and can set its own user rules, but its actions are a reminder of how little it takes to diminish free speech, which is constantly under threat. Other examples are college speech codes that outlaw offending others, as well as the dominant culture of political correctness that pushes people to self-censor for fear of being labeled a sexist, racist, homophobe, etc.
Through his remarks, Vance no doubt wanted to protect the families of the victims from further emotional harm and prevent new violence from spinning off the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But to claim the government alone is in charge of information on the massacre - and for a major corporation like Facebook to capitulate - shows how easy it is for government to control speech.
Those targeted could sue but how many people have the money or time to defend themselves appropriately?
Our system depends on those in power respecting the rights of the governed. When that breaks down, those targeted will suffer, and so will the rest of us, in the form of self-censorship by individuals and businesses.
We are not Russia or China, but only because we have people who vigorously defend our rights.
Now should be one of those times, even as we mourn.
- Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 10, 2013
Indiana’s lopsided win in the Old Oaken Bucket game ended yet another disappointing season for those unfortunate enough to call themselves Hoosier Football fans. As a member of that tortured lot, the climactic victory over hapless, one-win Purdue offered little solace.
December 9, 2013
December 7, 2013
When I woke up Saturday morning, I gave a customary online scan of Friday’s sports, mainly for a recap of the Pacers’ home game against Milwaukee.
November 18, 2013
Most people recall where they were upon hearing significant news in their life, whether it was positive or negative. I remember where I was when I heard now-former Butler basketball coach Brad Stevens was going to the Boston Celtics.
November 12, 2013
Having gone to a football school in the heart of basketball country, I was never around soccer in my youth, and thus haven’t been a soccer guy in adulthood.
November 5, 2013
I hate to say it, but I'm afraid we've seen this before.
October 29, 2013
There have been a lot of big games played in Indianapolis, none bigger than the Colts' unforgettable win over New England in the AFC championship seven years ago.
While next Monday's visit from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos won't eclipse that monumental event, there is no doubt that the city has never and will never experience another night like No. 18's return.
October 17, 2013
An NPR broadcast examines the question of how communities can better prepare for tornadoes like the one that struck Moore, Okla. on Monday. The broadcast features commentary from Michael Fitzgerald, who reported a five-part disaster series for the CNHI News Service.
May 22, 2013
Part I: Are We Prepared? | Part II: Disaster Dollars Part III: Lessons Learned | Part IV: Warning Signs Part V: The Big One
A post to YouTube goes viral, and now a Clearwater family is seeing how much the world loves a precocious little girl who did something special for her deaf parents.
December 13, 2013
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