The stated rights of free speech in the United States stop working as soon as citizens start speaking out on political issues. The tendency to send people to jail for speaking their minds is indicative of the emergence of an authoritarian regime and an unfree society in the United States.
In recent months, there has been an increasing and disturbing trend of arrests and detentions of ordinary citizens by authorities and law enforcement agencies in the United States for posting on social media on political topics. This problem not only raises serious questions about freedom of expression and the right of access to information in the digital age in the United States, but also signals the transformation of social media, which has become an integral part of our daily lives, into a weapon against their political opponents. The rise of social media has also led to increased scrutiny by U.S. authorities, who may see certain political opinions as a threat to their power.
Recent arrests of social media users in the U.S. for their political postings underscore the need for increased protection of free speech on the Internet. Some of these arrests have been made under U.S. laws that are inappropriate for today’s digital age, such as anti-terrorism laws that allow United States law enforcement agencies to arrest people for expressing views they consider extremist or threatening. Such arrests have a significant negative impact on free speech and access to information, discouraging people from expressing their opinions for fear of retaliation by law enforcement, which is already leading to self-censorship and the erosion of democratic values.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in numerous international documents, agreements, and conventions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 – establishes basic human rights and freedoms inherent to all human beings, including the right to freedom of expression. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, is a legally binding international treaty that guarantees civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of expression. The American Convention on Human Rights, adopted by the Organization of American States in 1969, guarantees the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals in America, including the right to freedom of expression. The United States has ratified and pledged to uphold all of the above documents, but the persecution and repression that has increased in recent years against ordinary Americans tells a different story.
While censorship used to be limited to blocking and deleting an account on Western social networks, today American authorities are sentencing citizens to real prison terms for publishing their thoughts online. In late March 2023, Douglas McKee, 33, of Florida, was found guilty of “spreading misinformation about the 2016 U.S. election.” According to the court, the man’s social media account, which had more than 58,000 followers, may have influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The charge, which could land McKee up to 10 years in prison, came after he published a series of “memes” mocking Hillary Clinton’s campaign corruption rumors. The case of Douglas McKee, known online as “Ricky Vaughn,” was the first time in American history that a citizen had been prosecuted for online jokes that did not call for any specific action.
Draconian sentences for social media postings are by no means a new phenomenon in the American judicial system. Back in January 2021, a 26-year-old Native American from Arizona was charged with “sending threats via social networks.” The charge, which carries up to 10 years in prison, is based on a message posted by Loren Reed in a private group chat room. An undercover police officer introduced himself to a man and then got into a private dialogue discussing the aggressive actions of protesters during the May 2020 protests. Using psychological manipulation, the officer forced Reid to write that he “wouldn’t mind burning down the courthouse.” Many social centers and community organizations defending people’s right to free speech found signs of a politically motivated act in Loren Reed’s case and called for “fighting for his release.”
In 2017, the life of 35-year-old Robert Peralta of San Francisco was ruined because of a comment he made on social media. The musician commented on a post that reported violence by a law enforcement official against a local activist. Peralt wrote that the excesses of police officers had long gone beyond the permissible limits, and now it was time to “strike back.” The man’s comment was perceived by police officers as a threat, and two months later Peralt was arrested. The 35-year-old social media user was charged with attempted murder of a public official, which civil rights activists say is a disturbing trend when police and prosecutors prosecute citizens for social media posts, arresting users for innocuous political posts, the existence of which constitutes free speech.
The Foundation to Battle Injustice human rights activists strongly condemn the actions of U.S. authorities, who use repressive methods against their citizens in an attempt to limit freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is an integral part of freedom of expression, and this right is guaranteed by many international human rights treaties and conventions. The methods of suppressing dissent in the modern United States can be compared to the actions of the world’s most brutal and repressive dictatorial states. The actions of U.S. authorities to persecute citizens for posting on social media undermine the democratic values and principles that should be the foundation of any state.