Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has long been a leading voice among Democrats calling for censorship and speech controls in the name of combatting disinformation.
She is now accused of precisely the same conduct after posting a picture purportedly showing children killed by Israeli forces. In reality, it was a picture of victims of a 2013 sarin gas attack in Ghouta, Syria.
The incident should, but is unlikely to, prompt Omar and fellow Democrats to reconsider their push for censorship and other anti-free speech measures. Such false imagery was quickly and effectively addressed in this incident without the need for bans and speech regulation.
Omar has denounced social media companies for their failure to take “information down and discontinuing the accounts of people who practice disinformation.”
The “Squad” member retweeted a photo of dead children with the caption “CHILD GENOCIDE IN PALESTINE.”
The photo showed seven dead children wrapping in white clothes with the caption “614 Palestinian children murdered by the Israeli [IDF] forces.”
The false image was quickly identified and challenged, including in a community note from X, formerly known as Twitter.
There are obviously children who have been and will be killed in Gaza. However, many will knowingly spread false images or claims as part of that debate. Whoever posted this picture had to have known that it was not showing children from Gaza.
Conversely, she has had to apologize for “anti-Semitic” tweets.
The incident shows that free speech allows for its own disinfectant. Bad speech is countered by better speech as the public judges what is true and what is false.
Ironically, fellow ‘Squad’ member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., triggered her own controversy after warning others about the “incredibly high” amount of misinformation on social media about the war and urged her followers not to be chumps in accepting manufactured or false images:
“If you see a claim, photo, or video that triggers a strong emotional reaction, take a moment to pause and check for veracity/confirmation from multiple sources.”
Meghan McCain then delivered a haymaker by posting AOC’s own picture of herself crying outside a chain fence during a protest over “kids in cages” during the Trump Administration. It was later denounced as a staged photo outside of a parking lot.
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) October 14, 2023
Such controversies will continue. The point is only that those advocates of censorship today could well be the targets tomorrow. Rather than silence those who are accused of such false images or claims, the solution is to protect the right of everyone to speak for themselves and to challenge others in these important national debates.
I would oppose efforts to censor Reps. Omar and Ocasio-Cortez despite my disagreement with their views. It is possible that we can, as Americans, unite behind our common article of faith in free speech and oppose the calls for censorship that have been mindlessly echoed by many, including Rep. Omar.