Rev Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields

You might think it’s a good thing to suspend Donald Trump’s twitter account.

But just hold on there. Jesus says free speech is paramount. The church has always been in favour of unrestricted free speech. If Twitter can do this to the President of the United States, then they might do exactly the same to you when you try to incite insurrection against a democratic legislature.

8 thoughts on “Rev Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields

  1. Where to start? At least he acknowledged the Voltaire attribution.

    This is not a free speech issue. Had Trump, as president, taken legal action, the First Amendment would have favoured Twitter stopping government controlling what they publish. Trump has been hoist by his own petard. He spent years turning himself into a brand by which people would enrich him. The brand has turned toxic,and other brands, like the PGA, are running from it.

    That it’s taken provocation of armed insurrection doesn’t speak well of these other brands,including social media. Neither side comes out of it well. But the problems with both Trump and social media were in plain sight long before this. Wells talks about governments wrestling with the power of social media for 15 years. Has he ever done a TftD on the issue?

    Finally a special mention for the most clumsy biblical shoehorn we’ve had in a while.


  2. After trudging through weeds desperately searching for a bible verse to cite as a parallel to current events, the Rev Dr Wells actually ended this quite well, as within his final sentence is recognition that Twitter, actually, is a cesspit of discourse with rules, suspensions, bannings etc etc that are often inconsistently and cack-handedly applied.

    Trump’s account, for instance, is banned indefinitely while ranting mullahs, with their naked hatreds, poisonous conspiracy theories and dangerous scientific ignorance are seemingly given carte blanche. That’s not whataboutery – what’s sauce for the goose etc.


  3. Yes. For once I find myself in almost total agreement with Sam Wells. It is worrying enough when Governments try to control what is said on the internet or on social media, especially when those Governments do not have the semblance of a system of checks and balances to keep them honest. It is at least as bad when media companies take it upon themselves to decide what is or is not acceptable speech. Recently YouTube banned Talk Radio for airing views about the lockdown that went against the received scientific wisdom – a decision that was, fortunately, rapidly reversed ( Censorship should never be embarked upon lightly, and should always be open to impartial legal review.

    In the end, Sam didn’t actually portray Jesus (or indeed the CofE) as saying that free speech was paramount, thereby laying himself open to charges of monstrous humbug and hypocrisy. That would certainly have detracted from his message. But then, his message, as so often on TftD these days, could have been made by any speaker on any programme.


  4. It is a very difficult topic, for two main reasons. The first is the possibility of incitement to violence, the second is the question of misinformation masquerading as fact.

    In the first case, which is true in the Trump case, I think that the action is appropriate. People lost their lives as a direct consequence of Trump’s words. There is no difference between the right-wing terrorists at the Capitol and the Islamic terrorists they claim to despise, especially in the way that the leaders get their work done.

    The second case is more difficult, because of the proper tendency of most people to tend towards freedom of expression. It isn’t a crime to be wrong. On the other hand, this wrongness is currently (maybe commonly) causing people to die unnecessarily. The internet is full of stuff about creationism, vaccine denial, climate change denial, alternative medicine, and of course election security, and none of this is harmless.

    In the past, we were able to differentiate between right and wrong information by its source. The Encyclopaedia Britannica was correct, the Times was mostly correct, the Daily Mail was mostly incorrect, and David Icke was wrong. The problem is that the internet masks the source. There are so many sites out there that it is nigh on impossible to just trust or distrust them without doing some checking.

    In this way, I wonder if the best way forward is to effectively credentialize major sites, with some sort of certification process. We do it with plumbers and builders, why not have a tick mark for sites that have passed the test? Failure to keep your site free of lies would result in removal of the tick.

    Obviously this would be open to abuse, and so it would have to be run independently of politics (British Standards maybe, a kite mark?) And also obviously, it would get to the hardcore. But it might stop the innocent victims of all this lying becoming confused as to what the reality is.


    1. My go to source for information is Wikipedia as it has a policy that says “Readers must be able to check that any of the information within Wikipedia articles is not just made up. This means all material must be attributable to reliable, published sources. Additionally, quotations and any material challenged or likely to be challenged must be supported by inline citations” – see Can this be used by other websites? Probably not as most other news websites are money making entities or state run media only some of which (the BBC for example) can be trusted to be neutral.
      I have been pointing people towards Wikipedia, Snopes and Hoax Slayer for years whenever they foolishly send me conspiracy rubbish or obvious hoaxes.
      What else did you expect the big social media companies to do? They are there to make money for their shareholders. Now Trump has caused insurrection very few companies will want to spend money on advertising if their product is attached to a page with his name on it.
      In the west we have tried to find a way of accepting free speech by putting measures in place to stop hate speech but when money making industries are the arbiters of those rules then you know there will be problems.
      Still, better that option than the Chinese, Soviet or Islamic State style crushing of any other viewpoint other than the ruling dictatorship –


  5. “In this way, I wonder if the best way forward is to effectively credentialize major sites, with some sort of certification process. ”

    That’s an interesting point. Twitter already has a tick process where people already in the public eye verify who they say they are. Shouldn’t be too difficult to extend.

    One of the problems is that social media shapeshift between being just a platform, then defending not banning tweeters like Trump because they say they are / were promoting the ” public interest” by letting them post i.e. they want it both ways.

    Hugo Rifkind has a characteristically interesting article in the Times about this. But the most interesting thing is how he’s unable to offer any real sort of solution.


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