For some time, conservatives have claimed that moderating content on social media is an attack on free speech. What they forget, though, is that when you create an environment in which voices are silenced, that environment is hardly conducive to free speech. 

On Tuesday, a woman who ran for Congress in a crimson-red district in Missouri offered a stark reminder of what happens in a world where harassment and trolling run rampant. She revealed that during the campaign, she was the target of threats so frightening that she had to move her young son elsewhere until the end of the campaign. 

Among the seats that fell to the Republicans in the bloodbath of 2010 was Missouri’s 4th district, which stretches from the Kansas City suburbs into mid-Missouri. Long a classic Yellow Dog Democrat district, it swung hard to the GOP at the turn of the millennium. Even as longtime Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton cruised to reelection, no Democratic presidential candidate has managed even 40% of the vote since Bill Clinton carried it twice. Skelton was capsized in 2010 by former state representative and religious right-winger Vicky Hartzler. Since then, no Democrat has managed even 40% of the vote.

That tradition continued in 2020, when attorney and former Skelton aide Lindsey Simmons took a run at Hartzler. Unfortunately, Simmons wasn’t able to gain much traction, raising a grand total of $395,000 for the entire cycle—not even a fourth of Hartzler’s $1.7 million war chest. She ultimately lost to Hartzler by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 67-29—slightly ahead of Trump’s 66-32 win over Biden in this district.

Based on Simmons’ campaign website, she didn’t seem to have the look of the sacrificial lambs you’d expect to run in a district that has now turned an unrecognizable shade of red; at the time, it had a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+20. Moreover, when KSHB in Kansas City, the NBC affiliate for much of the district, offered Hartzler and Simmons a chance to tell voters where they stand on the issues, Simmons took KSHB up on the offer—but Hartzler didn’t.

But while watching the Jan. 6 committee hearings, Simmons took to Twitter to reveal that she’d had to deal with something that put fundraising pretty low on the priority list—keeping her son safe.

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Simmons was probably referring to the testimony of Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman, who were the targets of vicious harassment and racist threats after Trump and Rudy Giuliani accused them of being part of a plot to steal Georgia for Joe Biden. Moss testified that pro-Trump goons barged into her grandmother’s house attempting to make a “citizen’s arrest,” and has gained 60 pounds since the election.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why Elon Musk’s vision of a Twitter where the standard is whether people are “entertained” is morally bankrupt. There is no such thing as free speech in an environment where others’ voices are silenced due to harassment and trolling. 

Simmons’ son, by all accounts, is now back at home safe. She isn’t entirely out of the fight, though.

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As part of that focus, she founded the Mighty Missouri Project, a community organizing effort that aims to unite Missourians, in the words of its Twitter bio, “from the hollers to the highways.” Still, it’s a shame that Simmons’ reward for stepping up to run in such a tough district was to be targeted with Third World-esque thuggery. It cannot be repeated enough—an environment where people’s voices are silenced because of harassment and trolling is not conducive to free speech.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.

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