little green footballs

Some Thoughts on Twitter, Censorship, Free Speech and Social Responsibility

Sun, Dec 11, 2016 at 2:44:21 pm

This was originally posted to Twitter as a "tweetstorm," but I thought I should also make it an article at LGF so the whole thing is easily accessible in one spot.

First, let's get something clear: the First Amendment of the US Constitution has absolutely nothing to do with Twitter.

The 1st Amendment says the government cannot restrict free expression, and Twitter is not the government. Twitter has an absolute right to suspend anyone's account for any reason, and when you register an account with them you explicitly agree to grant them this right.

Second, the word "censorship" does not apply to Twitter. Censorship means taking away someone's ability to speak or express themselves, and if Twitter suspends an account that person is still absolutely free to go to Facebook or Gab or start a blog or write a letter to a newspaper, and express themselves that way.

It's simply not possible for Twitter to "censor" you, because they cannot stop you from expressing yourself elsewhere.

This brings us to the issue of whether Twitter should try to shut down the use of their service by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. I believe they have not only a right, but a social responsibility to not give these dangerous views a gigantic megaphone.

The idea that letting white supremacists have free rein of Twitter will result in getting them shut down by force of social pressure is refuted by the empirical fact that it simply has not worked. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now dismayingly numerous on Twitter, and this was reportedly one of the factors that led companies like Disney to back out of a potential deal to buy Twitter.

When Twitter takes no action to stop them, it's not only harming its own reputation and brand, it's handing the worst people on the Internet enormous power, and allowing them to spread and convert others -- and they are taking full advantage of it. "Debating" the views of neo-Nazis does no good, because they have no interest in honest debate; all you achieve by arguing with them is to make it seem as if there's something to argue about, and they'll just laugh at you for being so easily manipulated.

Doing nothing to stop racists and neo-Nazis has another, even more insidious effect: it drives away decent people, either because they're harassed and tormented by these cavemen, or because they simply choose not to take part in a social network that allows this kind of abuse.

But in the real world, we have a terrible example of what can happen when websites and networks like Twitter abandon the concept of social responsibility.

We know from his trial that Dylann Roof was inspired to commit mass murder by his exposure to the views of white supremacists on the Internet. It's horribly dangerous to pretend this virulent ideology of hatred is just another viewpoint, as valid as any other.