Whither Musk, Twitter and Internet Speech?

No one knows whether Elon Musk’s bid to control Twitter will come to fruition or not, but whatever happens, the ongoing circus is highly instructive.

First, the vampire-like writhing of progressives is simply wonderful to behold.  We live in an age in which hypocrisy is so common that it often passes unnoticed, but not so here.  Leftist after leftist has absurdly decried the prospect of a billionaire – a billionaire! - owning one of our major social media platforms.  They’re not upset that Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post or that Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook or that Jack Dorsey owned Twitter, etc., etc.  The bile they’re spewing has nothing to do with principle, only that this particular billionaire isn’t to their liking.

That’s precisely because they fear Musk might make Twitter a far more open platform than it now is and enable opinions of which they disapprove to see the light of day.  And that is the nub of the matter.  Twitter, in its current incarnation, exists to propagate progressive ideas and suppress others.  It’s part of a larger system of progressive mis- and disinformation to which Andrew Sullivan so memorably laid waste

But when the sources of news keep getting things wrong, and all the errors lie in the exact same direction, and they are reluctant to acknowledge error, we have a problem. If you look back at the last few years, the record of errors, small and large, about major stories, is hard to deny. It’s as if the more Donald Trump accused the MSM of being “fake news” the more assiduously they tried to prove him right.

Which brings me to the Washington Post’s Max Boot who tweeted “[Musk] seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”  Given the context of Twitter’s actual “content moderation,” Boot’s words can only constitute a call for even more draconian crushing of non-woke sentiment. 

But “content moderation” isn’t all Twitter and other platforms do.  They don’t just delete speech, they delete people.  Former President Trump, Tucker Carlson, Dave Rubin and countless others have found themselves suspended from access to the Twitter platform.  If one of them had said “Happy Mothers Day!” no one would have seen it on Twitter, not because the message violated any rule, but because the person saying it was/is persona non grata.

Still, Boot at least makes an arguable point.  We could have a discussion about whether social media companies restrict messaging too much or too little.  But people like journalism professor (!) Jeff Jarvis and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich are so unhinged as to merit our pity.  Jarvis claimed that Musk’s attempt to free up Twitter for a more diverse range of opinions “feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”

Uh, no Jeff; this isn’t Kristallnacht, I promise.

Even worse is Reich’s contribution, in The Guardian, to the latest progressive embarrassment. He called Musk’s idea of greater freedom of expression “the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.”  Right.  Stalin’s problem was that he allowed Soviet citizens to express themselves too freely.  This is the type of stuff that no freshman in high school would dare write in an essay, but that passes muster with The Guardian.  Truly beyond belief. 

The reality of course is that every dictator, or would-be dictator in history has controlled, or tried to control, speech.  (The Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of heresy comes to mind.)  That’s why our founding fathers put free speech in the First Amendment to the Constitution.  They understood that the free exchange of ideas is vital to a functioning democracy.  And it’s why our Supreme Court has consistently ruled that even truly obnoxious speech is protected from censorship.  All that is the very opposite of the doings of Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. 

As journalist and commentator Glenn Greenwald has so accurately written, censorship of all ideas considered insufficiently progressive is now one of the core principles of progressivism. 

During the failed liberal campaign to force Spotify to remove Joe Rogan's podcast — remember that? — I wrote that the real lesson from that tawdry episode was that the central religious belief of American liberals now is censorship. Silencing, deplatforming and otherwise preventing their adversaries from being heard is their paramount goal, their primary weapon.

I completely agree, but go a bit further.  Censorship is more than a choice by the Left, it’s a necessity.  When the core tenets of your belief system utterly fail to withstand even minimal scrutiny, you have to either abandon your beliefs or, if you have the power, simply quash all opposed ideas.  The Left has that power and no intention of critically evaluating its beliefs.

Moreover, the Left’s embrace of censorship is far from new.  What, after all, is cancel culture but the censorship of opposing viewpoints?  For years, that took place mostly on campus, but more recently has spilled over into the business and political realms.  Now, the power and all-but-complete monopoly that a few social media platforms hold over public discourse mean that cancel culture bestrides the landscape scything unwanted people and ideas like the Grim Reaper. 

It's time that we acknowledge the scope and power those companies wield and require them, by statute, to behave as governmental entities are required to by the First Amendment.  As long as they have the ability to act in concert with each other to destroy other platforms (remember Parler?) and censor any speech they choose for any or no reason, those private companies must be treated as the grave threat to democracy and civil society that they so plainly are.

 

 

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