The #TwitterPurge of 2017 is over, but the start of 2018 could mean more accounts get suspended. Twitter started the purge about two weeks ago, banning accounts like Britain First and Jared Taylor, while leaving up VDare and Richard Spencer. Twitter also axed the New Black Panther Party and Traditionalist Workers Party. The reaction has been typical: Vox was thrilled, Breitbart was angry, and Rolling Stone believed it didn’t go far enough.
Twitter cites their decision to enact the suspensions as a way to “create a safer environment for everyone.” They’re also promising a robust appeals process, in case a user believes they were unjustly suspended. Whether that’s true or not is anyone’s guess, and no doubt will be tested this new year. There are obviously plenty of questions: what happens if someone retweets some white or black supremacist to say, “This stuff is ridiculous,” or a journalist retweets something believed to be “offensive,” as an example of the dark side of Twitter? There are also questions about what happens when people get into heated arguments on Twitter, which have been known to occur, and whether Twitter is willing to let a tweet slide if both users want “bygones to be bygones.”
The suspensions can put people who believe in absolute free speech into a bit of a bind. The social media giant’s rules are anti-freedom and censorship, but Twitter has every right to enact them because they’re a private company. It falls under the category of freedom of association aka “right of the people peaceably to assemble,” in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Twitter, much like GoDaddy and Google, who decided they’d had enough of a neo-Nazi website and punted them, can tell certain users to take a powder and not come back.
The question is, should they?
There’s something to be said about letting some user spout moronic, dim-witted, useless blather across social media because it allows people to view the craziness, and decide whether to associate with it or not. It can also help people decide if those who follow said crazy should be listened to, or if their specious nonsense should be wholeheartedly rejected. This means allowing backward thinking groups and individuals on Twitter, even if it’d be much better for their ideas to sprint into an active volcano. The media made a big to do about the dark web, where some people with detestable thoughts congregate, and keeping neo-Nazi or communists or what have you on Twitter makes them easier to track. The danger is, of course, their ideas spreading across the globe if they’re able to get more and more people under their control. But that’s the inherent downside of free speech: the fact unsavory opinions will come out into the open, whether we want them or not. It’s frustrating to see the area of ideas taken over by anti-freedom and/or racist speech, but that kind of speech is free speech. It’s up to individuals to decide whether they want to listen to it or not, which is why social media platforms should be discouraged from doing any more purges in 2018. It’s Twitter/Facebook/etc. wont on whether more mass bans and suspensions are in the future, but it’d be smart for them to think twice.
Another entity which should think twice about getting involved in stopping censorship is the U.S. government. There’s an also-ran candidate out there promoting a “Shall Not Censor” bill which would force private entities from banning speech. It seems like a good idea, but really isn’t because it’s violating the First Amendment in an alleged attempt to enforce the First Amendment. I mentioned the “freedom of association” earlier, and that’s why a “Shall Not Censor” law violates the Constitution. It restricts entities and individuals from choosing to not be associated with unseemly individuals or groups. That’s anti-freedom, even if the policies those companies are promoting are also anti-freedom The government should not be used as a tool to clamp down on dissent, and a “Shall Not Censor” bill is basically tamping down on the opposition because it’s not allowing private businesses from doing whatever they want.
Yes, Twitter and Facebook should allow people to espouse whatever political viewpoint they want, as long as it’s not violence against someone else, and, yes, the companies have every right to choose not to. The solution is lobbying social media giants from enacting their own form of censorship, and not by threat of governmental bureaucrats coming in with the power of the purse to end it. The solution could be relocating to another social media outlet, or, better yet, engaging Twitter or Facebook when they release surveys on content or user experience. Users should also be willing to fight Twitter or Facebook’s rules when someone is inappropriately suspended. But there’s no reason to get the government involved in this. That just asks for more trouble and could see a step towards social media being put under regulations and/or declared a utility. And that’s something which no so-called “constitutional conservative” or libertarian should want.