A Comment on Free Speech & Twitter

[This was a comment I made at File 770 on this issue the other day]

I think the Trust and Safety council is very much about free speech. I disagree with others here (to a limited extent) that because Twitter is a private company that free-speech doesn’t come into it. The broader notion applies even if the specific aspect of the US Bill of Rights does not – i.e. if you are making a platform for people to discuss ideas and communicate with each other then people should feel free to speak openly. Twitter isn’t obliged to do that but it is something that I think ethically they should TRY to do given the nature of what they were doing (e.g. if they were making cornflakes then not so much).

Doxxing, harassment, threats, bullying, sexualized comments, fat shaming, attempting to persuade people to commit suicide, SWATing and systematic verbal abuse are all actions that LIMIT speech. There is no doubt about that nor any doubt why the alt-right has adopted those behaviors (which can be found in all ideologies to varying degrees) as formal tactics in their culture war. They do these things to SILENCE people, to drive people away from platforms. This isn’t a secret. They are open about their use of these tactics as weapons against what they see as leftwing cultural hegemony. Consequently, yes any moves to PROTECT speech on twitter (i.e. people actually discussing ideas) falls disproportionately on a group that OPPOSES speech on Twitter (i.e. those attempting to make people FEAR that if they speak up they will be targetted for abuse by a particular kind of political troll).

The alt-right didn’t invent online abuse and they didn’t invent trolling. They don’t have a monopoly on either. However they have, of their own free will and as a deliberate ploy, adopted online abuse as a tactic whose purpose is to silence their opponents.

Free speech is a good thing for a reason. It is good because it is what facilitates the exchange of ideas and that needs to include unpopular ideas. Is this what the alt-right are defending? No. They aren’t defending the *exchange* of ideas nor are they trying to facilitate a dialogue. Rather they are trying to shut particular voices down (which voices? In particular *women* – hence the false claims that Anita Sarkessian heads the Trust and Safety council). There are ideas that they do not want expressed and they will use personal attacks designed to cause real world damage to people as a means to that end.

I don’t think the issue of free speech is limited to government but I also don’t think it is some rule-book clause either. The ethical imperative that arises from free speech is that we should seek to maximize the exchange of ideas and enable people to discuss without fear. Consequently I don’t have a problem with limiting how others may try to stop others speaking freely. Can Vox, Milo, Baldwin, et al currently express their ideology? Sure, they are hardly lacking platforms and it isn’t like Vox’s political views (for example) don’t get an airing. Can they seriously not find a way to discuss their views via Twitter without breaking the Twitter terms of service? I very much doubt that and to date none of them have explained how there is intrinsically a conflict.

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29 comments

  1. thephantom182

    “I think the Trust and Safety council is very much about free speech.”

    Nope. It’s about a small group choosing who is allowed to speak and who isn’t. What about this do you not get?

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      • thephantom182

        Twitter said they’re making a Trust and Safety Council, who will be the small group that decides who gets to say what on Twitter. That’s not at issue, that’s what they said they’re doing.

        You’re saying you are skeptical about what Twitter says it’s going to do. Which is idiotic.

        My belief is that we do not get free speech by making people shut up.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        I’m skeptical about the bonkers claims you are making including characterising a body advising Twitter on their existing policies as something sinister.
        My belief is that free speech doesn’t include cruelty to children.

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      • thephantom182

        Very melodramatic, Camestros. I of course am -advocating- cruelty to children by daring to question Twitter’s motives and policies, yes?

        Do you talk to people like this in bars? That must get very energetic at times.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        When you demonizing anti-child abuse groups as ‘leftist agitators’ or ‘partisan dickheads’ what are people supposed to think? Even now, you don’t straight forwardly deny it or clarify your position or distinguish aspects of what Twitter is doing.
        If there is some forms of internet abuse and harassment that you favor and some that you don’t, then it isn’t my job to guess which is which.

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      • thephantom182

        “When you demonizing anti-child abuse groups as ‘leftist agitators’ or ‘partisan dickheads’ what are people supposed to think?”

        Is that what I’m doing?

        Did I not say that while I’m happy to have anti-child abuse groups (like anyone is -for- child abuse) out there protecting children, I am not happy with those people deciding my twitter feed. Because protecting children is a different issue than censoring MY communications. That I would have to explicitly state this, twice, in a conversation about Twitter censorship is ludicrous.

        Plus, and here’s where your soft shoe act really gets annoying, not a few of those groups listed are well-known Democrat partisans.

        You argue dishonestly, Camestros. It is a tactic that doesn’t work as well on the web as it does in person, because here everything is in writing, and there’s no hurry to answer.

        No doubt you are considerably more circumspect in person.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        As you say, on the web it is easy to look back at what people wrote. In neither the leftist agitator or the partisan dickhead remark did you qualify or limit your remarks. You have begun to start making some qualufications after I pointed out some of the composition if the council. Even so you are still trying to prop up your original blanket demonisation of the council. You need to think your position through.

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  2. snowcrash

    “Twitter said they’re making a Trust and Safety Council, who will be the small group that decides who gets to say what on Twitter. ”

    I’m just going to admire this for a while.

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    • thephantom182

      Gee Crashy, what about that sentence is wrong? There’s a council, which will be a small group (unless you think Twitter is going to have 2000 people voting on every policy item), and they’ll be deciding who gets booted off and who doesn’t.

      That’s what they’re doing. You have some information that they’re doing something else, please share.

      Liked by 1 person

      • snowcrash

        There were two parts to that sentence. The first was demonstrably true, thanks to the official announcement at the Twitter site.

        Near as I can tell, the second part is an escapee from Earth-2149.

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      • thephantom182

        So they’re -not- talking about suspending Twitter accounts for “hate speech”? And the council will -not- be the ones giving input regarding the definition of “hate speech”?

        They’re creating a software engine that hides accounts based on the use of keywords. The guy who chooses the keywords determines the twitter feed for everybody.

        I would like to choose my own keywords, thank you. I’m unpleased by the idea that some committee will be doing the choosing for me.

        Apparently this makes me a child abuser. Who knew that could happen?

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      • camestrosfelapton

        Being able to choose your own keywords to filter replies from people you aren’t interested from hearing from is a proposal John Scalzi has made. I think your suggestion is an excellent one Phantom. Debate, even freaky illogical debate, can sometimes help a person think things through.

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      • thephantom182

        Scalzi said that too? Amazing, how even a blind pig finds the odd acorn once in a while.

        This is computers we are talking about. It is entirely possible to write code that allows the user to filter out or filter in anything they want. There is no need for a “council” to be formed that takes centralized control of the database and decides who shall see what, regardless of the user’s wishes.

        Unless you’re really interested in controlling who sees what.

        Then it’s a great idea, and a “council” made up of shining White Knights makes perfect cover for Twitter to do any damn thing they want. “But Camestros, it’s Trust and Safety Council approved! You can’t complain. What are you, some kind of child abuser?”

        That is where we find ourselves today. Twitter is going toward less freedom when there is no need for them to do that, and you are fucking around calling me names, and trying to lawyer a win out of a pretty straight forward conversation. Genius.

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      • camestrosfelapton

        There is no need for them to form a council that uses pointy sticks to poke people in the eye either. Also they shouldn’t form a council that cuts small holes in my socks and puts jelly in my shoes.

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      • thephantom182

        So what are you saying, Camestros, that Scalzi is a child cruelty advocate? Or that the rain in spain stays mainly in the plain? What about the aardvarks?! Won’t someone save the aardvarks?

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      • camestrosfelapton

        No, I’m saying Scalzi would like to make Twitter more free if harrassment by adopting policies like the on you proposed. Perhaps if you stopped and listened you might find more you agreed with.

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  3. Archbishop Laudanum

    Not expecting this to change anyone’s mind or perspective, but a couple of things worth pointing out.

    40 is not a small council. It is very likely that you are overestimating the degree of intervention that such a large group will undertake. They are not going to be sitting in some secret lair cackling away, banning conservatives. One only has to look at the long list of conservatives (and certain groups of quite ugly opinions) who have a Twitter presence.

    There is an old joke about ways to neutralize leftist agitator dickhead partisans, and that is to have them form a committee. They’ll spend all their time debating each other and nothing ever gets done. 🙂

    Also, I see that you are concerned, Phantom, about the Democratic Party and the leftist partisanship you see here. You’ll be relieved to know that there is nothing remotely leftist about the Democratic Party today. The whole political culture has moved so far to the right that the Democrats today are significantly right of Reagan (who supported gun control) and Nixon (who favoured a single payer health care system). The shift started in the 1980s with Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney and has continued unabated — and functionally unopposed — since then.

    Cases in point. The entire political culture and our world view is now so completely dominated by the market ethos that we have young people being told to turn themselves into “personal brands”. Commercial and market language dominate (competition, markets, assessment, efficiencies, austerity etc). The idea that the private sector does all things better and cheaply is taken as an unquestioned truth — despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. There is literally no sense of “the public good” anymore. Citizens have been reduced to “taxpayers.” War reporters are “embedded” and only show what the government wants to be shown. The stock market is considered a news item and regularly reported on; there is no corresponding attention given to labour or labour issues nor are their representatives given a voice on the media you claim is so liberal. Education and prison systems are now run by corporations. Flint MI is poisoned and everyone just shrugs. Politicians now openly acknowledge — even revel — in the use of torture (that would not have been possible to say openly and proudly in the 1980s).

    I’m not sure that your assessment of the state of our culture — and conservatives’ place in it — is accurate, which makes it hard for me to understand your intense sense of persecution here.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mark

    Is the conservabanpocalypse actually a real thing with real people? I know there’s Milo Y losing his fancy blue tick, and Robert Stacy McCain suffering the banhammer, but….who else? Baldwin just reverse-flounced, and the next best “victim” I saw named in a recent article was Larry Correia himself, who Baldwinned himself.
    There’s also the “shadowban” claims, but I’ve yet to see anyone credible demonstrating that, and as any tech site worth their salt would love to break the news on how and where twitter are doing that, the fact that no-one reliable has demonstrated it rather weighs against it in my book.

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    • thephantom182

      Well Mark, how long do you want to wait? The company is planning a system wide keyword filter, to shut down things they want shut down. Of this there is no doubt. Hinky shit is showing up, simultaneously.

      Does the New York Times speak favorably about Conservatives when they don’t have to? As a rule, no. Will Twitter be different? Probably not, it’s the same people pulling the levers when all is said and done. (No, not the same -exact- people, don’t be a nitpick.)

      When you find out you are on their list of stuff they don’t like, that’s going to be a bit late for complaints isn’t it? Better to raise as much hell as possible ahead of time, and hopefully put the fear of God into them.

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      • Mark

        “Of this there is no doubt.”

        If your criteria for “no doubt” is “two unrelated datapoints and a bunch of suppositions” then I have this idea about investing in penny stocks I’d like to share with you…

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      • thephantom182

        There is no doubt because that is what they said they’re doing, Mark and Crashy. When a company says “here’s what we are going to do,” I generally take them at their word.

        This is what makes it so ARRRRGH trying to talk to you children. System wide keyword filter to eliminate “hate speech.” That’s the plan. If that’s NOT the plan, pray enlighten me.

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      • Mark

        Phantom, your retort was notably lacking in anything like a quote, a cite, an analysis. Us children call that an *assertion* and tend to question it. Sorry if that gets in the way of You Always Being Right Just Because You Say So.

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  5. snowcrash

    “The company is planning a system wide keyword filter, to shut down things they want shut down. Of this there is no doubt. ”

    Coincidentally, of this there is also no evidence.

    I know you like your paranoia-cum-entitlement complex, but perhaps some reality-based statements may be useful?

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    • thephantom182

      I grow most weary of this evidence bullshit Crashy, Mark and company.

      Go read their fucking press release, like I did, which I also quoted from elsewhere on this very blog, and tell me what YOU think they’re planning.

      Because it looks to me like a global keyword filter, centrally controlled and centrally administered. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m entirely done with linking shit for you lazy weasels.

      Prove me wrong, mother hubbard.

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