Wednesday, January 06, 2021

  • Wednesday, January 06, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon

As a publisher who has had my own materials removed from social media, I am very sensitive to freedom of speech issues.

And I'm sensitive from both sides of the issue, since I am certainly against antisemitic and other hate speech.

The topic is fraught with emotion, as it should be. We should get emotional both about defending our freedoms and also against those who abuse their speech to harm others.

As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy.

This means that the account of @realDonaldTrump will be locked for 12 hours following the removal of these Tweets. If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked. 

Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account. 

Our public interest policy — which has guided our enforcement action in this area for years — ends where we believe the risk of harm is higher and/or more severe.
Was this the correct thing to do?

This explanation is a little misleading. Twitter's Civic Integrity Policy is mostly concerned with manipulating elections or other civic processes, and while I suppose one can say that the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday was a version of manipulating a civic process. But if anything encouraged that mob, it sure wasn't Twitter - it was the President himself speaking directly to them and telling them to march to the Capitol, which was also covered by national cable TV news networks live.

So what benefit to society was there for Twitter to take away those tweets when his message was freely available elsewhere?

I want to be clear - I'm not discussing the law here. Twitter has every right to censor whomever it wants, as long as it sets up its rules ahead of time and enforces the rules consistently (which often does not appear to be the case.) I have no problem with Zoom censoring terrorist Leila Khaled from speaking on its platform when she is in the US but allowing her to speak when she is in the UK, because Zoom is only following its own policies that are different in each country. 

In general, my opinion is that freedom of speech should be close to absolute unless it is inciting to violence. Unfortunately, that kicks the can down the road - what is considered incitement? Is saying that Jews control the world incitement to attack Jews? What about claiming that Jews abuse infants when they circumcise them?  Do racist comments make it more likely for people to attack people of color? 

Or do we draw the line at direct specific threats? That sounds like a reasonable policy, but we've already seen how white supremacists and neo-Nazis have adapted to that - by treating everything they say as a joke, jokes that are taken seriously by their audience who understand the game they are playing.

There are two conflicting principles, between freedom of speech and prohibiting incitement, and going too far in either direction can result in either criminalizing independent thought or creating an environment where people can get murdered. There is a third complicating principle as well - that providers of communications platforms treat all speech with a consistent policy, not favoring one political stance over another. 

These are difficult questions. 

In the specific case here, Twitter is clearly trying to tamp down violence, which is of course a good thing. I think that this can easily backfire, though. 

The people who were marching in Washington feel that they are not being heard, that they are marginalized by the mainstream, that their issues with the election are not being taken seriously. They are being censored by YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and they are frustrated - convinced that this is a huge conspiracy against their viewpoints. This drives them underground to other sites that still have plenty of viewers but no alternative points of view. 

And that fuels extremism. 

I didn't see the mainstream media give much of a warning that this demonstration could be as big or unruly as it was. There are demonstrations in Washington every day. But most of the media ignores the underground sites, where people have been planning this demonstration for at least a month. Obviously, tens of thousands came to Washington from all over and just as obviously, the Capitol police and DC police were not close to prepared. 

If the protesters had been allowed to speak freely about their issues with the election on mainstream social media, perhaps they would not be as paranoid. Perhaps they could have been exposed to other points of view as people would argue with them in the open. Perhaps the mainstream media and the police could have been following the situation more closely and defended the Capitol better (and that is a scandal in itself - if there had been a proper defense, there would have been no riots.) 

This is only one example of how a more liberal approach to free speech could actually make violence less likely. 

As I said, I get it. I am frustrated by prominent people using social media not only to mislead but to outright lie, and I fight it every day. Skilled people use social media for propaganda that can have very bad real world effects. I am very sensitive to the possibility of violence resulting from irresponsible conspiracy theories. 

But I still believe that shining a light on the crazy, the paranoid and the hate is a far better approach than to force it underground, where it can become much, much worse - as we saw today.

We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 14 years and 30,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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