Twitter troubles and tribulations. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey pushed back Tuesday against those condemning the site for not jumping on the ban-Infowars bandwagon. Facebook, Apple, and YouTube have all exiled Infowars, run by the infamous cross-aisle conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, from their respective platforms.
"We didn't suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday," Dorsey tweeted. "We know that's hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn't violated our rules. We'll enforce if he does." For now, said Dorsey, "We're going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories."
"If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that's constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction," he continued. "That's not us."
While Jones may be known for sensationalism and "unsubstantiated rumors," tweeted Dorsey, it's the job of journalists to "document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best."
Incredibly reasonable, right? Of course, nearly everyone was upset.
Some suggested it was ridiculous to demand journalists do the work of separating truth from fact when we could leave it up to tech companies, social-media mobs, regulators, or the random employees tasked with judging reported tweets and posts.
Conservatives complained that even if they didn't want Jones banned, the internet still isn't fair because Twitter had suspended or banned right-leaning voices in the past for what folks suspect are political reasons. Liberals complained because they did want Jones banned, and thought it wrong that he got to stay while left-leaning accounts had previously been suspended or banned over less.
The truth, of course, is that many people—left, right, libertarian, apolitical, and adhering to many other ideologies—have had their Twitter accounts suspended or revoked unfairly. This is what happens when people on all sides weaponize offense (or faux-offense) to get those they don't like banned, and when we're asking for judgement calls on millions of mini-missives based on vague and subjective criteria.
Yes, there have been many, many instances of accounts getting suspended for sarcasm, for jokes, for hyperbole, for having "a four-hundred-year-old, painted tit" in a profile pic, etc. No, Twitter has not always gotten it right in the past and will surely make some bad calls again.
Just yesterday, the absurdist account Sweet Meteor of Death was temporarily suspended for sharing what was clearly a joke about killing "everything that's alive Except for deep-sea sulfur-oxidizing bacteria."
But the solution so many are suggesting—more intense scrutiny of everyone's tweets and a stricter suspension and banning policy—is silly, counterproductive, and sure to make no one actually happy. We all, including Twitter monitors, have wildly varying sensibilities and abilities to comprehend humor and sarcasm. Stricter monitoring and enforcement isn't going to lead to a perfect digital sphere where no one gets unfairly suspended, and certainly not the to world partisans on both sides seem to imagine, where only the types of rhetoric the other side uses will be found guilty. Rather, any sort of enhanced enforcement will end with all sides up in arms and further limited in speech.
So does that mean nothing can be done about "fake news" and "hate speech" on the internet? Of course not. As Dorsey mentioned, journalists and other watchdogs can take a more active role. More importantly, we already have civil and criminal ways to deal with spreading serious lies, defamation, or threats. In The New York Times today, David French suggests that social platforms stop dealing in vague terms like "hate" and "harassing" and instead work to prohibit things with actual legal meanings, like libel and slander.
"Private corporations can ban whoever they like," writes French. "But if companies like Facebook are eager to navigate speech controversies in good faith, they would do well to learn from the centuries of legal developments in American law. When creating a true marketplace of ideas, why not let the First Amendment be your guide?"
Several Antiwar.com writers also had their accounts suspended or banned yesterday. Antiwar.com said they were reported by author Jonathan Katz after criticizing him, though Katz disputed this. Antiwar.com editor Scott Horton and Ron Paul Institute chief Daniel. L. McAdams were temporarily suspended, while author Peter Van Buren had his Twitter account permanently banned.
"This followed exchanges with several mainstream journalists over their support for America's wars and unwillingness to challenge the lies of government," wrote Van Buren on Antiwar.com. "After two days of silence, Twitter sent me an auto-response saying what I wrote 'harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else's voice.' I don't think I did any of that, and I wish you didn't have to accept my word on it….But Twitter won't allow that. Twitter says you cannot read and make up your own mind. They have in fact eliminated all the things I have ever written there over seven years."
Debate over "white people" tweets continues. At Slate, Yascha Mounk suggests that his fellow liberals are right that The New York Times should stand by new hire Sarah Jeong after old tweets of her disparaging white people and "old white men" resurfaced. But they don't need to defend her speech, writes Mounk:
[T]he content of her tweets is, from a liberal perspective, much worse than her defenders want to admit and…detrimental to the prospect of building a just society….Many of Jeong's worst tweets were supposed to be funny, but what was supposed to make them funny was the fantasy of inflicting indiscriminate cruelty on a whole group of people—something to which, as liberals and leftists, we have good reason to object.
That's the moral case, he writes. Another is strategic: "A lot of very loathsome figures are deeply convinced that publicizing uses of the defensive inversion of bigotry will serve their cause," and "they aren't wrong." And while "there is dignity in refusing to let what one says, writes, or tweets be shaped by its likely consequences," there is "a third reason to steer clear of the defensive inversion of bigotry: neither moral nor strategic, this final reason might perhaps best be called aspirational….If the left imitates the inflammatory rhetoric of the right, the best possible future is one in which today's minority groups take over the reins of power but our social divisions grow even more poisonous."
Read the whole thing here.
Bad news on compulsory union dues.
Missouri's right-to-work law is going down in flames pic.twitter.com/DigLQagRCG
— Will Rahn (@willrahn) August 8, 2018
- Former would-be Libertarian Party presidential nominee Austin Peterson lost his bid to become the Republican challenger for Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's seat.
- Michigan cops made an 80-year-old woman spend a night in jail over an expired medical marijuana card.
- The Missouri prosecutor who handled the investigation into Ferguson teen Michael Brown's death has lost his bid for reelection.
— Kate (@KateDAdamo) August 7, 2018
- Actress Alyssa Milano is on to the Russian plot to see the Green Party rise in Ohio, or something.
- The Summer of Snitches continues…
the governor of texas is tweeting out fake winston churchill quotes about antifa pic.twitter.com/rtZ4ymAqo2
— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) August 7, 2018
- A Virginia newspaper and one of its former reporters are going to court over who owns the rights to a Twitter account.
- "A federal judge in California has ruled that a confidential messaging app must release the identity of a user who is accused of helping plan violence at a white nationalist rally last year in Charlottesville," NPR reports.
My appeal has now been fully rejected. I made a video discussing what I am able to make public.
It's not quite over yet, but I explain more about that in the video.https://t.co/vdz0IAtm8V
— Count Dankula
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