Soho Forum

Live Debate in LA on 11/1: Ken White of Popehat, Thaddeus Russell of Renegade U

"Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube should only remove speakers and participants who are making true threats or inciting violence."

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Reason

Calling all SoCal fans of Reason Magazine and The Soho Forum!

On Thursday, November 1, Thaddeus Russell and Ken White will debate the proposition "Like universities, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube should only remove speakers and participants who are making true threats or inciting violence."

Russell will defend the prop, White will attack it, I will moderate, and it will be a thing of beauty. This is our inaugural West Coast Soho Forum, named for the monthly debate series in New York that Reason sponsors (go here for more about The Soho Forum, including its next debate).

Reason

The event takes place at Reason's LA HQ, is free, and will include food and drink.

Thursday, November 1
Doors open at 6:00 p.m., Debate begins at 6:45 p.m.
Reason's LA HQ, 5737 Mesmer Ave. 90230
Map: http://bit.ly/2n4AMFa
Parking: Complimentary valet
Food and drinks will be provided.
RSVP by to Mary Toledo at 310-391-2245 or mary.toledo@reason.org

NEXT: Chicago Seized a Disabled Woman's Van. Now It's Scrap Metal.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Has White mentioned that he went to Harvard and is a First Amendment Lawyer? He is very shy and modest about that. You might not know unless he has said more than three sentences to you.

    1. I must say, John: your cattiness towards Ken White is great fun.

      1. You know how you can tell someone hasn’t gone to Harvard?

        They haven’t told you yet.

  2. This is a bad resolution because it doesn’t lend itself to a single yes or no answer. The answer is “it depends”. If the social media platform makes no secret about its prejudices, then there is no issue. If I start my own Twiter and tell you in the terms of service that I can ban you because I don’t like your face, and then proceed to ban Dopehat after he gets an account, there is nothing wrong with that. If, however, I start a platform that claims to be welcoming to all views and ban dopehat, that is fraud.

    So, the question “should social media platforms..” is not a sensible question such that sensible answers can be given. Whether social media platforms should or should not depends on the promises they make to their users.

    1. For a debate, this is a fine resolution. In HS, my Lincoln-Douglas topic was “Should the US abolish capital punnishment?” You could easily say “It depends”, but that is not the point of a debate. The whole point of the debate is to make arguments on what people ought to do- not debate whether something is against the law, or a violation of contract.

      And yes, this does make it a more complex argument, because not only do you need to say whether Twitter is violating the “standard” but you have to agree on the “standard” in the first place. Is it “a good thing” for us to have a bunch of ideologically segregated communications platforms? Is it better to have a common forum where everyone is always shouting at one another?

      But despite being more complex, it is an important debate to have. And, natch, I just discovered that the Reason LA HQ is a short walk from my office. Awesome.

      1. “Free admission and food and drinks”

        Resolved: Reason should abandon the hopelessly corrupted DeeCee operation and return to its SoCal roots. KM-W should drive a hot rod and learn how to surf.

  3. I agree that private companies have the right to set their terms of service.

    I’m still interested as to what counts as making a ‘true threat’. IANAL, but this seems to turn on the intention of the speaker. What is the rule to apply here?

    1. I don’t see how anyone can claim they don’t. If they can’t, then I am not free to set up my “As long as I like your face come and gab” platform. And I can’t see any reson to object to that. It only becomes objectionable, if I market my platform as being open to all points of view but then operate it in a manner inconsistent with that.

      1. Yes, I agree that it is not up for agreement or disagreement. I mean, I agree with you that this is not a debatable proposition under US law.

        1. It is not debatable at all. Since it is perfectly acceptable to set up a platform under any rules, as long as you are honest with the users, then there is no answer to the question of “should you do so in one way or another”.

          1. By what standard is it perfectly acceptable? By law? Sure. But the point of this debate is not to decide the law, but to persuade people that it is either a good thing for social media platforms to be content neutral, or that it isn’t.

            Now you make an argument against it being a good idea- that it is very hard to enforce content neutrality as soon as you have one restriction (like violence). And it is a good argument, but there are contradicting arguments as well.

            The point of a debate isn’t to determine the truth of something, but to put arguments out on one side or another of some statement that pretty much doesn’t or can’t have a “True” answer. “Dogs are better pets than cats”, “We should return to the gold standard”, “The NAP is the best foundation for a system of government.”

  4. By the way, Reason has already answered this proposition in the negative: ‘We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time.’

    1. That points to the larger problem that this isn’t a sensible debate question. Of course they can set their own terms of service. Should they set those terms of service to allow for all speech except for direct threats? There is no answer to that, since there is nothing inherently wrong with having a platform that functions either way.

      1. I work at a private university that both 1) has rules against harassment and bias, and 2) purports to uphold academic freedom.

        Problems arise when these principles come into conflict, or appear to do so at least.

        This would have been a more interesting debate: how should social media companies arbitrate conflicts between the rules they establish for users?

        1. Yes. That would be a topic that makes sense to debate.

    2. Reason has taken both positions in this debate depending on the principal. You can’t say there’s nothing wrong with removing people from social media regardless of however the rules are applied and then get upset when the NFL forces players to stand. Both actions are within the right of both companies.

      Their position on the NFL is actually the correct one, even if it contradicts their other position. Just because these companies have the right to behave as they do, doesn’t mean they are right to do so, nor does it mean that they shouldn’t be criticized for doing so. This debate seems to center more on the principle involved.

      Popehat and Reason’s contradictory positions never made much sense other than which speech you’re biased toward defending because you support the message. Russell is definitely going to win the debate, because at least there’s consistency in his argument and some overarching principle.

      1. You can both support the rights of a social media provider to kick users off and also protest against it as being a bad idea.

      2. It’s still iffy though as there is principle and equal application of principle, which is where much of the criticism of social media companies come from.

        And there is the argument that you can extend the logic to complete ostracization of a group/individual, denying them access to banking service, utilities, etc. due to political position. The arguments start getting murky after that.

  5. Please don’t let this article be the last post of the day.

    1. ^ Most likely committed suicide.

      1. Autoerotic asphyxiation is sometimes accidental

      2. Crusty! Nice to see you are still kicking it. Hope you are banging a hot teacher these days.

        1. Well, he’s banging, at least…don’t know about the rest of the sentence.

  6. If they want to retain their Section 230 protections yes if not then they can censor to their hearts content.

    1. Which is why Zuckerberg et al are going to be doing the federal felon shuffle some time after the election.

  7. Ought to be interesting. I wonder how Russell will try to defend the idea that a private company’s policies are any of his business. Or maybe “should” doesn’t mean coercion, only what he would vote for as a shareholder. I’ve read his Renegade History, it was interesting, and didn’t set off any alarm bells about being a wacked out collectivist.

    1. You have every right to criticize a company’s policies. In no way does it mean that the government should intervene.

      No way is Russell arguing anything other than the principle, I’m sure

    1. This is an interesting twist to this debate.

      What if the moderators of http: simply decide to ban twitter or facebook from accessing the internet?

      Pretty much the same way the US Gov can take over websites as ‘seized’, like when silk road was seized.

  8. Someone please ask about Holocaust denial. The Holocaust museums are pushing Facebook hard to ban it. Also please keep this in mind: when a social media site like Facebook or Twitter censors a post, they will also impose a suspension of an account. After a couple of these, the ban is permanent lifetime. (In the case of FB it is something like 1 day, 3 day, week, month, permanent.) Therefore, it’s not as simple as whether they should censor. (I cannot attend because that is my anger management night and they report you to the court if you miss a session and my lawyer is too expensive to have him spend time on such matters.)

    1. ^ TreasonNN, ban this man!

      1. A stranger in a white panel van is arrested on national tv and you show up? Coincidence? I think not.

        1. In this time of emotionally charged strife I thought it was my duty to return to the internet to bring hours and hours of laughter to millions of TreasonNN blog commenters.

          1. Some of us thank you.

            Some of us spank you.

            I don;t know which I am.

            1. How about me and you find the answer by going and sharing a hot plate of meatloaf?

              1. And you guys can get some dinner afterwards.

  9. Two questions re: The Bomber
    1) Did the packages contain what could be described as an actual “bomb”?
    2) Am I reading the reports correctly that he was a male stripper?
    The ‘news media’ seems confusing.

    1. The FBI is examining the packages for explosive devices, so the bomb thing is likely bullshit scary stuff in packages.

      It could even be thta some dude sent no threats packaging with perfectly legal scary stuff and will walk.

      It might that they prematurely arrested this guy withput having evidence that any of packagaes contained illegal material.

      This florida guy might have trolled the media and the FBI.

  10. “Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube should only remove speakers and participants who are making true threats or inciting violence.”

    Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are primarily advertising platforms, and, as such, it’s absurd to expect them to ignore the concerns of advertisers.

    Advertisers don’t want their products and brand names associated with racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. views. If Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, or Ford wanted to use racism, misogyny, or homophobia in their advertising, they would. The fact is that they don’t. They don’t want their brand names associated with content like that.

    The advantage of social media companies is that their “users” create content for free. If you want social media that’s free from the concerns of advertisers, you need to develop a social media model that somehow compensates the platform owner without advertising–and can compete with other social media platforms that use advertising.

    There are such models out there right now, one of them using a blockchain reward system for posting and curating content. Subscription models might work, like HBO vs. advertising-supported broadcast television. They have not achieved the scale of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and maybe they never will. Still, we cannot have social media supported by advertising and not have social media that ignores the concerns of advertisers.

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