Green Room

Hey, let’s ban hate speech on Twitter

posted at 12:13 pm on January 2, 2013 by

A New Year’s reminder that terrible ideas never really go away, they just go in and out of vogue. Old authoritarian wine in new digital bottles:

Here, we’re taught from an early age to be absolutist in our defense of free speech. But increasingly, the first amendment of the US constitution is looking a lot like the second amendment: an American exception so broad and so holy that it prevents us even from thinking about how to prevent harm.

The EU, Canada, Australia, and almost every other mature democracy recognize that words can be a weapon. But we don’t regulate weapons of any variety in this country, and our kneejerk response to even the slightest intimation of limits to speech is a Voltaire-style refusal even to consider them. A few years ago, the late Christopher Hitchens melodramatically shouted “Fire!” in none-too-crowded theater, to demonstrate that even those few exceptions Americans admit to freedom of expression can be done away with.

If only this were still the 18th century! We can’t delude ourselves any longer that free speech is the privilege of pure citizens in some perfect Enlightenment salon, where all sides of an argument are heard and the most noble view will naturally rise to the top. Speech now takes place in a digital mixing chamber, in which the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects…

Digital speech is new territory, and it calls for fresh thinking, not the mindless reapplication of centuries-out-of-date principles that equate a smartphone to a Gutenberg press.

And so the race for the worst op-ed of 2013 is off with a bang. Exit question: “We don’t regulate weapons of any variety in this country”? What?

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