Business Insider reports that a Twitter executive named Sinead McSweeney spoke to British politicians Tuesday and made clear that the company no longer believes the answer to bad speech is more speech. Instead, McSweeney says Twitter is now on a “journey” to ban hate.
I look back over last 5 1/2 years, and the answers I would have given to some of these questions five years ago were very different. Twitter was in a place where it believed the most effective antidote to bad speech was good speech. It was very much a John Stuart Mill-style philosophy. We’ve realized the world we live in has changed. We’ve had to go on a journey with it, and we’ve realized it’s no longer possible to stand up for all speech in the hopes society will become a better place because racism will be challenged, or homophobia challenged, or extremism will be challenged. And we do have to take steps to limit the visibility of hateful symbols, to ban people from the platform who affiliate with violent groups — that’s the journey we’re on.
According to BI, McSweeney is Twitter’s “vice president for public policy and communications in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” But that apparently doesn’t mean this shift is limited to other parts of the world. Twitter has recently begun removing its blue verification checkmark from certain users and demanding users remove individual tweets which they judge to be against their rules.
Once you decide to determine what speech is acceptable and give your staff the power to ban speech someone else thinks is wrong, you’re liable to get even more pressure from the kind of social justice warriors who thrive on bullying and demonizing others. Over at Forward, Cathy Young has a piece on the left’s social justice bullies who have hounded some of their opponents to attempt suicide:
In 2015, artist Paige Paz, then 20, was hospitalized for an apparent suicide attempt after months of abuse by Tumblr bloggers over her “problematic” art featuring television cartoon characters. (Her crimes included making a fat character thinner and replacing an alien character’s afro-style hair with straight blond hair.) Paz’s detractors not only bashed her work but also continuously policed her online conversations for lapses from politically correct language.
Two years ago, YouTube personality and gaming critic John Bain (aka “TotalBiscuit”) talked emotionally about being bombarded with hate-tweets, including ones wishing for his death, while undergoing cancer treatment. Bain had disparaged the work of feminist videogame critic Anita Sarkeesian and was seen as too sympathetic to GamerGate, the videogame community’s anti-PC revolt that was itself widely blamed for anti-feminist harassment. Recently, after the British website of the videogame blog Kotaku ran an interview with Bain in a series on dealing with online abuse, the website and writer Laura Kate Dale were subjected to harassment and threats.
Is Twitter going to stop this type of left-wing bullying or only focus on the bullies these same activists find offensive? When SJWs begin announcing that Twitter feels unsafe because person A or person B is allowed to speak (the same tactic they use to shut down speakers on college campuses), is Twitter going to go along? My guess is that this “journey” Twitter is on is going to take them further down the slope of banning offensive speech. That’s the direction they’ve been heading and having already abandoned the clear line that all speech should be allowed, there’s really no reason to stop now.