Gasoline on the fire: YouTube to remove election-fraud arguments about 2020

Disaster. Yes, yes, I understand what YouTube wants to accomplish with this new editorial policy. What I find impossible to grasp is how YouTube and its Alphabet/Google parent fail to comprehend the scope and size of the backfire this will create:

Yesterday was the safe harbor deadline for the U.S. Presidential election and enough states have certified their election results to determine a President-elect. Given that, we will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, in line with our approach towards historical U.S. Presidential elections. For example, we will remove videos claiming that a Presidential candidate won the election due to widespread software glitches or counting errors. We will begin enforcing this policy today, and will ramp up in the weeks to come. As always, news coverage and commentary on these issues can remain on our site if there’s sufficient education, documentary, scientific or artistic context.

Some are already complaining about a double standard, which is not tough to believe, but isn’t even really the big problem here. If you want to look for it on YouTube, though, it’s not tough to find. Just do a search on “Stacey Abrams stolen election” and you’ll get explanations from Abrams herself on how “democracy failed” in 2018, another in October of that year from a YouTuber with over 263,000 subscribers about how Brian Kemp was trying to steal that election, Cory Booker making the same accusation, and so on. Not to mention all of the “Russia collusion” videos still making the rounds:

You can’t explain all of those away as performance art, you know. Although perhaps if someone argued Donald Trump’s case through interpretive dance, maybe that would pass muster … ? “Artistic context” sounds like a wide gate in the speech wall being erected, but it’s likely just code for “mainstream media content.” Don’t get your hopes up, dance squads!

As legit an argument that double-standards application is, though, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the tech giant wants to rebut conspiracy theories by, er, suppressing all arguments that don’t agree with their own bias. That’s like trying to put out a grease fire with water. Or, perhaps more accurately, putting out a grease fire with gasoline. Nothing promotes conspiracy thinking more than pre-emptive speech regulation. The response will be, What are they afraid of?  And then the response will be to just go elsewhere to post the content.

Furthermore, this kind of top-down speech filter only heightens the concern that Big Tech is becoming a threat to free speech. Even if one doesn’t buy the conspiracy theory du jour that the platform quasi-monopolies quash today, it’s not exactly difficult to see the slippery slopes ahead. What if they decide tomorrow that traditional religious belief should be suppressed? Or, perhaps a bit less speculatively, that any arguments for traditional marriage and family structures can no longer be posted? Or perhaps any pro-life arguments, or pro-Second Amendment viewpoints, and so on.

It’s hardly a moment for pushing their quasi-monopoly powers as it is. Today, attorneys general from 40 states and the Department of Justice filed an anti-trust suit against Facebook over its alleged market practices. Those will undoubtedly argue that the monopolistic behavior damages consumers’ rights. Alphabet/Google/YouTube is likely next, and these kind of speech restrictions will certainly drive some of that impulse to force a breakup of that conglomerate, too. The more they transform from platform to publisher by action, the bigger the political mandate will be to break them up.

The best remedy for bad speech is more speech, not speech codes, deplatforming, and quasi-censorship. Efforts by tech giants to silence dissent — even wild, uninformed, and erroneous dissent — will only feed the conspiracy thinking in society rather than reduce or eliminate it. If the tech giants want to keep interfering in free speech, they should not be surprised when government comes to interfere with their business operations. At the very least, it might awaken conservatives to the necessity of using anti-trust legislation to keep economic power from consolidating too much, as it quickly transforms into political power — and there’s no telling how it will get used.