Earlier this week I wrote a piece for the New York Times where I proposed a centuries-old framework for resolving our endless series of online free speech controversies. Social media companies — dedicated as they are to creating a marketplace of ideas — would do well to voluntarily adopt First Amendment speech doctrines to regulate their platforms. By that standard Alex Jones can be purged not because his speech is “hateful” or “dehumanizing” (terms that are almost infinitely malleable and subject to ideological manipulation) because it’s libelous. He maliciously makes false assertions of fact and injures innocent victims along the way. Just ask the Sandy Hook families how much damage Jones has done.
The great virtue of modern First Amendment jurisprudence is its near-absolute commitment to viewpoint neutrality. Courts don’t recognize exceptions for “hate speech” or “dehumanizing language” in part because they’re inherently vague and in part because — in practice — they’re always tied to disfavored viewpoints. As Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube demonstrate with depressing regularity, even progressive ideological monocultures have trouble applying their hate speech or “hateful conduct” policies consistently or coherently.
In other words, they have no better luck than their counterparts on campus, where the free speech wars have raged for a generation, with no end in sight.