Freedom of Speech.
The favored ideological cash cow of the past few years. For a topic that generates so much noise, very little is of actual substance. Though I suppose that could be said for many dialogues in the digital realm.
It is also one of the very few cases in which the generally accepted practice (even in terms of respected intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky) is to place yourself at an extreme. All must be accepted.
First off, a little clarification. My tone suggests a bias that may not exactly be accurate. I am not against free speech. I am just fed up with the conversation as it has existed for quite a while now (in the context of free speech online, anyway). Endless yammering on and on, yet little actual constructive solutions aside from crafted points outlining how things should be. What platforms should be doing.
I am not a free speech purist. I am not a free speech anything really. I generally do very little censorship of anything that I am in control of (Twitter, blog, facebook etc), so I basically embrace pure free speech without the virtue signaling flair.
However, I question a few aspects of the free speech purist’s arguments. Let us explore.
One is the “Sunlight cures bad ideas” argument.
Aside from the speech aspect, the assumption is made that everyone is equally able to evaluate all information that is being presented to them, including that which is involving the complicated. Considering how often I see Dave Rubin and Sam Harris types being called out here and elsewhere, yet STILL they grow in popularity, I call BS on this assessment.
Going back to the speech aspect, I am unsure if reactionary actions provoked by incendiary speakers should be as readily dismissed as many people seem to think. In all honesty, I am unsure if most (be they purists or otherwise) have given this aspect much thought.
Incendiary speech from a pedestal comes to mind here, first and foremost. But also applicable are those dialogues which are not explicitly incendiary, but none the less toxic. Racist, sexist, xenophobic, that sort of thing.
Reactions due to incendiary speech tend to be rare. Like other forms of terrorism and violence, too much emphasis here may distract from other areas.
And so, other areas. It is generally accepted at face value that Racism, Sexism, Xenophobia etc must be tolerated, but rebutted when applicable. Anything else is, slippery slope fallacy!
I do not entirely write off the premise. We are dealing with people after all. However, I do have to raise an eyebrow.
Call me an authoritarian progressive, but I see little wrong with drawing a line in the sand when an idea has been decided to be explicitly wrong, or harmful. We have figured out that bias based rhetoric (be it racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, whatever!) can lead to nowhere good. So why put up with it?
It eats away at the foundations of civil society.
Of course, many people of previous generations (along with many people that listen to copious amounts of Dave Rubin or Sam Harris) may disagree.
However, when it is a case of (more often than not) misrepresented or misunderstood data deliberately targeting a cohort that fears the loss of its everlasting dominance VS reality, I will stick with reality.
Speaking of reality, wait until oceans start pushing coastal dwellers further and further inland. You ain’t see NOTHING yet!
Anyway, back on track.
While the whack a mole rebuttal as necessary tactic is preferred, I am unsure if it is effective. First, the exposure of the ideas generally leads to more attention. And 2ed, there is again an assumption that the listener will be equally able to weigh and analyze even complex ideas, even if they are being described very convincingly and in a charismatic way.
Noting recent events pretty much the world over, I SERIOUSLY call into question this line of reasoning. However, am I going to explicitly come out against this “Free Marketplace of Ideas”?
I just think that the tactics and the views accepted and employed almost thoughtlessly by many of us are worthy of a second look, of further consideration.
I could be barking up the wrong tree. But there is only one way to find out.
Well, 2 ways, if you take the out of the typical ideologue (“You are WRONG. PERIOD!”). If you are one of these extremely entrenched people, there is not much point reading beyond this.
More on free speech absolutism . . . it would be a bit silly for me to take that stance for a couple reasons.
For one, I live in a country that does not embrace as much free speech as the United States. Jordan Peterson makes a good living off of selling that point to anyone who will listen.
But more importantly, the context in which the free speech absolutism would be most applicable for me is in the online realm. Be it here (whether you are seeing this on WordPress or Reddit), Facebook, Twitter or otherwise. Such self-governing bodies reserve the right to not allow pretty much any speech or expression they choose (such is the accepted reality of using a privately owned and run domain). As such, me calling myself a free speech purist is just silly. Dare I say it again, virtue signaling.
As noted, I criticize people for presenting more noise than solution when it comes to so-called Free Speech online. As such, I will propose mine.
In the free speech dialogue, once you get past the How Things Should Be stage, there is nowhere left to go but to acknowledge reality. There is currently no government-owned and/or regulated platform that can serve as the public square of the internet. End.
Okay. Where to from here?
In order for this to happen in the current status quo, the current platforms will have to embrace this practice. What if they refuse?
Do you force them using the judicial system? Nationalize them?
Remember that there are now billions of dollars on the line. Billions of dollars can buy one HELL of a fight (just ask Bernie Sanders). Not to mention that if one has a conservative/libertarian lean, overlooking such an act of economic aggression should REALLY make you question those values.
However, you don’t NEED to go through all of that trouble. Because the infrastructure to circumvent the status quo is already there. All you need to do is build the platform of your choosing.
Yes, it will cost some money and likely take some effort, but it should be worth it. Not only could it be equitable to a government-sanctioned public space, but even better. Total and complete control of content, but for federal or regional laws. And even THAT can be bypassed, depending on what country you choose to host.
The solution to the online speech situation is possible. And relatively easily attainable. It just needs to be funded and pursued.
Of course, this is dependant on net neutrality remaining in place. If you know little about the topic, look into it. But most importantly, if you still want even the OPTION of having such a platform as the one I described earlier being as readily available as the whole internet is now, make some calls.
That is my solution to the problem. The internet is built for this type of thing, so its surprising that it has not happened yet. I know that Facebook, Google and other big tech firms like buying up the competition in order to continue bucking the Myspace trend, but none the less . . . over a decade and STILL nothing?
Before now, this would have been the end of the road. Evaluation of where the current conversation falls short, outline of how to easily remedy the solution, done. You now have the solution, so if you continue to play the typical cards, I won’t take you seriously. Because you are all bark and no bite!
Though it ended there for me before, a recent Vox video clip shone an interesting light on the topic. Though we typically see Twitter as being not all that different than the rest of them at this point, apparently that is not how it started.
If taken at face value, it was supposed to be a platform that prioritized free speech above all else, but for a few circumstances. And they supposedly tried to keep following that lead. However, years of rampant harassment begun to drive more and more users away. Which presumably forced the platform to act at the risk of losing too much of its regular user base.
That is the story, what they say. I have also heard of cases of Twitter targeting (or at least prioritizing) right-leaning accounts in its sweeps. People say a lot of things, particularly when they feel they have been wronged (or want you to believe they have no culpability). Having said that, however, I don’t doubt that harassment increasingly became a big problem. Its common knowledge that pretty much anyone with a wide online presence has to put up with this.
So, let’s say that someone finally makes my idea of a digital free speech utopia a reality. How would one prevent such a fate from condemning that platform?
Where is the line between free speech utopia and current day Twitter?