Social media giants as arbiters of speech

David Harsanyi of the Federalist questions large social media companies’ role in dictating the rules of appropriate speech.

Of course sites like Facebook, Apple, and YouTube are free to ban conspiracy mongers like Alex Jones from their platforms. They have a right to dictate the contours of permissible speech on their sites, and to enforce those standards either dutifully or hypocritically or ideologically or using any method they see fit. No one seriously disputes this.

Then again, Twitter also has a right, as a private entity, to take a stand, and, as the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey explains it, dispassionately allow free exchanges of ideas—even the ugly ones Infowars offers—as long as users don’t break the company’s rules. Yet, here we are, watching a number of journalists—supposed sentinels of free expression—demanding that billionaire CEOs start policing speech that makes them uncomfortable. …

… To some extent, I can understand how frustrating it is watching a bigoted conspiracy theorist who has destroyed lives be provided a voice on a large media platform. After all, I’ve been trying to ignore Al Sharpton’s cable show for years. Yet if I were running a social media platform, I’d like to think I would allow nearly anyone— minus those who threaten violence or otherwise break the law—speak. It’s not as if users wouldn’t possess a block button. I can’t recall a single time in my decade using social media ever opening an Infowars link. I doubt most of you have either. Even if you did, you wouldn’t melt. They’re just words.

And while the ejection of Jones isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t necessarily portend a mass expulsion of less extreme voices, let’s stop acting like conservatives are foolish for harboring some concerns about the incrementalist goals of would-be liberal censors.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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