By Don Watkins and Yaron Brook
Twitter’s ban on Donald Trump has been met with charges of “censorship.” But the real threat to free speech isn’t Twitter: it’s the people calling for government control of Twitter.
Censorship means the forcible prohibition of speech — something only government can do. Freedom of speech guarantees that no one will silence you. It doesn’t guarantee you a platform any more than free trade guarantees you customers. Finding a platform and an audience for your speech is a demanding challenge, which social media companies have made infinitely easier.
But now, instead of showing gratitude to Twitter for giving them a platform (for free!), many users — including political leaders — are using Twitter to call for Twitter’s destruction.
One line of attack comes from people like Lindsey Graham, who want to strip social media companies of Section 230 protection. But it’s not Section 230 that gives Twitter the right to decide what content it hosts — it’s the First Amendment. Instead, Section 230 protects the ability of websites to police content on their sites without being legally liable for all content. This law was vital to the growth of the Internet, where it is impossible for a platform to review all user content. Abolishing 230 wouldn’t promote the free exchange of ideas on the web — it would end social media.
Other opponents of Twitter prefer a more direct approach to destruction: outright nationalization.
The fact that Twitter’s critics are calling for Twitter’s destruction on Twitter is a grotesque act of injustice. If you believe that Twitter is, as commentator Dave Rubin tweeted, “evil” and should be subject to government control, then you have a moral obligation to cancel your account and take your speech elsewhere. Using Twitter to destroy Twitter is no different from the hypocrites who organize anti-capitalist protests on their iPhones (something Rubin has no doubt mocked).
Twitter must stop tolerating this injustice. It should have the self-esteem to insist that a precondition for using its service is respecting its freedom. Twitter should ban everyone who advocates using government coercion to control its platform.
Would such a move hand ammunition to its critics? On the contrary, it is the weakness with which tech companies have defended themselves thus far that has emboldened authoritarians like Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren. The thugs in suits out to destroy Silicon Valley can’t be placated; they have to be opposed in the only manner they can be opposed: on moral grounds. It’s moral intransigence that Twitter’s enemies fear — the moral intransigence of companies who insist that they have a right to exist and run their platforms as they see fit.
Sadly, Twitter and other social media companies have undermined their ability to take a moral stand with their inconsistency. They ban Trump — but not Chinese or Iranian tyrants. They quickly remove calls for violence by right-wing provocateurs, but all too often tolerate similar calls from the left. They want the benefits of freedom and capitalism, while funding anti-capitalist zealots like Ibram X. Kendi.
That inconsistency is shameful and self-destructive. To take a moral stand requires practicing what you preach. If social media positions itself as politically neutral, then it should live up to that promise.
No amount of inconsistency, however, justifies political control of social media. We don’t lose our political rights by exercising them irrationally. Nor does the incredible success of social media at providing a platform for billions make it a “public utility.” Such a policy would mean giving government a monopoly over Internet speech. Do conservatives really want Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and AOC in charge of Twitter?
No issue is more important than free speech. It is the right that protects all of our other rights. Today, woke mobs want to silence politically incorrect speech and their opponents want to force social media to promote their own speech. Neither side values the free human mind.
Companies like Twitter have the opportunity to turn the tide on these would-be censors. All they need are the right ideas, and the courage to defend them.