11 May 2019

Speech Or Silence: Which Do You Prefer?

In the wake of Facebook's banning Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Louis Farrakhan, advocacy for censorship is on the rise. Not content with the silencing of the aforementioned individuals, Caroline Orr, writing in Canada's National Observer, crows about having taken another censorship scalp, instigating the summary removal of the Facebook Page for "Summit News", which had committed the unpardonable sin of hosting some of Paul Joseph Watson's content:
The now-removed Facebook page is associated with a website called "Summit News," which is run by Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the controversial website Infowars. Summit News hosts all of Watson's content, much of which is cross-posted verbatim on Infowars.
A bit of full disclosure: In keeping with my standard posting practice there are links to every news and content site mentioned, including sites banned by Facebook. Readers are encouraged to visit all of them and form their own opinion about what they find.

The rationale for banning Paul Joseph Watson as well as the Summit News page is that they are, in the eyes of Facebook, "dangerous individuals and organizations", and thus contrary to official Facebook policy:
In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we do not allow any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence, from having a presence on Facebook.
As I noted in my last posting condemning the Facebook bans, the only person who arguably runs afoul of this Facebook policy was Louis Farrakhan--and even his speeches have never been linked to any acts of violence in the real world. Despite the insistence of many, his speeches have never been found to violate the "Brandenburg test" of when speech crosses into criminal conduct.

Paul Joseph Watson, on the other hand, not only has never called for violence, but has repeatedly condemned violence and condemned the purveyors of violence. If anyone can point to a single piece of content by Paul Joseph Watson (or, for that matter, any of the people banned with the exception of Louis Farrakhan) that calls for violence or promotes hatred I will be among the first to condemn it--but good luck finding any such content.

Sadly, the solution for many is to simply establish alternative social media platforms and "let" dissenting voices post on them:

We should desire a multiple of social media platforms, for competition among the platforms is the best way to prevent any one platform proprietor from gaining the market power of a Mark Zuckerberg or a Jack Dorsey of Twitter.  We should desire a multiple of social media platforms because that is the way to ensure conversations are varied, textured, informative, and inspirational.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of alternate sites (and I make use of several):
However, I have not abandoned Facebook and Twitter. I do not wish to leave those platforms. I should not have to leave those platforms. Rather, I wish to be active on all platforms. I want to engage with the broadest audience, and to encounter the maximum of disagreement with my views. Without disagreement there is no debate, and without debate there is no value in public commentary.

It is not enough that we each have a platform where we may post and comment unmolested. There is little gained from preaching to one's own choir.  Rather, we need to be able to comment to and with those who do not agree with us.  We need to post our disagreements and put forth our advocacy in full view of those who would challenge us; we need to be challenged, and we need to challenge.  That is the essential value of free speech in a free society.

Giving each ideology its own social media platform ensures not spirited debate but stark silence. Confining each ideology to its own corner of cyberspace precludes any and all debate over even the tiniest of issues.  That would be the end of free speech in our society--and might even presage the end of our society.

Simply proposing that conservatives and dissidents should (or must, depending on your perspective) develop alternate social media platforms on which to commentate is not a solution. That proposition does not right the wrong that is censorship on social media. If we endorse the power of the Big Tech Barons to censor the digital commons of social media, then establishing "conservative" sites merely leads to a balkanization of social media, creating not a platform for robust debate but a set of hermetically sealed echo chambers, each with its own ideas and ideologies, which never interact with any other thought.

Balkanization is exactly what we are seeing now. What we are experiencing is a breakdown in the public discourse.  Ideas are not being debated, dissected, and discussed. Rather, people are becoming content to merely shout past each other, to tweet and post their particular opinions while giving no thought, no regard, to the ideas and opinions of others.  Everyone is speaking their mind and posting their ideas, but no one is listening.

This is dangerous--dangerous by far than any presumed "harm" that plausibly follows from any particular ideology or belief.  We are replacing debate with silence, raucous discourse with random noise, and we are diminished as a result. Ideas are evaluated not on their merits but on their proponents.

We can stop this decline in free speech--and we must. We can, if we choose, decide not to be triggered by the next offensive post we see. We can, if we choose, interrogate ideas we dislike, engage with those with whom we disagree and give them free rein to explain themselves, all the while giving full throated defense of those ideas we hold dear.

We can confront the false notion embedded in Facebook's policies that there are "dangerous individuals and organizations" whose thoughts must never be allowed to gain a public audience--as Paul Joseph Watson has pointed out, this is the argument of the totalitarian, the neo-Stalinist. We can confront this on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, and everywhere censorship is practiced, promoted, or defended.  We can, if we but choose, embrace free speech as a civic virtue, and resolve to be virtuous.

We face a simple binary choice. Speech or Silence. We all may speak, or we all may be silent. There are no third options available.

Speech or Silence--which do you prefer?

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