Silenced by “free speech”

Silenced by “free speech”
From TechCrunch - October 16, 2017

Theres a fundamental incongruency between being inflexibly pro free speech and operating a global social network for civil public discussion. Twitter is struggling with it. Facebook is struggling with it too. And it cant be solved by a little more transparency or by hoping average citizens will do the right thing.

The principle of free speech on which the United States was founded was not conceived with our modern interconnectedness in mind, nor has it scaled to adapt to it. The idea was that anyone could say what they believed, and not be imprisoned for it. Not that everyone anywhere had to listen to it.

Shout in the streets, speak from a soapbox, ramble on the radio, or trumpet on the television. Those who disagree with you or that you condemn still have the right to walk away or change the channel. But on todays social networks, the harassers and trolls and extremists can come to you.

Permitting abuse under the guise of free speech actually dismantles free speech by allowing perpetrators to bully victims into silence until they retreat. From these apps. From their causes. From their beliefs.

Civil free speech is sacrificed in exchange for hatred, degradation, and threats. Who can respectfully speak up for their convictions if theyre immediately shouted down? Women and people of color have been attacked this way for years and have been demanding change for years. Its time for white men, who largely control these services and the traditional media, to stand by them as allies and actually take action. As a white male reporter, Ive failed to do enough to force this issue.

The rules must change. The enforcement must become stricter and more consistent. But the operators of these new communication utilities must also uphold the spirit of free speech rather than the letter. That will require challenging, messy, expensive and inefficient solutions. In other words, human solutions.

Blanket fixes from blunt algorithms will not suffice. Empathy must go into creating new rules, reviewing reports and appeals, and building tools that extend our understanding of humanity rather than replace it.

Civility is a tightrope between chaos and censorship.

Sterility is not the solution. There are as many totalitarian dystopias as anarchic ones. Leaders of these social networks are right to be cautious about overstepping the bounds of safety into censorship. Twitter and Facebook should not become the truth police or the thought police.


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