Surprise: Social Media Is Not Like a Telephone
I follow Adam Baldwin (an American actor and conspiracy theorist) on Twitter, and he recently retweeted the above from Ryan Fournier, who I don’t know (but I guess he’s this guy). His tweet is meant to criticize two social media platforms for recent bans on content creators. I posted a response: “Facebook and Twitter are not censoring person-to-person private conversations, like a phone call is. They’re censoring public broadcasts of ideas, which has always happened. One can debate whether they should be doing that, but we should at least get the metaphor right.”
I did not know that I would be the first comment on a tweet that would accumulate 900 subsequent comments. None of these comments convinced me I was wrong in my assessment that Fournier is misrepresenting what these social media companies are doing. They did, however, cause me to consider my position more deeply.
I believe free speech is almost always a good thing for society. I also think certain limits to free speech must be enforced in public spaces. This is why I initially challenged the metaphor between phone calls and social media. If Facebook and Twitter were censoring people for what they said privately in a direct message, the comparison to phone calls would have been much stronger.
One user pointed out that phone calls can be turned into conferences or placed on speakerphones, so phone calls can be public. Therefore, the metaphor is actually a good one. Another comment informed me that I am stupid. I must admit, I did start feeling pretty stupid for spending my time on Sunday explaining to Twitter users that phone calls are more private than Tweets. One user told me that I was wrong because you have to follow someone before seeing their content. I responded, “I don’t follow you.” I suppose, somehow, it didn’t occur to them that they also don’t follow me, but could still see my comment. They replied with a comment that’s very existence proves itself false. For it to be correct that you must follow a person to see their content, they never would have seen my content that led them to tell me that. Insanely circular and illogical.
Others attempted to turn the problem into a Constitutional issue. In their minds, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, and Facebook and Twitter are denying Alex Jones and others their rights. My objection to this is that the right to Facebook and Twitter is not Constitutionally protected. Alex Jones still has the right to free speech, just not his privilege to say it on the services owned and operated by other Americans. As Americans, the owners of Facebook and Twitter have rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Furthermore, the users are seemingly asking for the government to compel these business owners to service customers they don’t want to serve. This would be a government expansion into the rights of the owners of these social media platforms.
These free speech advocates are upset with social media companies for their censorship policies without acknowledging that they enable far more speech than they prohibit. Far more people have a platform to express their opinions than if these companies didn’t exist. Which is one reason why I bothered to dispute the telephone metaphor. I can’t imagine how so many people could have shared their ideas on this mistaken metaphor if phones were still the primary medium for conversing at a distance–even with a conference call feature.
One person was extremely persistent that Jones was not banned for his public comments, so I linked to a Washington Post article which had the following passage:
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech,” said Apple. “When users violate . . . our policies against hate speech and harassment . . . we terminate their accounts,” said YouTube. Infowars was “glorifying violence” and “using dehumanizing language” against minorities, said Facebook.
I linked to the article because it has direct quotes from the companies in question that indicate that Jones is banned for his public comments. The quotes link out to a couple direct sources, too. Regardless, the most popular response, with 239 likes, was that “Alex Jones was literally removed after a person to person conversation with Oliver Darcy. We got the metaphor right bud.” Hard to imagine how these companies would have the pretext for banning Jones without his public comments. Another user suggested I was a fascist for linking to the Washington Post.
Fact is, most agree that when content is public, at some point there must be a limit on what can be displayed. Is that limit hate speech, libel, pornography, snuff films, live feeds of rape or murder? Only a true free speech hardliner would conclude that all of these examples are protected. The question is where to draw the line, not if there should be a line or not.
Their resistance to accepting that the metaphor is flawed has another factor: They feel these same companies apply their policies in a way that’s biased against conservatives. I do believe companies should seek to apply their policies in an evenhanded way. Not in a way where, for every conservative banned, a liberal must be banned, but in a way that’s not unnecessarily biased. Maybe it’s improbably to be completely objective and transparent, but there’s no reason that shouldn’t be a goal.
When I decided to start dark circle datum this week, Alex Jones was part of my calculus. I determined there is undeniable interest in fringe topics. I do not believe that everyone with an interest in unusual topics, UFOs, the paranormal, or fringe politics is also convinced by the illogical viewpoints of the subjects’ worst purveyors. I decided to start the site because:
- Fringe topics are interesting and deserve a rational treatment
- Those who have recently covered fringe topics are being deplatformed leaving a market for new players
- Providing coverage of these topics in a less controversial way gives an alternative for those who like the subject matter, who want an alternative to those who are no longer widely available.
Plus, I like to write and the subjects are fascinating to me.
However, after my Twitter mini-mob, I see how challenging this mission will be to realize as I wade into the water with those who have been reading the worst actors in the fringe scene. I knew there would be some odd characters, but I am still a little surprised by how information resistant some people have become.
Originally published at darkcircledatum.com on September 17, 2018.