French Politician Wants Twitter To Help Censor Speech
from the this-is-a-problem dept
Glenn Greenwald recently wrote a wonderful post about a journalist’s “praise” for a call by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a French politician, for Twitter to take responsibility for “hateful tweets” which are “illegal.” I’ll be doing another post specific to Greenwald’s post, but for this one I just want to focus on the part he glossed over: that a French politician is calling for Twitter “to take steps to help prosecute” tweets that France feels are illegal. This is horrifying for a number of reasons, but let’s cover one that Greenwald doesn’t touch: the idea that a company providing a platform that encourages free speech around the globe should somehow then be responsible for regulating the speech to the point of legal prosecutions against people seems immensely troubling. If someone said something illegal, let law enforcement investigate and handle it. Putting that responsibility on a company is dangerous, and leads to massive censorship. That is the very basis of the Great Firewall of China. The government there has made it clear to ISPs there that they might be held liable if they don’t “help” make sure that “bad stuff” online doesn’t see the light of day. The response is to overblock, just to be “safe.”
Somehow, well meaning people seem to think that “bad” speech is just obvious. But it’s not. Speech is speech, and whether or not it’s “good” or “bad” may very much depend on an individual’s context, sense of humor, situation in life or a variety of other issues. To think that Twitter, or any company, should be in a position to make decisions about a person’s ability to speak based on such amorphous concepts is a recipe for disaster — and basically runs counter to everything that a service like Twitter is about. Vallaud-Belkacem’s logic follows the standard censor’s argument — claiming that freedom of expression is important… except for speech she doesn’t like.
For what it’s worth, I agree 100% that the tweets she’s complaining about are offensive and disgusting. But to pin the blame on Twitter is to totally misplace it. It actually serves to take the focus off of those who actually posted the controversial posts, and suggest that if only we hid speech we didn’t like, it would go away. That’s not what happens. Instead, those who are censored tend to believe that they’re being persecuted by a government (or company) that “can’t handle the truth” and wants to shut them up. It doesn’t encourage the ignorant to be taught why they’re ignorant. It doesn’t encourage important discussions on why such statements are ridiculous and offensive. Instead, it just tries to sweep everything under the rug.