Okay, you’ve done it. You bought an international social network. All things considered this is quite an accomplishment. But you may notice the bloom coming off the rose very quickly with implications you might not have expected.
Let’s start this off with a brief examination of something you said about free speech, that you are a “free speech absolutist.” As a mathematician, you would understand that there are no absolutes. And in dealing with people and their variations, hopes, dreams, fears, biases, etc., finding any absolute is an exercise in futility. The core of the idea of absolute free speech is of course that anyone can say anything and all messages from all people would have the same value. That may be a utopian ideal, but that’s not where we or the rest of the world live.
In a country where the freedom of speech is enshrined as a Constitutional right—protected from government interference and manipulation—we’ve learned long ago that there is a dangerous liability to absolutism in free speech. The speech of a person shouting “fire” in a crowded theater to cause fear and panic is not protected speech. The shrill screeches of anti-semitic and racist individuals all too empowered in today’s unregulated “social” networks are even protected from government interference by the First Amendment, unless they call for violence overtly or covertly. Private companies are of course not restricted by the First Amendment and can wisely put restraints on the hateful rhetoric of these people, even though they may be attacked by them for “censorship.”
There is more that needs to be understood about the bigots, racists, sociopaths and psychotics who populate the nether regions of the internet. As individuals they have little or no personal power. They know this. So their instinct is to latch on to the communication channels of effective people who can and do get things done, are creative and can sensibly render judgements and opinions. And from these channels, the bottom feeders leech their apparent power. In reality their only power comes from what others grant them by echoing and responding to their needling and annoyance.
In those nether regions, there is a celebration going on about you taking over Twitter. Hate speech has been rocketing upward on the network. You probably have also noted this phenomenon. Unfortunately, this is your own doing because of your statements about bringing the former guy back on to Twitter. This letter is not about him, but failing to point out that bringing him back will lead to an increase in political violence would be a critical omission—he’s already proven that.
This letter is all about giving you a perspective on the vast responsibility you now hold—I promise not to invoke the Spiderman line.
Of the hundreds of millions of users of Twitter, the vast majority are thoughtful, creative, productive and social people. The tiny minority screeching about their “free speech” rights and how abused they are—it is an interesting aside that psychotics see themselves as victims of other people who don’t even know them—should not be allowed to suck more life and attention from that majority.
Twitter needs building. You no doubt have some development ideas for the platform. Frankly, they are way overdue. But weakening or even democratizing content controls would be a mistake. If anything, these controls should be strengthened. Here’s a hint: It would be hard to describe the benefit to humanity of making the firehose of invective, scandal, misinformation and propaganda put out by bigots, racists and psychotics only visible to themselves. Turn them into their own little silo. And let everyone else get on with it.
I believe in your humanity. You are a socially beneficial personality. You could not have accomplished what you have done so far if you were not. So please don’t fall into the trap that free speech absolutism presents to you. You are one of the people who has advanced the technologies needed to modernize civilization; it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to free up the attention of society from its own dregs in how you manage Twitter.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.