Politics

Why banning ‘harmful’ online speech is a slippery slope


The mob attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, instigated by President Trump in the hope of thwarting or at least delaying the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, was unquestionably one of the most shameful episodes in the political history of the United States. Ironically, the failed insurrection may well be the beginning of the end of Trumpism. But the fallout from these tragic events could also include a far less welcome development: a rush to regulate, quash, and banish a wide range of expression regarded as potentially dangerous.

The swift move to permanently ban Trump (and some of his more extreme supporters) from Twitter and other social media has prompted warnings about speech suppression even from people with little sympathy for the soon-to-be-ex-president, from the American Civil Liberties Union to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Then, Parler, a nearly unmoderated Twitter alternative favored by the right, went dead after Google and Apple dropped its app from their online stores and Amazon booted it from its web hosting service. This raised more concerns about the ability of a few mega-corporations to drastically curtail online access for undesirables. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who believes that both Trump and Parler deserved to be de-platformed, writes that “it’s dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.”

Trump’s ban, it should be noted, was brought on by his barely veiled instigation of unrest in an explosive situation; arguably, too, he repeatedly violated Twitter rules with impunity prior to last week. Likewise, Parler has been a cesspit of hateful, unhinged, and violent postings that violate Amazon’s terms of service. While the United States has extremely strong legal protections for speech, they cover only government censorship, not restrictions by private corporations (though, as Goldberg and others have noted, the situation becomes alarming when a few corporations can effectively cut off a speaker from mass audiences). And at least some of the speech targeted in last week’s crackdown was almost certainly illegal even under American law, since it poses a clear danger of inciting imminent violence.

But could the understandable backlash against extremism also fuel an already existing trend of speech- and thought-policing toward any views that run counter to progressive dogma?

Already, a number of writers on the left have tried to argue in mainstream venues that the assault on Capitol Hill shows the need to curb a wide range of “bad” discourse.

Vox culture critic Aja Romano blamed the Capitol Hill riot on far-right internet activity supposedly traceable to GamerGate, a 2014 videogame-community blow-up variously described as a harassment mob or a revolt against cronyism and “political correctness” in gaming journalism. It would be beside the point to revisit GamerGate, a complex and often misreported online saga (though it is worth noting that an FBI investigation linked no known GamerGate participants to criminal harassment and that plenty of its supporters …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics

      

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