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What free speech is and is not

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This blog is deeply silly for the typical reasons that Freddie’s blogs are usually silly (using the term “PMC” not only unironically but as if it does not apply quintessentially to oneself? In 2022? Amazing stuff.). But amidst all the projection is a argument that it is going to be made a lot with Musk’s takeover of Twitter, so it’s worth noting why it’s wrong:

Nowadays “left” opposition to free speech in principle is more or less explicit, though not coherent. As I’ve documented before, a core dynamic in left-of-center American politics is the transition from “lol that’s not happening” to “lol of course that’s happening and it’s good.” 

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No, liberals and leftists are afraid of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter not because they think it will contribute to right-wing extremism, which exists and always has and always will but which is also far more marginal than they like to pretend. They’re afraid because Twitter is where they perform the personalities they lack in real life, where they act like the confident and clever people they patently aren’t, and where they pretend to do politics by telling the same terrible jokes, over and over, while the political “movement” they represent remains totally powerless and reviled. Twitter, in other words, is where they wage busy little PMC lives. And they’d prefer that space be pleasant for them. They have eliminated the existence of any contrary opinion in their personal lives and private lives, and now they want to do the same in Twitter, which as sad as it is to say is the center of their emotional lives. Which is why it’ll never stop at “the really bad stuff.” The things that liberals believe should be eliminated from social media have grown and grown as time has gone on, and will continue to grow. Eventually people will say that those who disagree with them about the correct size of the Earned Income Tax Deduction are literal fascists.

This nonsense itself gives away the show — if you have a good argument you will defend it on the merits rather than immediately and preemptively spinning elaborate fantasies about the imaginary Real Motives of people who disagree with you. But there are two critical points to be made here:

  • “Free speech” does not mean “entirely unmoderated online spaces,” and arguments to moderate content on online platforms do not inherently constitute opposition to “free speech.” Relatedly, describing moderating content on online platforms “censorship” is useless question-begging refusing to admit that, to coin a phrase, there are “hard political questions” or “tensions or contradictions in their ideology.” Immediately taking things to the highest level of abstraction is the enemy of clear and precise thinking on issues like this.
  • Nobody really thinks otherwise.

Least of all Elon Musk:

A man who just put more than 40 billion smackers into acquiring an online platform can’t afford to believe in any horseshit about how all content moderation is “censorship” that is inconsistent with principles of “free speech.” As anyone who has actually spent any time online knows perfectly well, entirely unmoderated content spaces are not free speech paradises but sites that quickly become unusable to anyone but the trolls, bots, spam artists, and/or Nazis who quickly overrun them. (Nobody is paying $40B for 8Chan.) By far the most likely outcome is that the Musk edition of Twitter will look a lot like the current one with more anti-vaxx and fascist content at the margin, and this edition will not in fact be any more consistent with any useful or coherent conception of “free speech” than the previous one.

For the extra Bret Stephens booby prize, allow me to note that the blog preceding this argument that liberals and leftists hate free speech because they want SAFE SPACES free of disagreement from people who will expose the TENSIONS AND CONTRADICTIONS in their ideology is a plea not to criticize toxic MAGA pundits that Freddie likes. The great Self-Appointed Free Speech Warrior Circle Jerk of Life is complete!

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