Reports are circulating that Twitter has begun purging so-called “Alt-Right” user accounts in the wake of Donald Trump’s unprecedented presidential victory last week. Although bans of these sort have occurred in the recent past prior to the election, it seems this round is much wider sweeping than the previous “onesies and twosies” that occurred here and there.
Twitter should rethink this policy, even if the speech in question is allegedly offensive (always a subjective finding to begin with). Support for free expression is a fundamentally binary proposition: you either do or you do not. There is no middle ground, as by definition trying to seek a middle ground makes one effectively on the side of some degree of censorship. Picking and choosing which expression is “agreeable” and which is not is capricious at best and signals ideological propaganda at worst.
To be clear, First Amendment protections only extend to protections from government infringement. From a constitutional standpoint, Twitter has every right to do whatever its shareholders want as it is a private enterprise at the end of the day. So this is not a question of legality but instead one of propriety.
Once you start traveling down the path of banning anyone for their speech, perceived as hateful or not, then you also de facto endorse the speech that you do not to ban.
Thus, Twitter is not only actively censoring free expression – a policy that one can decide for themselves is appropriate or not – but worse, the company also effectively endorses calls for politically-oriented violence (also known as terrorism), political assassinations, and differently oriented hate speech and threats by not banning those users who communicate these sentiments.
In the end, I will take free expression with all its warts and potential hurt feelings all day long and twice on Sunday, in the face of the alternative. Censorship of this type is never a good idea in my mind given how subjectively defined so-called “hate” speech is, and the obvious political agendas that typically underpin such policies’ motives. Additionally, I am unaware of any standard of ethics that seriously espouses subjectively hurtful words as being somehow worse than endorsements for aggressively violent actions. Sticks and stones and all that…
People who support this approach to things they do not like cannot complain when the pendulum swings the other way.