The First Amendment needs to be reined in, liberal journalist Emily Bazelon explained Wednesday. That was the same day Twitter and Facebook bowed to the angry, liberal mob and blocked access from their platforms to a reported story that reflected poorly on Joe Biden.
The United States’s nearly absolute tolerance for free speech is detrimental, Bazelon argued in the New York Times Magazine . She fretted about “hate speech ” and “disinformation.” And because nobody believes hate speech or deliberate lying are good things, it takes an ideological commitment to free speech to argue against this viewpoint, and that commitment is increasingly rare in America today.
But we don’t really need to defend the principles of free speech right now against its enemies on the Left because the alternative framework the enemies are proposing is a set of rules they don’t really believe in.
They lay out lots of rules for what shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment, or what should be barred by Twitter or Facebook, or what shouldn’t be allowed on the pages of the New York Times, or what should warrant firing and cancellation, or what is an offensive way to talk about sexuality. But every one of these rules is a post-hoc rationalization. To the extent rules are ever written down, whether by Twitter or by Merriam-Webster, they are never enforced universally or equally, nor are they ever intended to be enforced equally.
The rules of the speech police are like old vagrancy or loitering laws. Some laws exist to give police officers a pretense on which to arrest the guy they just know is the bad guy. The speech codes likewise exist to justify the censoring, deplatforming, silencing, firing, or canceling of the “bad” people.
Twitter’s decision to prevent and limit links to a New York Post piece reflecting negatively on Joe Biden was a shock to even conservative commentators who already distrusted Twitter. The platform blocked any efforts to link to the New York Post piece and apparently disabled the outlet’s Twitter account and shut down other accounts linking to the article. When the Republicans posted the story on the House Judiciary Committee website, Twitter installed a laughable warning that the article was “unsafe .”
Twitter made these efforts despite the fact that the central claim of the article, an email shows that Hunter Biden introduced a Burisma colleague to his father, the vice president, has not been denied by Hunter’s lawyers or the Biden campaign. In other words, Twitter decided a story disputed only on the margins was beyond the bounds of allowable content.
Why did Twitter restrict access from its site to the story? Twitter’s official rationale kept shifting. It was “content obtained without authorization ,” and that was supposedly against Twitter’s rules. Of course, Twitter never in a million years would have considered banning links to the New York Times story reporting on Donald Trump’s taxes. The odds are very slim that whoever provided Trump’s tax returns to the New York Times had permission to disclose them, so it seems there’s one rule for October surprises against Trump and another rule for October surprises against Biden.
It wasn’t properly reported out, Twitter said at another time . This rule has basically never applied to any other story in the history of Twitter. Unsubstantiated claims that later proved false are all over Twitter. Simply false stories by the likes of CNN and former U.S. senators are all over Twitter, with nary a flag.
Twitter’s supposed rules aren’t rules. They are at best the digital equivalent of vagrancy laws — handy rules to have on hand in case you want to invoke them against content you wish people wouldn’t see.
This isn’t merely a Twitter thing, though. This is the nature of the whole left-wing effort to police speech. These aren’t efforts to prevent “hate speech” or balance speech rights with other goods. They are simply laying traps for the bad guys and manufacturing pretenses to shout them down or shut them up.
Consider all the criticism of Amy Coney Barrett in recent days. Much of it is liberals launching personal attacks against her that violate all the supposed rules about “dog whistles” and “gendered language.”
Tom Scocca, a veteran liberal journalist held in high enough regard to get profiled by the Columbia Journalism Review, uses the supposedly gendered insult “shameless careerist” to explain away why everyone Barrett ever worked with finds her stellar.
Katie Hill, who should be a disgraced congresswoman for her sexual predation, is instead a cause celebre for the liberal media, and so it was fine for her to tweet, “I hate to be someone who judges women on their clothes but I’m sorry ACB’s outfits are all way too handsmaid-y.” This reflected an attack by the lion of liberal filmmaking Michael Moore. Hill and Moore will continue to be not only welcomed in polite liberal company but respected.
It may seem like they broke the rules, but they didn’t because the rules are not for them.
Then there was the incident this week where a liberal reporter, some angry liberals on social media, and a Democratic senator got a dictionary to claim a word was offensive because Barrett used it, that was in common parlance up until the moment the Left saw an advantage in declaring it verboten.
The phrase, “sexual preference” was fine to use up until the moment Barrett used it.
Yamiche Alcindor, one of the language cops on this phrase, works at PBS, where the phrase is in common use . In fact, lots of people declaring it a bad word this week thought it was fine enough to use right until some liberal reporters on Twitter declared it bad .
And then, Merriam-Webster went ahead and changed its definition that very night to make “sexual preference” be a slur.
These “rules” aren’t rules at all. They’re a cudgel. They’re tripwires. They’re traps.
Carole Cadwalladr, for instance, is an author with more than half a million followers. On Twitter last month, she falsely called Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man who shot two of his pursuers while “policing” protests in Kenosha, a “white supremacist” and accused him of “murder” despite plausible self-defense claims. This is possibly slander. It’s certainly an airing of serious charges that are not grounded in fact. But never would Bazelon or her friends suggest preemptively banning this tweet. Twitter hasn’t flagged the tweet or taken it down.
And why would it? The tweet, whether true or false, libelous or accurate, is by one of the good people, and it’s maligning someone we “know” is bad, whether he’s a white supremacist or not. After all, Rittenhouse carried a gun and attended a Trump rally.
There’s really only one rule: Do not allow content that will anger the audience we care about, which is an angry, liberal mob. Criticizing Biden is fine, but we can’t be allowing newly reported dirt that Biden (kind of) denies this close to the election.
Published @ The Washington Examiner
Author: Timothy P. Carney is the senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse , The Big Ripoff, and Obamanomics.
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