If you are reading a piece about free speech and content moderation on platforms like Twitter, look to see if it meaningfully engages with the concepts of spam and porn, which are both fully legal speech, and both heavily moderated with little controversy. (This piece does not.)

Why does this matter? Because free speech, free expression in general, is a means to express values and beliefs. Our values and beliefs are integral to the way we each evaluate the content decisions of private parties like social platforms, publishers, and people.

No one values spam, so no one writes hand-wringing essays about whether it is ok to kick spam and spammers off social media. Most people recognize that porn, even if they like it, is not something that should be in everyone’s faces all the time, so there is little existential concern for free speech as a whole when porn is excluded or hidden from some contexts.

You cannot expect to make sense of free speech if you try to ignore other values.

> The popular radio program “On the Media” feared Musk’s support for free speech would lead to a free-for-all environment rife with child pornography. But that’s a strawman: child pornography is illegal.

This is itself a strawman.

No one thinks Musk will permit it on Twitter. The gutting of the moderation teams who tackle it is the concern. An underenforced rule is often not a very effective one.

"I cannot contemplate human affairs, without laughing or crying. I choose to laugh. When People talk of the Freedom of Writing Speaking or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists: but I hope it will exist, But it must be hundreds of years after you and I Shall write and Speak no more."

-John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1817

Freedom of association captures the idea of freedom of speech better than freedom of speech itself, I think. Private parties are (with some number of government constraints) free to pick who to work with, who to play with, and who to talk with, and who they don't want to do anything with.
Posting online consists of an individual speaking and a platform publishing it. Social media is not a passive medium like a telephone; it acts as an editor, albeit algorithmically.

In my opinion, the fact that speech online has this dual nature is why there is so much debate about it. Here's a mock interaction...

Individual: "You shadowbanned me. Why?"

Platform: "We don't want to publish you 1 billion times on the internet"

Individual: "Then don't be an editor. Don't give people special treatment."

Platform: "We tried that at first; it did not go well. I can make my platform however I want to."

Individual: "But there are only handful of people making choices that affect billions."

Platform: "The vast majority of these people are not banned or censored"

Etc etc, the debate never ends, because the two sides have opposing financial interests and political opinions/values.

And what of freedom of association as a right and cultural value?
Freedom of speech exists in dozen of countries but "Free Speech (TM)" is a very US specific thing that seemingly generate an infinite amount of non-sense. People get lost in abstraction and start to think that giving a megaphone to fascists like Twitter did even before Musk is somehow good because the best way to defeat fascism, when you live on planet Mars, is on the "marketplace of ideas". On planet Earth this is not at all how it works, the rise of fascists correlates directly with diminishing freedoms, and to defeat fascists you need the Red Army.
> But many countries where Twitter operates are no friend to free speech

Isn't that every country? I'm not American but to my understanding speech calling for direct violence is illegal the US, where Twitter is based.

Indeed, Twitter has a legal right to moderate how it pleases.

The question we should be asking is HOW content is being moderated. Shadow moderation, when a forum tricks authors into thinking their removed or demoted content is publicly visible, is an abridgement of free speech culture we should be addressing. I recently gave a talk on this [1] which led to some discussion on HN [2]. The wider public is generally unaware of the degree to which this happens— to all of us.

I'm pretty sure Twitter already shadow moderates content. My reply here [3] only shows up when directly linked, not under the parent tweet [4], and it wasn't hidden by FIRE.

This is openly admitted when platforms say "Free speech but not free reach" as in the case with Musk and Twitter, or when they talk about raising or reducing content as in the case of YouTube [5].






The "sides" of this argument have flipped. The pre-Musk arguments about Twitter's responsibility as a "public square" are now about how Twitter can do whatever they want as a private actor. And vice versa on the other side.

I wonder if the left will be able to take advantage of Texas' social media law[1] now that leftists accounts are being banned[2].



Children taught by the SS would send their parents to prison because their parents assumed free speech in a private setting.

Once you realize that these abuses are inherent to a system that doesn’t culturally accept free speech, then you see the danger of the current moment more clearly.

This controversy only exists because there's no "public square" of the internet. Every online venue for speech is private. It shouldn't be that way. We should have federal platforms that charge users at-cost and whose only rules are the laws of the US. Every account linked to the real identity of a citizen and violations of the law the same as those in real life: a visit from the cops. You deserve an e-mail address that can't be taken away from you without a court order.
> The White House is free to make the argument that Twitter should police “misinformation” and “hate speech” on its platform. But it has no legal basis to say that Twitter must do so.

False. Or, rather, it's false if you want Twitter to maintain its liability shield in Section 230 of the Cojmunications Decency Act [1], specifically 230(c)(2). Without this, Twitter becomes liable for any content. This is of course US-centric. Different countries have other requirements.

> Musk may not be the best — or most consistent — messenger for free speech. And you may not agree with his interpretation of free speech.

We all know what Musk means when he says "free speech". It's the same as when any conservative says "free speech". It means "hate speech". It means not wanting to get banned for spouting transphobia (in particular), homophobia, racist screeds, misogyny, etc.

> If we care about an America whose support for free expression goes beyond the law, we must support a culture of free expression.

No, we shouldn't. Every time some variant of free speech absolutism has been tried, the results are always the same: it fills up with Nazis. Everyone else leaves. Even 4chan has a ToS (basically "no CP"). That's the place for unhinged hate speech and conspiracy theories.

Platforms don't want to be known as being a Nazi hotbed. Advertisers flee. Beyond that however platforms should consider what's best for the total user base. Allowing a few extremists to spew hate speech in the name of some ideal of free speech culture at the expense of everyone else is narcissism personified.

I'll close with noting the paradox of tolerance [2].



I have a lot of respect for FIRE. Hell, I designed and built their website over a decade ago, when the organization was primarily focused on speech codes on college campuses. They were doing great and important work then, and continue to do now.

It's also nice to see them attempting to separate "free speech" into two buckets of meaning, the legal and the cultural. It's a point that gets muddled.

However, the article, like a lot of "free speech culture" defenses I see, fails to explain why "free speech culture" has to, essentially, be "one way". The freedom of someone to say something, but without the freedom for someone to speak against it. If the consequence of saying something is a lot of people mocking you for it, that can be, and often is, just as chilling as any specific action.

It also fails to discuss, at all, how actions and speech are somehow distinct things. If you're saying something I disagree with, am I morally obligated, within "free speech culture" to sit there and hear you say it? Am I morally obligated, within "free speech culture", to support businesses which publicly say things I disagree with, or things which specifically target me, or my family? If not, isn't then the monetary consequence of "free speech" potentially chilling?

And if people should/must be free to speak against speech they disagree with, and if people should/must be free to deny business to businesses they disagree with, then isn't the "free speech culture" defense just a disagreement over whether someone, or some group, is right in the speech they use, and actions they take? The argument isn't about broader principles.

Elon Musk took over Twitter and disagreed with speech, and actions, the previous owners took. He reversed course. He's "free" to do so. He also took issue with speech and actions the previous owners didn't take, and banned accounts whose speech he disagreed with. He's free to do so.

Individuals are free to speak against that. Individuals are free to take their business elsewhere because of that.

That is, as far as I can tell, what a "free speech culture" should/must mean.

Finally, I took note that their most compelling "you have to be for 'free speech culture'" cautionary tale in the article was explicitly not about private individuals, or companies, but a government's (CCP) ability to pressure private companies – something which is explicitly rebutted by "free speech law" as bounded by the author.

Free speech should be paired with free action. Why would telling a lie be treated different than commiting a crime?
Obligatory XKCD:
I'm curious why these discussions sidestep the fact that a company has a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value. It is understandable, from a shareholder perspective, to not want your investment's brand next to potentially unsavory content. It seems that there is a real and unresolved tension between a culture of free speech (which I wholeheartedly endorse) and modern-day capitalism.
Let them eat gay wedding cake.
Free speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you want. It means you can speak with whom you want.

Free speech as codified in Bills of Rights is there to stop the Government from censoring people, usually opponents of the current Government.

The idea that you can speak whatever you want is ridiculous. There are many laws in the way of this, Assault, Libel/Slander, Perjury, etc

> We need a free speech culture to reap the benefits of free speech law

No we don't. This essay is trying so hard to say that while de-platforming may not be government censorship, it's just as bad. But it's not. In China right now, people are protesting in the street with blank signs because they aren't allowed to say anything about anything in public, and they are still getting arrested. There's a sort of slippery slope argument given in the article that we shouldn't be headed in that direction. But Twitter's content policies, for example, are in line with the culture and laws of Western nations as a whole. My understanding is some countries have hate speech laws that the US doesn't have. There is no "slippery slope to China," just the US wanting to be a rough-and-tumble outlier. It's the same kind of slippery slope argument that says having "normal" healthcare like other Western countries would make us communist or something.

Social norms are changing; that's not fascism. That hyperbolic metaphor has gotten out of control. We have a republic "if we can keep it," as the article says; losing our democracy to an authoritarian regime permanently (or for a long term) would entail a level of real suffering that is not comparable to (and has nothing to do with) it becoming permanently socially unacceptable to use a racist slur, say, in public discourse. There are no brilliant "ideas" embedded in sheer bigotry that we are missing out on, and giving less airtime to hate speech or misinformation is nothing more or less than that.

At the very least, the article claims to elucidate a "distinction" but actually blurs several things together, such as censorship; "canceling" (which can mean a lot of things but is sometimes just a simple result of public backlash leading to a TV show being canceled, and you can't force people to like some celebrity who committed sexual assault or is racist etc etc and see them the same way as before, or treat having a talk show on TV with advertisers as some kind of fundamental human right); and what ideas are considered worth discussing at academic institutions (which have always had their idiosyncratic preferences about what ideas merit discussion and research, I'm sure).

Then maybe you need a free "Speech Culture". Meaning, you need to be free to choose to have the Cleansed Speech or the full fat experience. Now that's a freedom that 18th century people did not think about.

It always surprises me that people never question the writings of the constitutions as if they were godsend in a monolith.