This is a must-read critique in the Guardian, of foolishness that is also in the Guardian; clearly Jason Farago doesn’t realise that when you meet bad speech with good speech, the latter criticises the former…
Writing in the Guardian today, Jason Farago praises France’s women’s rights minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, for demanding that Twitter help the French government criminalize ideas it dislikes. Decreeing that “hateful tweets are illegal”, Farago excitingly explains how the French minister is going beyond mere prosecution for those who post such tweets and now “wants Twitter to take steps to help prosecute hate speech” by “reform[ing] the whole system by which Twitter operates”, including her demand that the company “put in place alerts and security measures” to prevent tweets which French officials deem hateful. This, Farago argues, is fantastic, because – using the same argument employed by censors and tyrants of every age and every culture – new technology makes free speech far too dangerous to permit:
“If only this were still the 18th century! We can’t delude ourselves any longer that free speech is the privilege of pure citizens in some perfect Enlightenment salon, where all sides of an argument are heard and the most noble view will naturally rise to the top. Speech now takes place in a digital mixing chamber, in which the most outrageous messages are instantly amplified, with sometimes violent effects . . .
“We keep thinking that the solution to bad speech is more speech. But even in the widest and most robust network, common sense and liberal-democratic moderation are not going to win the day, and it’s foolhardy to imagine that, say, homophobic tweets are best mitigated with gay-friendly ones.
“Digital speech is new territory, and it calls for fresh thinking, not the mindless reapplication of centuries-out-of-date principles that equate a smartphone to a Gutenberg press. As Vallaud-Belkacem notes, homophobic violence – ‘verbal and otherwise’ – is the No 1 cause of suicide among French teenagers. In the face of an epidemic like that, free speech absolutism rings a little hollow, and keeping a hateful hashtag from popping up is not exactly the same as book-burning.”
Before getting to the merits of all this, I must say: I simply do not understand how someone who decides to become a journalist then devotes his energy to urging that the government be empowered to ban and criminalize certain ideas and imprison those who express them. Of all people who would want the state empowered to criminalize ideas, wouldn’t you think people who enter journalism would be the last ones advocating that?