The gist of this is that popular social media site Twitter has updated its rules to forbid ‘hateful conduct.’ “You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.” They will also mass-ban any accounts set up by the same user that would be used to evade this rule. The ostensible purpose of this is to shut down jihadi accounts, and I even believe that that is indeed the original intent… but more on that later.
Now, let’s be clear about something: Twitter is not shutting down your First Amendment rights by doing this. You do not, in point of fact, have the right under the First Amendment to go onto private property – which is what Twitter is – and ignore their rules. I mention this because long experience as a RedState site moderator has taught me that a certain subset of ‘digital libertarian’ – which is to say, ‘digital socialist’ – does not understand the very concept of private property, if not actually contemptuous of it… so it always needs to be spelled out that the First Amendment is there to prevent the State from shutting down inconvenient or contentious speech. Private companies have a lot more leeway when it comes to people coming onto their stuff and screaming in their ear*.
So Twitter is absolutely correct that it has every right to do this… and if I was the person running their site moderation I’d agree that it’d even have the effect that Twitter expects it to. But I’m not, and I suspect that whoever end ups running the implementation for this rather comprehensive change in account moderation policy is going to end up hurting the company. Why? Simple: the Online Left is going to game the system. I expect that half of the people that I follow will end up being subject to automatic and/or chain complaints. Shoot, I half-expect that it will happen to me. That’s the fundamental problem with doing bright lines in site or account moderation; you naturally attract people who are bloody-minded enough to abuse said bright lines, and hypocritical enough to get high-minded and huffy when you hesitate in taking things to their logical conclusion.
I need hardly say what will happen to Twitter when it becomes merely another appendage of the Online Left, yes? Well, let me say it anyway: if that happens, then the company gets to participate in the same slow-motion crash that’s happening in the newspaper industry. Only it won’t be so slow-motion, because Twitter doesn’t have a four hundred year tradition of existence backing it up.
PS: How would I solve Twitter’s problem for it? Simple. If you’re going to site moderate, you hire enough people to make a proper go of it and you don’t tell anybody what the rules are. I am being perfectly serious. Never ever ever tell people where the line is. Make them guess. Never tell them when you’re changing the rules, either..
If Twitter would like to hear more, they can contact me via this website – or through @moelane, of course. My hourly consulting rate is reasonable.
*Also: using the Constitution like this – which is to say, incorrectly – simply makes you look like a dolt.