Free Speech, Media, recent, Science / Tech, Social Media, Tech

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com.

In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented.

Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the children?” who are now supposedly being endangered by excessive screen time and addiction to “likes” and multi-player games.

A Moral Panic

We are squarely in the middle of a moral panic. Moral panics, according to social scientist Stanley Cohen’s classic formulation, proceed in five stages. In the first stage, a phenomenon is defined as a “threat to societal values and interests.” Alcohol, satanic cults, and youth culture have all been objects of popular opprobrium. In the second stage, the issue is “presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media,” and then in the third stage, “the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people.” The fourth stage, which is where we are now with the internet and social media, is when “socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions.” In the final stage the issue “disappears, submerges or deteriorates.”

The fourth stage is the most dangerous, because that is when the power of the state is most likely to be used to cure the alleged social malady, often in a shortsighted, extreme and illiberal manner. It is the stage when alcohol is banned, jail sentences are increased, and innocent people are victimized. It is difficult to make good public policy in the midst of a moral panic.

Many Quillette contributors have criticized Big Tech for becoming censorious with respect to legal but controversial speech, and for being more likely to ban or shadow ban users who challenge the orthodoxies of the intersectional Left, including feminists. This clampdown, however, does not exist in a vacuum. In recent years, technology companies have faced the threat of state regulation—and in some cases its implementation—that requires them to enforce tough “terms of service,” and the state can impose harsh penalties if the companies fail to comply. In recent months the Canadian Government has called for “digital platform companies” to “redouble their efforts to combat… social harms,” and said these companies “should expect public regulation…if they fail to protect the public interest.”

This rhetoric helps explain why, for example, Facebook has chosen to remove all white nationalist content in recent weeks, which culminated with the banning of accounts associated with the British National Party, the English Defence League, and the National Front, all of which have been staples on the fringes of British politics for years. Twitter has banned several right-wing candidates standing in the U.K. in the forthcoming European Parliament elections, including Carl Benjamin and Tommy Robinson.

Carl Benjamin is a YouTube vlogger and a UKIP candidate for the European Parliament. Photo: Andy Ngo

The EU, and in particular the U.K., has the dubious distinction of leading the democratic world in internet censorship. In 2016, the EU presented the Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online to Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. This code, developed by officials employed by the European Commission, an unelected body, came with the threat of legislation if companies don’t “voluntarily” sign up. It requires them to review and remove so-called “illegal hate speech” within 24 hours, and helps explain why these companies have become more aggressive at policing their own users.

This was swiftly followed by Germany’s Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG) law, introduced in 2017, requiring large social media platforms to remove illegal content within 24 hours or face fines of up to €50 million. Inevitably, such laws rely on inconsistent and subjective definitions of what constitutes “hateful” or “offensive” speech and social media companies face considerable difficulty in understanding what content they’re expected to moderate out of existence and what is permitted. Not surprisingly, given the potential fines involved, they have erred on the side of caution. The German law has led to right-wing politicians having their accounts removed from Twitter and the suspension of an anti-racist German satirical magazine. A broad left-right coalition, including The Free Democratic (FDP), Green and Left parties, have all called for the law to be replaced.

In September of last year, the European Commission introduced the Code of Practice on Disinformation, another “self-regulatory” regime that puts pressure on tech companies to remove content in the context of the EU’s upcoming elections. Considering the difficulty in distinguishing “fake news” from genuine political commentary, this has the potential to undermine free speech. Ironically, the EU has now complained that Facebook responded to the code by banning cross-country advertising, which is perfectly legal in EU elections.

The European Parliament has also passed the updated Copyright Directive, which could lead to blocking of swaths of content with unknown origins for European users, and is currently considering new regulations designed to ban terrorist content. In recent months, Australia has rushed through laws to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted messages, and, following the Christchurch terrorist attack, to jail tech company executives that fail to remove terrorist content, or depictions of murder or rape.

However, the harshest and broadest online speech regulations in any Western democracy are set to be introduced by the Government of the U.K.

The U.K. Leading the Democratic World in Online Censorship

“Because, as a society, one of our greatest responsibilities lies in keeping our children safe,” declared the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, earlier this month, announcing the launch of the Online Harms white paper. (In the U.K., a white paper is a formal statement of government policy prior to legislation.) Stanley Cohen would have struggled to find a more perfect exemplar of the rhetoric of a moral panic. Javid claims that the internet is a “hunting ground for monsters” who want to victimize children, groom terrorists, and display “depraved” material. Where some people see technologies that build communities of shared interests, democratize access to information, and create millions of jobs, Javid sees danger everywhere—“in games, apps, chat rooms and more.” He announced that tech companies have “failed to take responsibility” and declared: “I warned you. And you did not do enough. So it’s no longer a matter of choice.”

While the increasing clamor for the regulation of digital platforming companies may be an international phenomenon, it has also been amplified by Britain’s peculiar political context. The U.K. Conservative Government, led by Theresa May, is currently failing to deliver on the central plank of the Tory manifesto—Brexit—and lacks any other meaningful domestic policy agenda. Meanwhile, the British political media is obsessed with the jostling within the Conservative Party over who is to become the next prime minister when May finally resigns, which is expected to happen later this year. Notably, Javid only responded to criticism of the proposals when it was put in the context of his well-known leadership ambitions. With a poll last year finding that 4/5ths of the British public have concerns about going online, Big Tech has become a politically convenient punching bag for these ambitious Tory politicians.

The press release announcing the Online Harms white paper is titled: “U.K. to introduce world first online safety laws.” Apparently, the British Government wants to lead the democratic world when it comes to online censorship, proudly trying to out-do China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Russia. This is all coming from a center-right Government that supposedly believes in free speech (but has a questionable track record in this regard). The white paper seeks to make the U.K. the “safest” place in the world to use the internet by imposing a “duty of care” on technology companies to remove “harmful” content, although it has failed to provide concise definitions for these terms. This “duty” is to be enforced by a powerful new regulator. If company executives fail to uphold these as-yet undefined standards, they could face hefty fines, jail time, or even see their companies lose access to web hosting and payment services or, worse, be blocked. In sum, the U.K. Government wants technology companies to be responsible for enforcing an expansive state censorship regime.

In Scope: the Whole Internet

The “duty of care” will not just apply to the likes of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter but to any organization “that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online.” Notably, the white paper doesn’t say anything about how law enforcement will be properly resourced to fight the criminals engaging in illegal activity online. The focus is squarely on legal sites, as if they are morally culpable for the unlawful actions of others. This includes file hosting sites, public discussion forums, retailers with customer reviews, non-profit organizations with comments on their blogs, messaging services, and search engines. It will even include private group conversations of a yet-to-be-defined size. While this is unlikely to cause Facebook any problems—it has the resources to hire the moderators and develop the algorithms and build relationships with the regulators to meet these demands—it will be potentially catastrophic for smaller companies, particularly start-ups, that could end up being crippled by the compliance costs. This could result in solidifying the market dominance of the technology giants that the policy is primarily targeting—one reason, perhaps, why Mark Zuckerberg has given the thumbs up to regulation.

The proposed regime initially appeared to extend to news websites, which have user-generated content in the form of comments sections below articles. Within days, however, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced that “journalistic or editorial content would not be affected.” This statement, however, raises more questions than it answers. What counts as “journalistic or editorial content”—does it include online news sites such as Breitbart? And what about personal blogs? Would only publications with a print edition be exempt? What about when newspaper articles are shared on social media? If they are flagged by Twitter or Facebook as containing “harmful” content, will they be removed or hidden by search engines? What about the impact of removing content from websites on journalists researching articles? None of these questions have been answered.

What “Harms”?

The range of “harms” this new regulator is expected to eliminate is extraordinarily large. Companies will not only be expected to deal with “illegal” material, such as terrorist activity, child sexual exploitation, incitement to violence, and hate crimes, but also to prohibit “unacceptable content,” which the white paper defines as “harms with a less clear legal definition.” As examples of these “harms,” it gives “trolling,” “cyberbullying,” and “disinformation”—vague, subjective concepts that aren’t defined in English law and necessitate subjective boundary setting. After all, one person’s fake news is another’s fact and one person’s trolling is another’s biting political commentary. Will it still be possible to criticize politicians in a forthright manner, or will this be “trolling”? Is a trenchant attack on Muslim immigration permissible commentary or “cyberbullying”? Is a meme making fun of Hillary Clinton “disinformation” or is it content which reflects an honestly-held political viewpoint by a large segment of the American public?

The overreach is breathtaking. The U.K. Government is explicitly seeking to outlaw swaths of currently legal speech online. This will make the internet a much less free place to speak compared to Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park—the place which is supposed to represent Britain’s commitment to free speech. For example, when discussing what constitutes a “hate crime,” the white paper states that the Government expects the regulator to go well beyond forms of speech prohibited by English law and prohibit legal speech. The regulator will be expected to provide

Guidance to companies to outline what activity and material constitutes hateful content, including that which is a hate crime, or where not necessarily illegal, content that may directly or indirectly cause harm to other users—for example, in some cases of bullying, or offensive material.

This invites the question: offensive to whom, how, and when? Offensive speech, by its very nature, is in the ears of the listener—offense is taken, not given. That is a very low bar for speech censorship, made even lower by the words “may directly or indirectly” give offense, which covers more or less anything, and would be clearly unconstitutional in the U.S.

It’s not as if the U.K. authorities have a good track record when it comes to tolerating “offensive” speech. There have been reports of the police arresting up to nine people a day for offensive messages online, including threatening to arrest a Catholic journalist for using the wrong gender pronoun on Twitter earlier this year, and the authorities in Scotland successfully brought a case against a YouTuber for teaching a pug to do a Nazi salute. Under the proposed new regime, internet censorship would get worse. The combination of an extremely broad and unclear definition of “harm” alongside the threat of swingeing fines and criminal prosecutions will lead online companies to err on the side of extreme caution and remove reams of content.

This will all be justified, in the words of the white paper, on the grounds that “other online behaviours or content, even if they may not be illegal in all circumstances, can also cause serious harm,” including having a negative “psychological and emotional impact” on users. In other words, the U.K. Government expects technology companies to be responsible for dealing with people feeling sad after reading online content. This puts to shame even the bubble-wrapping tendencies of some university administrators.

A telling example that shows the evidence-free panic driving the Online Harms approach is in the document’s discussion about the links “between social media and the mental health of children and young people.” This is listed as one of the harms in scope, despite the admission in the white paper that “the research did not present evidence of a causal relationship between screen-based activities and mental health problems.” No kidding! A recent study by Amy Orben and Andrew K. Przybylski from the University of Oxford found, after analyzing three large data sets with 355,358 records, that the association “between digital technology use and adolescent well-being is negative but small, explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being.” By comparison, “the association of well-being with regularly eating potatoes was nearly as negative as the association with technology use (×0.9, YRBS), and wearing glasses was more negatively associated with well-being (×1.5, MCS).” They concluded that “these effects are too small to warrant policy change.”

The U.K. Government claims to be creating a “coherent, single regulatory framework” for online harms—but there is nothing coherent about mixing up incitements to violence with unproven claims about excessive social media usage. It reflects the impetus to “do something,” about every problem, whether the link between the problem and online content has been established by the evidence or not. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that adolescent mental health in the U.K. has declined very little since the emergence of social media platforms. A survey by the National Health Service found that the prevalence of mental disorders in 5–15 year-olds had risen from 10.1 percent in 2004 to 11.2 percent in 2017.

The Regulatory State Dilemma

The U.K. online regulator will have the power to tell companies what counts as harmful following initial government guidance. The white paper claims that enforcement of these guidelines will be undertaken in a “proportionate” manner, initially focusing on the biggest websites and the most inflammatory content. But this new regime grants the regulator extraordinary discretionary power. Just asserting that an “independent regulator” will have “sufficient resources and the right expertise and capability to perform its role” does not make it so. With such a long list of potential harms and a large number of sites that come under its purview, the regulator will have to be constantly assessing and reassessing where to concentrate its resources. This will all be decided by an unelected, loosely accountable regulatory body.

There have been calls, particularly on the American right, for technology companies to be regulated like “public utilities,” with a responsibility to protect free expression. But there are good reasons to think that more regulation, even with such built-in safeguards, would still not end well for free speech. It has long been established that regulators are not impartial; they are made up of people, and people have biases. Public choice economist George Hilton once explained that “regulators are not automatons, but men and women who go to baseball games, advocate their political philosophies, have their gall bladders removed, take their cats to the veterinarian, and otherwise behave like the rest of us.” Unfortunately, they’re not like the rest of us. They tend to be economists and lawyers—typically members of the progressive Left cosmopolitan establishment. These are the people that went to the top universities and on to professional jobs in capital cities. They are the people who find the idea of Brexit or Donald Trump’s presidency revolting and incomprehensible. They are precisely the sort of people inclined to believe “the masses” must have been manipulated to support populist causes by a mixture of “hate speech” and “fake news.” Their perspective is limited by the confines of their own London or Washington, D.C. bubbles.

Consequently, whether consciously or not, they will inevitably use the levers at their disposal to clamp down on the political movements and sentiments they dislike. That should send shivers down the spine of any conservative who believes government regulation of technology companies is a good idea—and indeed gender critical feminists who dissent from the dogma of trans activists.

Worryingly for citizens of other countries, the U.K.’s new regime could set a global precedent in internet speech regulation. Just days after the U.K. announced its internet policy, Singapore said it was taking steps to require social media sites to show warnings or corrections to what the Government determines is “fake news.” The U.K. Government wants to develop “a global coalition of countries, all taking coordinated steps to keep their citizens safe online.” Whether this coalition will include other world leaders in internet censorship like China and Saudi Arabia is not yet known. In any case, the intention is for the internet to be more regulated in the future. Even in the U.K., this white paper may prove just a first step, particularly if a future government that is even less friendly to free speech than the current one comes to power and appoints a crony to head up the internet regulator or expands the scope of the regulator to include any newspaper or magazine with a website. Once created, an apparatus for online speech regulation will grow, not shrink.

In the section about “online manipulation,” the U.K.’s Online Harms white paper proudly points to the historic example of an earlier Conservative government preventing “subliminal broadcast advertising in the Broadcasting Act 1990,” which created a new regulator. The author of the study that drove popular hysteria about subliminal advertising later admitted it was a hoax, and the findings were not replicable. This latest moral panic could end up seeing a much more powerful regulator created, and based on evidence just as flimsy. The internet is supposed to be a place of unrivalled freedom, of opening people up to new ideas and experiences. If we want to keep it that way, we should oppose the use of state power to limit free speech online.


Matthew Lesh is the Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute. Follow him on Twitter @matthewlesh

40 Comments

  1. peanut gallery says

    I’m sorry, I stopped after you declared Carl Benjamin as “Right Wing.” OK, I came back. Monopoly isn’t the right word, but you also can’t compete with them. To say that there is no danger or concern at all is too much. But Woke Capital IS in league with progressive political ideas and goals. If you think there is zero threat from that, I don’t know what to say. They know everything about you and want more .gov control. Nothing to see here!

    What I find alarming is why Dove, Gillette, Audi, and etc corp feel the need to spend money on political propaganda. Aren’t they supposed to make me want to buy stuff? What is the purpose of this? Nothing about this resembles emergent fascism to you? If not, I suggest reading some history books.

    • Caligula says

      These companies might be described as brand names that happen to manufacture products. With the exception of Audi, the other two could outsource manufacturing to contract manufacturers with no loss in market share or profitability.

      Their exclusive right to use these brand names is by far their most valuable asset. What they’re selling is not a bottle of shampoo, or razors, or cars: they’re selling you their brand image, and thus implicitly asking “Don’t you want to be associated with the image we’ve created for our brand?”

      Certainly it helps if the product is at least good, but, they’re not selling the product so much as selling the brand. For it is the branding (and not the bare product, shorn of its branding) that creates the value.

      • Harrison Bergeron says

        Or in the case of Gillette decreases value.

  2. peanut gallery says

    Rather than regulation, I’d prefer the social media companies to be force to accept that they have created private public spaces and the 1st must be protected there.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Social media doesn’t lie. or spread hate, conspiracy and religious nonsense, people do.

    • Rather than regulation, I’d prefer the social media companies to be force to accept that they have created private public spaces and the 1st must be protected there.

      Agreed.

    • James Lee says

      @peanut

      This is it in a nutshell, and it took you a lot less words than the author….

    • Doug F says

      Either that or make them liable for content. Legally it should be one way or the other. If you are a publisher you are allowed license to manage content. If you are a platform you are not.

    • Andy Espersen says

      But social media companies, of course, cannot be forced to do anything – except by legislation. And here only by legislation, specifying certain spheres (and while protecting the 1st amendment).

      This should be done by the agreement between all our many media councils (such as iMediaEthics) that a platform has an absolute right to accept anything for publication – but once an article is published under an individual’s name, it can only be removed if the author agrees to the removing (or, of course, if a crime is involved). Removing a published article from the internet is really akin to the burning of books in the old days.

  3. Jean Levant says

    .That’s reassuring. Brittish lawmakers carefully read 1984. They even chose it as a Code. Crime thought everywhere. Good people!
    I’m afraid Quillette is on the verge of having hard times with Her Majesty and her servants.

    • Graham says

      George Orwell worked for the censorship department of the Ministry of Information during WWII. 1984 is not a work of fiction, it’s a long-range English governmental manifesto 😉

  4. Farris says

    “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Rob Emanuel

    “This could result in solidifying the market dominance of the technology giants that the policy is primarily targeting—one reason, perhaps, why Mark Zuckerberg has given the thumbs up to regulation.”

    There is no “perhaps” to it.

    “Offensive speech, by its very nature, is in the ears of the listener—offense is taken, not given. That is a very low bar for speech censorship, made even lower by the words “may directly or indirectly” give offense, which covers more or less anything, …”

    That is no bar at all, as it moves the standard from objective to subjective.

    Attempts to control access to information is as old as civilization itself, from prohibitions against publishing the Bible in English, regulating pamphleteering and prohibiting teaching slaves to read to name a few. A free and open internet, like a free and open press, is a sign of a free and open society. Those who seek to regulate speech always claim the best of intentions but that is sleight of hand. Don’t look at the freedom you will lose but rather focus on the benefit I intend to provide.

    But what of terrorists? Terrorist communicating via the Internet provides law enforcement intel.

    But what of the children? Who shall raise your children, you or the government? Is it better to surrender freedoms or purchase filters, fore warn and instruct kids and devise harsh punishments for offenders? There were child predators before the Internet and there will be child predators after the regulations.

    People spreading lies an innuendo regarding was character and reputation? Most western countries have cause of actions against libel, slander and defamation. And when the defamer is beyond the reach of process, retort remains a powerful tool, especially when such retort is not regulated.

    Freedom can be a scary thing, especially in the hands of others. But history teaches freedom is preferable to the alternative. Blaming a tool or inanimate object is much easier than dealing with the fact that sometimes the world is a dangerous, scary and remains outside one’s control.

  5. TheSnark says

    Social media on the internet is disruptive to today’s society in the same way that the introduction of the printing press was disruptive to the society of late middle ages. Both inventions dramatically, by orders of magnitude, increased the speed and reach of information, disinformation, truth, and lies.

    • TheSnark says

      I meant to continue: The authorities of the time did their best to control the printing press, but failed. The authorities are trying to do the same today to the internet. China has gone the furthest in that attempt, and it seems to be working, but the jury is out how effective it will be over the long term.

      But before condemning attempts to control the internet, remember what happened with the printing press. On the plus side it was instrumental in ushering in the modern era, in replacing obscurantist beliefs with modern science, and over time developing democracy. Without the printing press and its ability to widely spread new ideas (both good and bad), that process could not have happened. On the negative side, that very process unleashed and sustained 120 years of incredibly brutal religious warfare in which large parts of Europe where destroyed and millions died.

      • d says

        @TheSnark, very interesting analysis. I never thought to connect the printing press with a century plus of brutal warfare; it doesn’t bode very well for us now, then, I’m afraid.

      • Kencathedrus says

        @TheSnark: Yes, one of the most popular printed books after the Bible was a book by a German witch-hunter on how to identify demons and witches. I feel that SJW propaganda is very much the same way – instead of witches and demons, it seeks out ‘bigots’ and ‘racists’.

  6. Jackson Howard says

    Great piece.

    If one reads about the counter push after printing was invented, the parallels are striking. Moral panic indeed, politicians want to favour their side, the oligopoly seeks to shore up the walls of their walled gardens. Deal is in sight I say.

    I think that trying to put the djini back in the bottle will fail, like it had before for the books, the press, radio and tv. What we’ll have is big players enjoying their rents while getting comfy with politics. As media has always done.

    And as always, life and disruption will take root in the cracks.

  7. Hamilton Sunshine says

    Great article but Carl Benjamin is not right wing. He just stands up to both left and right wing ideologues and some of those bullies happen to be women which of course has led him to be smeared and attacked as right wing and all the isms.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Of course he’s right wing. Everybody who isn’t a commie fascist is right wing. Right wing is the default position of most people. Right wing is democracy and capitalism with a welfare safety net. It is not white nationalist or big business.
      The real far right are the sort of people who want no government at all, not nationalists. The far left are those who think that the government and politics is far more important than the individual.

      • Doug F says

        I thought progressives had agreed to use the term Nazi to label those people, not right wing.

  8. Jim Gorman says

    Basically I believe the internet companies should be required to host any and all speech except for certain specified activities. Things like child porn, coordinating bank robberies, coordinating terrorists activities, i.e. criminal things. Even then, the private internet companies should not be the arbitrar, they should be forwarded to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution.

    I am more worried about privacy. If I had my druthers, each internet company would provide a monthly disclosure to me personally about how my private data was used. If it was accessed by any internal person or sold or given or accessed by any other third party.

    Today if I don’t like a facebook comment, I simply scroll by it. If I like, I might make a comment back. Obviously the person posting was not offended. Why should I let myself be offended? That is a deeply personal feeling and one that you allow yourself to feel. The person making the comment isn’t holding a gun to your head and saying “be offended”. You are saying to yourself, “Self, I want to be offended so I will feel offended.” I don’t need help from an internet company managing my feelings!

    • “Basically I believe the internet companies should be required to host any and all speech except for certain specified activities. Things like child porn, coordinating bank robberies, coordinating terrorists activities, i.e. criminal things. Even then, the private internet companies should not be the arbitrar, they should be forwarded to law enforcement for investigation and prosecutin.”

      Agreed!

  9. Harrison Bergeron says

    “Twitter has banned several right-wing candidates standing in the U.K. in the forthcoming European Parliament elections, including Carl Benjamin and Tommy Robinson.”

    Carl Benjamin isn’t right-wing. For God’s sake at least try and make and effort.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Yes he is. Don’t be silly. You are acting as if being right wing is somehow unusual. It is not, it is in fact the political default. Don’t buy into the left’s nasty attempt to demonise normality. They are the deviants. The right constitutes most people who believe in democracy and freedom. That’s most of us. Carl Benjamin is centre right, just like most of us.

      • Harrison Bergeron says

        I get your point. The left gets you to play in to their game by getting you renounce right wing as evil or embracing the term and outing yourself as one of the bad people. But even you modified the description of him from right-wing to center right. Carl would define himself as center right I suppose but he definitely does not define himself as right-wing.

  10. I, for one, hail Britain’s next Puritan PM, Mr. Javid! Hopefully he will extend this wonderful idea when he gains power. To the telephone and postal systems, for example. Imagine all the filth people transmit in phonecalls and letters! Alexander Graham Bell and the creator of the Penny Black Stamp have a lot to answer for, as does Mr. Gutenberg and his infernal printing press, as another commenter has so rightly pointed out. Offensive conversations without technology will be harder to censor, but I’m confidant our tireless moral watchdogs will rise to the occasion!

  11. Sydney says

    Has the author done a deep dive on Tommy Robinson and his ACTUAL and CURRENT work and public stands in the years since he ABANDONED the UK right? Robinson has done (and currently does) fantastic work at great personal risk, and is being tarred by the broad ‘right-wing’ and ‘far-right’ brush stroke by the UK MSM and justice system, both of which want him silenced to cover their own biases and crimes.

    It appears that Robinson indeed BEGAN his activism on the wrong and hateful side of activism, but completely left the right and CHANGED his positions.

    What on earth does ‘the right wing’ mean when Robinson is associated IN REAL LIFE with exceptional people in Australia, UK, Canada, and the US?

    I’m so tired of the left’s dismissive labels that render courageous, free-thinking people pariahs. Disappointed that ‘Quillette’ falls into this odious trap.

    • Harbinger says

      …..Sydney, for crying out loud, the label this article plonks on Tommy in passing, is of no material relevance whatsoever. Get engaged with the central issue about state orchestrated censorship, which affects people of every dissident political flavour.

  12. jimhaz says

    The problem with the internet and all media is that they cannot avoid being forced to be politicians.

    In other words they must weigh “loudness” to see how it might potentially affect the bottom line – thus they become trapped in endless sycophancy and social trend based virtue signalling.

    The same thing happens to sports when they change from amateur to professional.

    I think we have always known the internet would be taken over by commercial opportunists. Where any form of potential profit is possible, this always happens under the FUCKING CUNT that is the USA commercial mentality.

  13. Daniel V says

    As someone that has been online since the 90s I can appreciate the desire to keep the internet open and free. However the dangers of fake news are real and even Plato mentioned it in centuries ago in the Republic.

    The free market can’t fix this problem either unfortunately because the type of information people prefer is that which confirms their existing biases. For the majority something being true or not is less important than something feeling true. Unless the consumers change their priorities to value information for how true it is, even in cases where it contradicts their existing beliefs, a market solution will fail. Since conformation bias has been around as long as human being seeing that change happen is not very likely.

    So using the state to enforce standards is likely the only solution yet it’s not quite so simple as we then run into other problems discussed in the article. However I refuse to believe it’s impossible for people to find compromise on what should be considered offensive and what shouldn’t. I also refuse to believe the American belief that any restriction on speech will always lead down a slippery slope to tyranny is remotely true.

    Which actually illustrates one of the big problems I see today. Knowing that a slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy how is it we see it so often used in public discourse? When I first learned about logical fallacies I was astounded the slippery slope was considered one, not because that didn’t make sense as I already knew it was a poor type of argument, but because so many university educated pundits used it so freely when they should know it’s a fallacy.

    In the same vein the mechanics of propaganda are well known yet are standard operating procedure. It seems very acceptable to use spin to bend the truth and push an agenda. It matters less if a point being argued is true and more if the person arguing can convince the audience it’s true. You see this in the “IDW” all the time with articles talking about how won a debate when the debate was really just a conversation. People are conditioned to look for a winner and loser and see things as a battle.

    If the establishment wants to really deal with the issue of fake news they have to address the fact fake news is their standard operating procedure. It’s a fact bad actors are taking full advantage of and exploiting. Using the marketplace of ideas to self regulate truth has failed because that market can be privately regulated by anyone willing to exploit human psychology. Unless the establishment changes course and starts valuing truth nothing is going to change.

    • Smith says

      The public is capable of learning and adapting. Look at every poll you see about trust in media. There is no reason people in general can’t learn to be skeptical of all news by default.

      It might take awhile, and it might be a generational shift. But I much prefer a chaotic marketplace of ideas to replacing the old gatekeepers with new gatekeepers.

      I also think it’s way to early to proclaim the marketplace of ideas has failed. It might be this is the first time we’ve come anywhere close to actually having one.

  14. mitchellporter says

    Facebook just banned Laura Loomer, Louis Farrakhan, Milo Yiannopoulos, and others… Assange is now in jail… I am losing track of everything I am not supposed to talk about or know about.

  15. Kenek says

    paving the way for full implementation of sharia law and/or communist rule …

  16. John E. says

    As an American, I feel bad for citizens of Europe for not having the same free speech protections that the 1st Amendment affords us in the US. I urge you all to demand similar freedom of speech. It must be horrible to be adults and yet be treated like little children with other adults in the government to decide for you what you can read and what you can write. Stand up for yourselves!

    • Doug F says

      Now if we in the US would just enforce it on Facebook, Twitter, …

  17. Skept-O-Punk says

    Who is Matthew Lesh, and how could he have gotten SO MUCH wrong in this article? We understand a hit-piece is going to be full of misinformation, but this? Apparently not a “hit-piece” but still (accidentally?) packed with errors and misinformation.

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