All posts filed under: Media

What Defenders and Critics Get Wrong about the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

In his book How Fascism Works, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley exposes the weakness in the most common argument for free speech. According to this argument, which can be traced back to liberal thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, free speech leads to a “marketplace of ideas” in which the truth prevails and falsehoods are widely rejected. Stanley argues that the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories and dog-whistles refute the premise that “reason always wins out in the public square of liberal democracy.” He is primarily concerned about conspiracy theories, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which serve to spread fascistic worldviews. This type of speech, he concludes, cannot be effectively countered through a free exchange of ideas. The motif of the marketplace of ideas, Stanley argues, only works with descriptive speech. Descriptive speech occurs when words are communicated precisely in their logical or semantic sense. The paradigmatic example is of scientists engaged in an exchange where words have precise and agreed meanings. Non-descriptive speech, by contrast, is exemplified by rhetoric, such …

How Free Speech Dies Online

Last year, I explained why it is wrong to consider weakening speech protections to allow bans on speech by the alt-right, neo-Nazis, or other far-Right groups: it is safer to let Nazis speak in a society that places high value on individual rights and has strong legal protections for those rights than it is to risk letting Nazis take control of institutional power in a society where protections on individual rights have been eroded. I explained, with specific examples, how easy it would be for a far-Right regime to turn restrictions on violent or hateful speech against its enemies. However, since then, while free speech has remained a controversial topic, the focus of the debate has moved away from restrictions on speech by state actors, and toward the question of how corporate entities that privately control the platforms which host a great deal of our speech and debate should regulate and moderate their users. These platforms are not bound by the US Constitution or by other legal regimes that protect private speech from state coercion, …

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

What Do the Oligarchs Have in Mind for Us?

There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown. ~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited The recent movement to investigate, and even break up, the current tech oligarchy has gained support on both sides of the Atlantic, and even leapt across the gaping divide in American politics. The immediate concerns relate to such things as the control of key markets by one or two firms, the huge concentration of wealth accruing to the tech elite and, increasingly, the oligarchy’s control over and manipulation of information pipelines. What has not been discussed nearly as much is the end game of the oligarchs. What kind of world do they have in mind for us? Their vision of what our society should look like is not one most people—on the Left or Right—would like to see. And yet, unless unchecked, it could well be the world we, and particularly our children, will inhabit. Almost 40 years ago, in his book The Third Wave, the futurist Alvin Toffler described technology as “the …

A Black Eye for the Columbia Journalism Review

Ideological polarization has become a growing problem in many sectors of society. But it is especially corrosive to public discourse when it infects organizations whose traditional role has been to hold everyone else to account for the integrity of their reporting. We need those organizations to act as a sort of referee when journalists of any description—including those at Quillette—fail to exhibit high standards. This becomes impossible when they instead act as combatants in the culture wars. Earlier this month, for example, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which describes itself as “the national voice of Canadian journalists,” “committed to protecting the public’s right to know,” and “dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism,” signed on to the claim that Canada is perpetuating an ongoing “genocide” against Indigenous people, and encouraged journalists to take on an activist role by promoting “decolonizing approaches to their work [and] publications in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA people.” It hardly needs pointing out that this sort of explicit activist agenda—however well-intentioned—is completely incompatible with …

Against Big Tech Viewpoint Discrimination

This week, YouTube decided American conservative “shock jock” commentator Steven Crowder broke the rules of their Partner Program. Since YouTube is privately owned, shouldn’t principled free market advocates support the company’s right to purge videos Silicon Valley finds triggering, even if a disproportionate number are created by conservative commentators such as Crowder? Well, imagine electric companies stood up for progressive values by cutting off power to homes with pro-Trump yard signs. Even staunch supporters of free markets would likely object to these restrictions on expression by privately owned enterprises. When we examine why power companies shouldn’t be able to make service contingent on not violating political sensibilities, we see that analogous arguments should stop social media giants from exiling political dissidents. If Burger King won’t sell you a hamburger, so what—buy one from McDonald’s. Competition among businesses normally protects you from harm if one refuses you service. Some markets, however, are characterized by “bigger is better” where size bestows advantage. It’s much cheaper on average to hook up electric power lines to homes if the …

On the Vital Importance of (Good) Journalism

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a speech delivered by Victor Greto at the Delaware Press Association Awards banquet on May 2, 2019. My experience as a journalist for three decades, and as a professor for more than a decade, has given me at least one insight: that the core of journalism as a vocation and duty has been dissipating in an increasingly divided American society mesmerized by technology and social media. Teaching classes at Wesley College for the past decade has revealed to me declining knowledge among students of the importance or relevance of an independent institution which keeps tabs on the powers-that-be, from federal and state governments to college administrations. In fact, it seems to me that the majority of news acceptable to most of us must be that which confirms our own political and social prejudices and expectations for it to elicit any kind of approval and to be sharable on social media. This unfortunately encompasses many un-journalistic tributaries of journalism, including public relations and fake news. There is nothing inherently …

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 …

Is the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Politically Diverse?

Earlier this month, popular author and podcaster Sam Harris tweeted out a graph titled, “A Visual Breakdown of Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) Positions.” The graph purports to compare the political positions of six prominent members of the IDW on the main issues that supposedly divide liberals and conservatives. The tweet links to a blog post by cybersecurity expert and writer Daniel Miessler, where he explains his motive for producing the graph. Miessler was frustrated that members of the IDW often are labelled conservative or even alt-right, so he set out to gather information on the positions of six prominent members—Harris, Eric Weinstein, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Jordan Peterson, and Ben Shapiro—on some important political issues. The resulting graph indicates that all these people, with the partial exception of Ben Shapiro, are far more aligned with liberals than with conservatives on the issues that Miessler believes divide liberals and conservatives. The IDW members are not conservatives, Miessler argues, but “mostly a collection of disilliusioned liberals looking for a place to have honest conversation.” Now, this claim …

Giving the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Its Star Turn on Video

When we consider the way video has helped fuel the movement that’s sometimes described as the Intellectual Dark Web, we often think about famous thinkers such as Jordan Peterson delivering speeches or lectures on YouTube and other social media sites. It’s a phenomenon I wrote about back in September, in a Quillette piece entitled Amidst the YouTube Junkies of MythCon, wherein I described the extraordinary popularity of video pundits collecting millions of hits with thoughtful—but often simple and low-budget—monologues delivered from their basement, bedroom or kitchen table. But Washington, D.C.-based documentarian Rob Montz, co-founder and CEO of Good Kid Productions, takes a more ambitious approach. Montz has produced tightly narrated, inventively shot documentaries about American politics and campus life that manage to be both intellectually penetrating and surprisingly funny. One of his 2017 documentaries, published on We the Internet TV, won the 2018 Reason Video Prize. And his work has been covered in The Economist, The New York Times and the Washington Post. In late March, I interviewed Montz for the Quillette podcast—a conversation you …