Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

Paris Martineau, the Outline:

Years of outbursts from hate group after hate group have forced these companies to realize that the laissez-faire attitude they’ve leaned on for so long doesn’t actually work, but rather, makes the entire thing rot from the inside. But the fact that platforms won’t fully commit to managing the content that people spew on these platforms leaves a vacuum of confusion and hypotheticals, which generally (like all things nowadays) lead to conspiracies and misinformation.

In all this time, no company has actually tried totally depriving bad ideas of oxygen. Trust me, this is a sentence I never thought I’d say, but in times like these, Twitter (and the tech world as a whole, really) could learn a thing or two from Medium.

Part of the reason that the marketplace of ideas often fails to return more intelligent and ethically cognizant discussions is because it is subsidizing sensationalism.

I also think one aspect of Twitter’s hesitance to ban nazis and other contemptible parties that is often ignored is that this is, in part, a side effect of the company being based in the United States, and run by ambassadors for that country’s extraordinarily permissive free speech laws. I recognize that I’m treading between broken glass here with some of my American readers, in particular, but it’s worth recognizing that unrestricted speech in all its forms is a uniquely American concept. Other developed nations also have a marketplace of ideas, but with restrictions — as in the marketplace of goods and services.

Something that is perhaps most notable about social platforms like Twitter is how they have packaged and exported the First Amendment. But the weird thing is that they don’t have to do that: they’re a private company, and they can make their own rules as they see fit. Martineau’s piece is a wise argument in favour of this.

The cynical part of me thinks that Twitter’s staunch adherence to and promotion of extremely permissive free speech is not a conscious philosophy, but simply a convenient way to avoid having to invest in moderating it.