“Of all the classically liberal values that have permeated Western culture, free speech is the hardest to defend.”
Omid Malekan, author of “The Story of the Blockchain, a Beginner’s Guide to the Technology That Nobody Understands,” begins his essay for The Weekly Standard acknowledging the nuances and difficulties of discussing free speech.
“A day spent in defense of freedom of speech is a day spent in the company of bigots and hate mongers,” Malekan writes, pointing out how defending free speech inevitably leads to defending the speech of “the darkest corners of humanity.”
The Internet poses a unique challenge to the principle of free speech because it exposes groups with differing beliefs to one another and reveals biases. “Back when all news was gossip traded in the bazaar, the loyalists whispering in one corner seldom heard the chatter of the rebels in another,” he writes. “Today, both conversations take place in your Twitter feed.”
Malekan downplays the threat of fake news, which he argues is not a new concept. The bigger threat comes from the perception that fake news must be combatted, because this perception “leads to the conclusion that this new kind of speech requires a new kind of censorship, enforced by the social media platforms that serve as the modern day equivalent of the bazaar.”
He then explores the problems presented by censorship, which include the lack of a “clear definition of what speech should not be allowed” and censorship’s tendency to backfire by increasing the popularity of the censored subject. He points to examples of banned books like “Animal Farm” or “Ulysses” and their regular presence on bestseller lists:
This is not an argument that every extreme idea will eventually go mainstream by virtue of taboo. It’s an argument that when it comes to controversial ideas—ideas that can both fuel a dangerous movement and serve as the foundation for great art—it’s hard to know which is which ahead of time. By censoring such ideas, we run the dual of risk of stifling progress (for the good) and fueling the flames (for the bad).
For Malekan, a social media giant censoring its platform is also not the solution; as he writes, the fact that “technological censorship exists outside the legal domain makes it more dangerous, not less, because it lacks the checks and balances developed for the legal variety.”
Encouraging a social media company to censor would place the responsibility of censorship in the hands of executives who have no experience or skill in “moderating a global discussion.” Moreover, the boards of these companies are found to have left-leaning biases, which have been demonstrated in practice.
Case in point: racist tweets against white people, like the ones posted by a recent hire to the New York Times editorial board or a professor at Georgetown University, are allowed. But the same exact tweets, with the word “white” changed to “black or “Jewish” for purposes of political satire, are not. This contorted form of political correctness is a staple of the left.
The best solution for Malekan is more speech. Social media companies should “let everyone speak their mind freely and for the marketplace of ideas to sort it all out.”
Censorship will stifle speech and the exchange of ideas, and is simply a sign of desperation, he writes:
The biggest problem of censorship is that it tends to be the last resort of the ideologically arrogant and intellectually lazy. This is why the loudest calls for social media censorship tend to come from those caught off-guard by developments away from the mainstream. It cannot be— the politically temperamental would have us believe—that sensible people would actually want outcomes such as Brexit or Trump. Nor can it be that the people in the mainstream (myself included) failed to make a convincing enough argument for the status quo. Therefore: fake news, Russian interference and of course, social media. In other words, since the gullible masses are too dumb to know what’s good for them, lets have smarter people control what they are allowed to hear and talk about.