What a fucking mess
3 min read

What a fucking mess

It's possible to repudiate the violence at the capitol this week, agree that TwitterFacebookGoogle can deplatform whoever they want, and see Friday as an enormous (and enormously illiberal) step away from traditional norms around speech.
Homecoming parade, Plattsburg, MO, 2009

Position statement upfront: It's possible to repudiate the violence at the capitol this week, agree that TwitterFacebookGoogle can deplatform whoever they want, and see Friday as an enormous (and enormously illiberal) step away from traditional norms around speech.

The platforms are, at best, accomplishing a short-term good at a longer-term expense. Bad speech, as Jon Gabriel says, doesn't disappear when you ban it; it just goes underground and festers.

More practically, Republicans will eventually control Congress again. Whatever self-dealing regulatory vision the big platforms had in mind is now poisoned. Right or wrong, there will be payback.

So what's the correct response?

I understand the right's flight from Twitter, FB and the rest -- it's natural to look for the door after the first (or 100th) time the host insinuates that you're unwelcome.

But the last thing we should want is a dark, moist hidey-hole where no one pushes back and everyone agrees Ronald Reagan Was Just Great. That's no healthier than the left's pathology of decrying speech as violence.

And talking only to ourselves? That's just playing defense until our ideas die out like a 3 a.m. campfire.

We need to think bigger. Beyond this outrage cycle, beyond January 20th, beyond this presidency and beyond (Quelle horreur!) electoral politics.

Conservatives, by definition, believe there is something worthy of conserving. LIbertarians believe similarly in the importance of liberty. Whatever else our disagreements, we should be in lockstep about the central, immutable role that speech and ideas -- yes, even very ugly speech and ideas -- have in our society.

Nothing else -- nothing we currently enjoy, nothing on our policy or cultural wishlists -- happens if we lose that. (It goes badly for my friends on the left as well, but I'm not talking to them in this piece.)

That doesn't mean storming Facebook and Twitter. It doesn't mean giving a free pass to those openly planning to break the law online. But it does mean we should stop treating freedom of speech as something between a partisan dog whistle and a punchline.

We can do all of the following while still completely rejecting the violent mob that stormed the Capitol building:

Right now, today, we should get past the idea of Parler, MeWe or any other individual platform being the solution. There's no resilience in that. What's needed is an entire ecosystem, end to end -- the servers, the data centers and, yes, the platforms -- committed to free speech as long as it doesn't break the law.

Right now, today, we should be the party of strong encryption without backdoors.

Right now, today, we should embrace how little upstream culture and gatekeepers respect a free exchange of ideas -- and invest in changing that. No, we don't need more Fox News. But a handful of major publications in this country set the coverage agenda for everyone else; ownership that ensured they were uniformly skeptical of government and aggressive in protecting everyone's right to speak and write as they wish would be a start.

All of this would be expensive. But so is spending almost $5 billion without keeping the House, Senate, or White House. All of it would be hard, and not nearly as much fun as just bitching about Our Enemies(TM) in an endless circlejerk.

Are we ready to get that serious? I don't know. But I hope so.