In an interview with The Washington Post this week, Twitter head Jack Dorsey talked about the supposed issues facing Twitter. No, not the lack of an edit button, or the inconsistent policing of threatening content: how best to manipulate users’ access to information. He explained that he wanted to reduce “echo chambers” on the platform. Dorsey stated, “The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product. Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”
This sort of “nudging” is a favored tactic among Leftist policy makers. Taking their lead from Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School, these policy makers seek to utilize the tools of technology to gently prod certain behavior. Change the social environment ever so slightly, and you can manipulate human beings to choose different behavior. Clearly that’s what Dorsey thinks he’s doing by suspending Alex Jones from the platform — he says that he hopes to change Jones’ behavior. This sort of manipulation is often dubbed “libertarian paternalism” — it doesn’t force choice, it just inhibits certain kinds of choice.
In many cases, that’s just fine — when a grocery decides to place vegetables and fruits at eye level in order to cause you to take a second look, that’s not actually inhibiting choice. But that’s not what Twitter does. Twitter is supposed to be a grocery store for viewpoints. And viewpoints aren’t like candy and vegetables: which views are worthwhile is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder. It’s easy to say that neo-Nazis should be downgraded while Harvard professors are upgraded in terms of reach — but there’s no absolute standard, no limiting principle here. Conservatives are deeply suspicious that people on the Left will simply classify them alongside the junk food, while ridiculous Leftist views are promoted as “the stuff that’s good for you.”
It’s also true that Twitter’s tactics for elevating the vegetables aren’t quite as libertarian as all that. They make it impossible to find certain accounts unless you search for them; they suspend accounts at whim. This isn’t a case of merely placing the candy food away from the supermarket aisles — it’s a case of placing the candy away from all display, so you don’t even know that the grocery sells it.
Before Twitter can “make the conversation better,” they’re going to first need to solve a serious trust problem with their audience. And that problem is only exacerbated by Twitter’s newly-stated desire to define our vegetables for us, and then cram them down our throats.