On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft had decided to comply with the European Union’s desire to crackdown on terrorist communications. They vowed to pro-actively shut down so-called “hate speech”:
Beyond national laws that criminalize hate speech, there is a need to ensure such activity by Internet users is “expeditiously reviewed by online intermediaries and social media platforms, upon receipt of a valid notification, in an appropriate time-frame,” the companies and the European Commission said in a joint statement on Tuesday….“We remain committed to letting the Tweets flow,” said Twitter’s head of public policy for Europe, Karen White, in the statement. “However, there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate.”
Now, first things first: these are private companies, and they have every right in the marketplace to decide what sort of speech they wish to provide a forum. That said, they don’t have a right to commit fraud: telling people that they are free to speak on their platform, then reversing themselves by following certain politically correct rules about speech. The distinction between “freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate” isn’t as clear White wants to make it. For example, a French Jewish group that sued Facebook, Twitter and Google did so after notifying the companies about “hate speech that they said promoted racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism.”
This begs two questions: First, who sets the standard of what “promotes racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism?” Second, does all such speech constitute an actual threat to anyone?
The use of the term “hate speech” glosses over these questions. Monika Bickert, who runs global policy management at Facebook, said, “There’s no place for hate speech on Facebook.” But is it “hate speech” to cite Leviticus 18:22? Is it “hate speech” to label Michael Brown, shot and killed by police in Ferguson, a thug? According to the left, the answer is almost certainly yes.
More importantly, just because you don’t like particular speech, that doesn’t make it dangerous. There is a lot of speech that people deem hateful that doesn’t cross the line between offensiveness and incitement to violence. White’s conflation of “conduct that incites violence and hate” is too broad: lots of speech can incite hate, but not very much speech incites actual violence. There’s a difference between Donald Trump saying that Muslims provide a unique risk to national security and ISIS giving specific orders to murder Jews.
The left’s utter confidence in its own ability to distinguish between “rightful” speech and “inappropriate” speech for purposes of censorship should scare everyone. As someone who has been targeted routinely by anti-Semitic speech in recent weeks, I have never called for Twitter to ban those who practice such speech – not only don't I block hateful critics, I generally follow the Andrew Breitbart dictum of RTing those who participate in such nastiness, to let the world see them in their full glory. It’s one thing for online outlets to police actual lawbreaking activity. It’s another for them to pretend to represent free speech while curbing speech they simply don’t like.