Facebook and Youtube are screwing up my idealised absolutist approach to free speech. The practicality of massive private entities exercising their freedom to decide who can use their platforms is no fun whatsoever and the enormity of these platforms manifest an unprecedented challenge to capitalism; where does the line exists, if it does exist, between a private platform and a public square?
What I believe should be done pivots on my faith, or lack thereof, in the market. Either way I know that as it currently stands the government has no place in determining who a company should allow to use their service. The numpties in power have too frequently shown their ineptitude on what constitutes free speech. In a recent case a Scottish court ruled that a man was guilty of a hate crime by filming his dog giving a Nazi salute, and what's more is it was actually funny. In another case the European Court ruled that the paedophile Mohammed cannot be called a prophet (reverse that). Not so much funny this time, but true.
The theory is that companies behaving poorly necessitate alternatives such that said complacent business is rendered redundant. However, could this actually happen to an online video monopoly? It hasn't thus far with the banning of far right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Then again, who is going to start fighting for that lunatic? The problem with that exception forming behaviour for who gets to speak is that in history very rarely does elimination of anything stop exactly where we want. It almost always starts with Alex Jones (literally him through all time), but then comes for those things that we hold dear. If free speech really is the most important thing for which we can fight, it follows that we must defend the speech we most hate in order to keep sacred the speech we most love.
To cause the required outrage it may take a discrimination of such despicable proportion that it would likely first be met with confusion. If my intuition is correct, then how can we expect a rival company to acquire even enough users to appear attractive to investors? If Twitter needs to ban Donald Trump for enough people to seek an alternative, we're doomed.
It's actually on the topic of investors, or at least the ludicrously wealthy, where I am most hopeful. Dave Rubin has previously intimated that there are some wealthy people looking into the issue, and Yaron Brook did the same in a recent conversation between himself and Brendan O’Neill. Taking these promises at face value, knowing that there is a Peter Thiel type currently concerned with the far left ideology overrepresented in the tech monopolies is reassuring. All of the will in the world can do nothing when ultimately money is the fuel which drives these developments.
The nuance of the conversation about free speech is not whether we must protect it, it is around just how far it should extend. For example, should protection of speech extend to incitement of violence? To this point the First Amendment appears to nail it, taking seriously the restriction of violence while still allowing the exercise of free speech. A damaging concept to come from the far left in recent years is the idea that speech itself can be violence. When taken literally it becomes acceptable to respond to what a person is saying with physical action. If a Nazi is literally being violent by moronically saying that Jews are the worst, the “punch a Nazi” rhetoric seems rational.
Brendan O'Neill does a lot to piss people off and let them know if he could give two shits that they're offended, but on the topic of self-censorship he is entirely reasonable and argues it is the most common and insidious suppression of free speech. He is not alone in this belief. Ostensibly having freedom of speech but fearing attack from a gang of political correctness officers isn't much better than not having it for most risk-adverse people. When controversial topics become the domain of those with truly malignant goals even those not initially interested in extreme views are left susceptible to adopting maladaptive beliefs entirely because they just want the conversation.
There is no easy answer but I find the complete defence of free speech to be the least flawed and most beneficial position. As an iOS developer I see that my community has pretty much lost the thread. Recently while listening to a tech podcast about Apple the conversation was interrupted by another sponsor read, but instead of pillows or website creation this time it was for Change the Terms, an organisation which seeks to rid the internet of people who “promote hate”. Who promotes hate? White people for the most part apparently, but you can get the full details over at their website. This has me truly worried because what was once beautiful about the left has become its Achilles heel; the unending drive for higher morality. The right has no such qualms, simply look at what the NRA can shrug off while Patreon can't even abide a popular user of their service saying a certain word elsewhere on the internet. We need to get our heads straight on what it is we want in the future. If we are okay with everybody saying the same thing, daring not to step outside the constricted Overton window, carry on. However, if we want to remain members of a liberal society let's take this issue very seriously indeed.