What Kind Of Speech Will Ultimately Be Acceptable On Twitter?

What Kind Of Speech Will Ultimately Be Acceptable On Twitter?

It feels a lot like we’re watching the promise of social media crumble in real time. Twitter’s purported commitment to open debate, a concept once heralded as Silicon Valley’s gift to mankind, looks now to be more nakedly a pretense than ever before. The platform’s move to outlaw “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” would be perfectly understandable (although still counterproductive) as a good faith anti-bullying measure aimed at shielding a vulnerable minority population from Twitter’s surplus of vitriol. But that’s not what it is.

The company’s ban on “targeted” misgendering and deadnaming could be enforced narrowly so as to weed out truly bad actors, people using the platform to purposefully harass and bully transgender individuals. Instead, Twitter seems to be more interested in snuffing out mainstream criticisms of transgender ideology. Per her own account, feminist Meghan Murphy claims to have been suspended last week for tweeting “Women aren’t men,” and “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?”

To meet the progressive left’s standards, there is absolutely no middle ground between a safe space for marginalized communities and a space for serious debate. Twitter is choosing the former. To satisfy progressive standards on issues beyond the cause of transgenderism, the social media publisher will ultimately have to purge almost all conservative speech.

That may sound absurd to anyone who hasn’t spent time on a college campus or in the fever swamps of social media in recent years, but it’s the logical conclusion. Find any conservative, no matter how decent or reasonable or moderate, and the left’s speech monitors will find a reason they should be banned from a given platform.

If it’s their standards Jack Dorsey wants Twitter to satisfy, sooner than later the website will basically just be Slate’s Slack channel. If Dorsey wants to whittle Twitter’s political user base down to a community of woke progressives, he can. But banning sentiments you dislike from Twitter does virtually nothing to change them. In some cases, of course, they’re actually hardened as a result. 

In a world where people like Bret Stephens and Christina Hoff Sommers are unacceptable to the woke police, who is? What conservative ideas are not considered by those same people to fall under the ever-expanding umbrella of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia?

If they are who must be placated, Twitter cannot long be open to a wide range of speech. Assuming the company does not change its course, Jesse Kelly’s permanent suspension was the start of what will be a long and drawn-out purging process that produces a steady stream of similar controversies.

A cursory perusal of the service’s “hateful conduct policy” reveals language that could be interpreted liberally enough to in effect prohibit anti-progressive speech at the whims of Twitter’s decision makers. (Example: “We are committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized.”)

Such are the demands of contemporary progressives, whom corporations desperately wish to please, but who also constantly narrow the boundaries of acceptable speech. If Twitter is with them, it cannot be with anybody else. They’re at least honest about that; Twitter should be too. 

Emily Jashinsky is culture editor at The Federalist. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyjashinsky .
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