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Free Speech, Social Media, and Mental Silos


In a current article for CNN, Kara Alaimo voices some issues about speech and social media. Although she makes frequent use of the time period “free speech”, what she’s actually apprehensive about is unmoderated speech – that’s, speech which isn’t restrained by the platform internet hosting the speaker.

To be clear, I imagine platforms have each proper to reasonable speech in no matter approach they want, and that such moderation doesn’t represent censorship. Censorship, as I perceive the time period, solely happens when the state forbids or prevents some type of expression. If a historical past podcast refuses to offer a platform to a Holocaust denier, the podcast isn’t engaged in censorship, neither is the Holocaust denier being disadvantaged of his proper to free speech. Your proper to free speech doesn’t entitle you to make use of another person’s non-public platform in opposition to their will.

Alaimo is apprehensive that social media platforms like Twitter, Parler, and Fact Social are insufficiently aggressive about moderating what she considers to be “conservative” speech. However in her article she additionally explains, with out realizing it, why makes an attempt to close down sure viewpoints in these platforms will backfire in methods she would discover regrettable.

Should you take individuals who maintain a sure worldview (conservatism, say) and systematically shut them out of a public discussion board, these folks don’t merely disappear. Nor do they lose curiosity in discussing their concepts. As a substitute they are going to merely type a brand new platform designed for themselves and for like minded folks. As Alaimo factors out, that is precisely how platforms like Parler and Fact Social got here into existence within the first place. And given how these new platforms are intellectually siloed from opposing viewpoints, they find yourself breeding increasingly more excessive variations of the views they initially hosted. In her phrases:

[T]hese three social media platforms are more likely to function ecosystems for conservative thought. This can probably make the views of those that stay on them extra excessive — which may have a radical impact on our politics. That’s as a result of when individuals who assume equally come collectively, they reaffirm and heighten each other’s preliminary beliefs…Those that stay in these conservative areas will grow to be much more excessive on account of their interactions, which may domesticate a harmful far-right ideology that has far-reaching results on our politics.

To me, this reaffirms not simply the worth, however the essential necessity of open dialogue with all kinds of voices- particularly when these voices advocate views you discover abhorrent. Banishing them from a platform doesn’t merely forestall you from listening to their discomforting views. It additionally prevents them from being uncovered to opposing views as nicely, and it drives them deeper into an mental silo which additional entrenches, and strengthens, the very views you discovered so objectionable within the first place.

And sometimes- not at all times, however sometimes- open and unmoderated dialogue actually does work. To make use of one extremely cherry picked instance, take into account the case of Megan Phelps-Roper, who grew up within the loathsome Westboro Baptist Church. She has left that group behind, and has grow to be a strong voice for a way more loving and tolerant worldview. What precipitated her to alter her thoughts, to desert her worldview and lose most of her household, and to grow to be an advocate for all the pieces she used to oppose? It was having her views challenged on Twitter. If Twitter had banned the Phelps household early on (as I believe Alaimo would have wished), Megan Phelps-Roper would virtually actually proceed to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church to this present day.

I’ll grant that instances like Megan Phelps-Roper should not as frequent as I’d like. Arguments usually fail to dislodge dangerous concepts, particularly when the thoughts is unwilling. However on the finish of the day, the one instruments we’ve to oppose dangerous concepts are persuasion or violence. The one option to peacefully defeat dangerous concepts is by exposing those that maintain them to higher concepts and fascinating with them, and the one approach for that to occur is to maintain the dialog open. Attempting to close dangerous concepts out of the dialog doesn’t make the dangerous concepts go away – quite the opposite, it just about ensures that these dangerous concepts might be right here to remain.

And apart from, perhaps I am the one who holds dangerous views that must be dislodged. If that’s true, I need to know, and the one approach I’d be capable of know is by partaking with advocates of concepts very completely different from my very own. The extra alternatives there are for that, the higher.


Kevin Corcoran is a Marine Corps veteran and a advisor in healthcare economics and analytics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from George Mason College. 

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