What is Free Speech?

Twitter, the New “Hope”

Given the Orwellian thought police tactics employed by Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter, discussions about free speech are all the rage these days. And there will likely be repercussions. Like Twitter perhaps having to take down the unofficial motto in their San Francisco office that reads “Defend and respect the user’s voice”. Whoops! And maybe Apple changing their motto to “Think Different…But Not Too Different from Us”. And Google, “Don’t Be Evil, Unless it’s to People We Don’t Like”.

Sure, we all know that there are limits to free speech in America. The First Amendment does not cover private institutions and all that. And you can’t just go around “shouting fire in a crowded theater”. Except that, well, you can actually…more on that later. The point here is that there are limits people. But, what exactly are those limits? Who decides the boundaries? And who passes judgement over what falls outside those boundaries? Is there a four judge panel like on The Masked Singer? Does the audience get to vote?

Now, these are all extremely interesting questions to ask in a country where it became eminently clear during the Bill Clinton years that we can’t even agree on the meaning of the word “is” for Christ’s sake. If we need a special counsel, scores of lawyers and months of testimony to determine the meaning of the word “is”, how in the world are people able to make any decisions about what is “threatening” or “misleading” or “hateful” or…or…or any of it?

And while we are on the topic, let’s be absolutely crystal clear about one extremely important thing. Somebody smoked that cigar…right, are we right? And that’s just, well, that’s just gross. But why doesn’t anyone ever discuss this? We need absolute clarity on this topic!

Was it Bill? Was he all like dragging that cigar across his nose while inhaling deeply and then lighting that puppy up? Because then that’s like both creepy and gross all at the same time. Or was it more like a romcom kind of thing? Bill is talking to Hillary in the Oval office, and Hillary is trying to refer to something on a white board and picks up the cigar as a pointer. Then she starts talking with her hands and waving the cigar around. And Bill is like all nervous and he’s trying to stealthily sneak the cigar out of her hand, but every time he’s close, she moves. And then Hillary fires that cigar up and is like sniff…sniff. “Bill this cigar smells bad.” states Hillary. “Well yes dear, but you always say all cigars smell bad” responds Bill nervously. “Yes but, sniff…sniff, this one reeks!” Hillary exclaims while sniffing her armpits and turning around, trying to find the source of the smell. And then, Hillary turns back around to face Bill and Bill is standing there holding a freshly opened can of sardines. “Sardine, dear?” Bill asks sheepishly. Cue laugh track and commercial.

All we’re saying is that somebody smoked that cigar. If somebody hadn’t smoked it, then that cigar would be in the Smithsonian along with that blue dress. Right? But it isn’t…so somebody smoked it. That’s it. That’s all we’re saying. We’re all in agreement? OK.

Anyway, getting back on topic, the entire point of all of this is that this whole cigar business gives us nightmares and keeps us up at night. What if it’s still out there? And you like buy it at a garage sale or something and then, and then, oh, it’s too gross to even think about! OK, no, damnit, that’s…that’s not the point. Deep breaths. Inhale…exhale. OK, the point is that if we can’t even agree on something simple like the meaning of a word like “is” how in the world can we expect that censorship could ever be applied equally and fairly?

Twitter actually has seemingly crystal clear rules around this kind of thing. For example, Twitter’s rules page, which is not exactly easy to find, states the following about “authenticity”:

Civic Integrity: You may not use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process.

Twitter obviously adhered to this rule and policy then when it permanently banned a sitting President of the United States over…wait…over exactly what tweet now? The tweet that got Trump banned was this:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Regarding this particular tweet getting Trump banned, for life, Twitter stated that the tweet about skipping the inauguration was “further confirmation that the election was not legitimate.”

Except, “is” is actually the third person singular present of “be”. So how can Twitter be so certain that tweet means what they think it means? What is the real meaning of “be going” in that tweet? Perplexing to say the least. Regardless, to any objective observer, Twitter, that’s a bit of a stretch. Clearly though, Twitter exercises these rules universally and with absolute uniformity, right?

So, this individual still has his Twitter account even though it calls into question an election? Even though Twitter’s rules state:

Misleading information about outcomes 

We will label or remove false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process.

The post is clearly in violation of Twitter’s rules as it is clearly undermining confidence in an election, two elections in fact. But the post is still up on the site and that individual doesn’t have a permanent ban from Twitter.

But what are some of Twitter’s other rules around speech?

Violence: You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence.

Other than the problematic definition of the word “may”, this seems pretty clear. Is “may” referring to permission, possibility, general truths, accepting of a different opinion, a month? Without a special counsel, we might never know the answer. For now, let’s take it at face value and let’s just pull up Twitter and see how they are doing here and, oh…oh my…#fail

OK, OK, to be fair and objective, these folks are just hoping about stuff, not actually technically threating violence? Maybe? None of this is glorifying violence? We guess? So if Trump had tweeted “I hope people storm the Capitol” then he would not have been banned??? But, you know, not be going to the Inauguration. Boom! Over and done. Apparently the real lesson here is that if you want to spew violent hate speech on Twitter, just use the word “hope” somewhere in your tweet.

By the by, it certainly would be an interesting experiment to see what does or does not get banned on Twitter regarding the upcoming Inauguration because; you know, unfortunately it seems like something is going down on that day. Not that we are encouraging any violence or anything of the sort, but when Washington DC looks like a Pyongyang military parade? Something…something’s up. We’d love to be the optimistic observer, but; well, it doesn’t look too good right now.

So, anyway, here would be our predictions for hypothetical tweets on Inauguration day and how Twitter would “treat those tweets”, try saying that five times fast. We have also included Twitter’s likely reasoning based upon their rules and past performance.

“I will not be going to riot in Washington DC today”Banned – Twitter moderator comment: “Provides misleading information about how to participate in an event. Not going my ass, every one of those deplorable MAGA hicks is going to be there!“.

“I hope the military kills every last Trump supporter in the city today”Approved, Twitter moderator comment: “Hoping that something occurs is not a threat or threatening.”

“I hope people storm the Capitol again”Banned, Twitter moderator comment: “Obviously threatening.”

“It is righteous for Democrats, to immediately murder, behead and dismember all Republicans”Approved, Twitter moderator comment: “The meaning of the word ‘is” cannot be determined”.

Man, there are a lot of angry, messed-up people on/at Twitter. Those tweets are awful. Shame on you Twitter.