Last week, Twitter blocked an account that threatened to tear our social fabric asunder. And who wouldn’t? I mean, Twitter understands that free speech is all well and good, but when it comes to spewing pure evil, well, the people in charge have to put their foot down.
And, man, it’s hard to look at the evil this blocked account was spewing: The hate it poured in our ears, and the threat it posed to the decent clothing of the moral imagination.
We’re talking here about an account that directly attacked the racial identity of minorities … oh, wait, no. Twitter is fine with those who raged against, say, Florida’s Cuban Americans as race traitors for supporting Trump.
In any event, the blocked account surely did something like pouring out anti-Semitism and denying the Holocaust, right? Um, no. That would the activity of accounts like that of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, who whined on Oct. 28, “Why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust?” And that, too, was OK with Twitter.
Declare your desire for political violence? Not if what you write is “Hope I get to punch a Trump supporter.” Express your wish that a politician you dislike “die in a fire”? Alas, Twitter won’t ban you for that if, you know, the politician is a Republican.
No, my friends, to get blocked by Twitter, you have to be a terrorist organization with enormous reach and power, aiming at putting us all under the yoke of oppression. You have to be something profoundly evil and anti-social—something so far outside the mainstream that ordinary decency demands your censorship.
I hate to write these words in a public setting, where children and other vulnerable people might see them, but, yes, we must name the insidious and invidious account banned by Twitter in its self-proclaimed righteousness. It was the official account of—Angels and ministers of grace defend us!—the Republican Party of South Dakota.
A group as outside the American mainstream as Republicans, in the name of all that’s holy. A place as bizarre and alien as South Dakota, which isn’t a real state (according to a plurality of poorly educated high-school students) and shouldn’t be a real state (according to people who want to abolish the Senate and Electoral College).
Now, if you read the actual press release tweeted out by the Republican Party of South Dakota, you might think that it seems a fairly anodyne statement of support for President Donald Trump’s post-election legal battle. And that would be because it was, in fact, a fairly anodyne statement of the kind that every state-party organization puts out on a regular basis.
But blocked it was, in an escalating set of actions from our Twitter overlords.
“Twitter gave us a warning sign saying it was harmful content and that we had to go to a help center and they basically blocked our ability to tweet a link from our website and that is where I noticed they were ‘blocking’ the South Dakota Republican Party,” state party Chairman Dan Lederman told reporter Austin Goss.
Twitter went on to label even the South Dakota Republican Party’s website “unsafe,” since it contained “violent or misleading content that could lead to real-world harm.”
Eventually, the philosopher-kings at Twitter restored the state Republicans’ account, dismissing the brief brouhaha as merely a mistake, an anomalous result of the tech company’s algorithms.
But Twitter followed up its ban on South Dakota with an attack on Nikki Haley. She had tweeted out that “election fraud does happen.” As it happens, that is an indisputably true proposition, and so, of course, it must be slapped with a “disputed” label by the tech company. I mean, we can’t let people just go around saying true things. Especially if they’re minor figures like former governors and U.N. ambassadors, the way Haley is.
That label on Haley’s tweet also was eventually corrected as an algorithm error by Twitter, but there’s a deep truth of statistics—as applicable to politics as it is to casinos—we need to remember: When all the mistakes occur on one side, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a policy.
There existed a reasonable hope, over the past few years, that our national worries about the computer revolution would be one of the topics that could unite Americans across ideological divisions. Democrat, Republican, radical, reactionary: Nearly everyone could be brought to see that social media is a snake pit. Computer algorithms are dehumanizing us. Big Tech has monopoly power. Electronic surveillance threatens our freedom.
In the past few days, Democrats have signaled some intention to attack social media. While out promoting his new book, former President Barack Obama observed, “The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) added that she’s “not a fan” of Facebook, because of the political disinformation promoted there.
The nation needs, they agreed, governmental regulation and increased corporate ethics to rein in these sites.
Many news outlets have reported conservatives fleeing Twitter and even Facebook for such rival sites as Parler. And those conservatives probably are right to do so. But they also remind us of the problem that was made worse by Big Tech choosing sides in the 2020 election.
What should have been a non-ideological debate about social media has now become entangled in politics. The people at Twitter aren’t stupid: They saw which way the Democrats were leaning, they read the (over-inflated) polls, and they did what they could to appease the angry mob.
So now, if we get Big Tech reform, it will be reform that locks in the leftist tilt that leftists demand of the computer revolution. The Republican ambassador Nikki Haley will be blocked, but not the Democratic ambassador Samantha Power. The Republican Party of South Dakota—Angels and ministers of grace defend us!—will be banned, but not Antifa.
The politicizing of Twitter is a sign that a great opportunity has slipped away from us. We could have seen real reform and a profound national discussion of free speech. But now, it’s just going to be more of our envenomed politics and an attempt by the left to ensure their permanent political power.
Joseph Bottum is a writer and educator in South Dakota. His most recent book is “The Decline of the Novel.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.