Free Speech Isn’t

The battle for tomorrow is here, and it’s nothing like the wars of the past. They had clear-cut lines of good and evil, us and them. All we have is a chaos of competing ideas and a populace that, by and large, made up their minds long before any thought got involved. In a sense, this fight is more hopeless than any beach; in another sense, there’s nobody shooting at me, so I can stand up and shout myself hoarse and nothing bad will happen. It’s just that my solutions fix no problems and my words reach no hearts, because even on the off chance someone reads this, nobody’s listening.

But I’ll try anyway.

Facebook, Twitter, and pretty much every other social media platform has let us down. First they were guilty of spreading not just fake news but actual propaganda for profit, and now they’ve overcorrected. They’re censoring the crap out of things and only permitting a single approved narrative to be heard. There is no middle ground; reason does not intercede. Welcome to 1984, only with funny cat pictures.

These platforms have no duty to fact-check, either moral or legal; they just do it. On the other hand, they are under no obligation to grant us free speech either. They’re businesses out to make money, and somehow they seem to think that what they’re doing is the best way to get that cash. Fair enough; it’s their business and their decision, and they can rise or fall based on it. (Probably fall.)

But the fact remains that they’ve let us down.

We wanted a simple, low-stress way to stay in touch. Some of us wanted a little bit of social interaction now and then; a few may actually enjoy the thrust-and-parry of a decent intellectual debate. What we’ve got is a feed of posts carefully culled to prevent us ever viewing anything that might possibly be either objectionable or otherwise disturb us within our carefully curated mental echo chambers. All we’re ever allowed to feel is failure when comparing our lives with those of our classmates, who somehow managed to get tenure and retire to Fiji while raising three happy well-adjusted children. (I heard there was actually a fourth, but apparently they don’t talk about Bruno. Don’t ask me; we dropped Disney after Mando cut Gina. No, not really; I just threw that in for the irony.)

What we ended up with is anything but low-stress, and our Blocked lists grow ever longer.

It isn’t Twitter’s fault, and it’s not Facebook’s either. The only reason they let us down is that we had unreasonable expectations. We wanted to be able to express ourselves freely, but we also didn’t want to take the responsibility if our words injured someone else — for instance, if our disapproval of vaccines resulted in some kid’s death from measles. And that’s just not reasonable, not any way you cut it.

(See, anti-vaxxers? YOU are why we can’t have nice things! I’m looking right at you, Chris.)

They’re going to have to figure it out, and in the mean while, we’re stuck with the mess that now is. One of the casualties is The Not Fake News, which is apparently being soft-blocked by algorithms all across the Net — possibly, as Danielle suggested, because the words “Fake” and “News” are actually in the title. God help us, it’s plausible.

Nobody says we have to like it, though.

Hear me now
Oh thou bleak and unbearable world
Thou art base and debauched as can be
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!

from “Man of La Mancha”

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