Disfigured Speech

Earlier this week, Twitter unleashed its new user policy agreement, targeting users who post “content that dehumanizes others based on their membership in an identifiable group, even when the material does not include a direct target.” Helping codify its corporate version of protected speech, Twitter is directly soliciting its users’ feedback on its posted draft, amounting to a rather shrewd public relations move that presumably caused the uptick in the company’s stock as well.

CEO Del Harvey supports this shortsighted approach despite her bungling the alleged Alex Jones crisis, because the collective infuriation of Twits whose fill-in-the-blank sensitivities tilt easily from trigger-words matters far more. (And I do not recognize this contrivance called “hate speech”; it is simply speech someone feels especially offended by, meaning it is just hated speech. This arbitrary designation has only produced failed curtailments in all levels of court, resulting in more shame than dignity.)

If an idea’s substance ought to reign over its semantics, I wonder how an unpopular political belief phrased diplomatically would fare. And I am curious as to how long it would escape human or algorithmic scrutiny. But Twitter is a business, not a government enterprise subject to the scrutiny established by our judicial system. And it ought to remain this way, unfettered from federal jurisdiction, subject only to the private operators’—and stakeholders’—discretion.

But I will rightfully criticize the most embarrassing length a service has ever gone to satiate its customers’ demands:  severely impairing the very speech that functions to affirm its oppositions and differences. Put more simply, banishing unfavorable ideas—disgusting, insidious, perverted ideas—discounts the weight and significance of whatever selective ideas remain. More overreach will result in many contexts being diluted to a singular and severely reductive ideal. Means for comparison will go extinct. Baselines will blur away. Thresholds will disappear. And so will a people’s integrity when they complicity legislate language to an Orwellian degree, by which every communique—every tweet—will be imbued with an oppression most offensive.

And I will remain offended, but also intrigued by the inevitable overreach resulting from the haste of other platforms freely shucking protected speech in favor of shoddy populist policy-making, and with the careless oversight by a public largely ignorant of civics and Constitutional protections, to boot. I imagine these platforms will engage in a competitive one-upping of both policy content and its delivery, the winner’s purse going to whomever first successfully scorches every nuance of valid political discourse, notably those running aground to whatever sanitized musings and recycled misinformation are funneling down Twitter’s rabbit hole to oblivion.

And emotional sensitives be damned. If anything ought to feel offended by Twitter’s approach, it is one’s intellect. Mine is appalled. But pandering to the whims of one’s clientele is indeed a brutal edge to any service-based industry, especially a social media platform. Yet establishing such a precedent will only further embalm the linguistic monstrosity that is more akin to protective speech, piecemealed in roughshod Frankenstein fashion.

The cure for undesirable speech is more speech, not less. Exposing to light others’ philosophical defects ironically permits us to become more compassionate than tyrannical. And to clarify, shouting down invited speakers to a public college campus to speak does not qualify. It legally does not. Google it. But please make sure to use a credible civics or Constitution website.

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Contrarian to the Common

Former college educator with 15 years’ experience split between public community college and public four-year state college. My commentaries address matters germane to higher education, sometimes beyond.