Monday, November 21, 2016

A "Haunting" Post About Twitter

Rick Miller emails:
A recent post of yours is haunting me:

Alt-Right Members Suspended By Twitter

When you write, "all voices should be allowed to be heard within public forums" and "it is very dangerous to support the snuffing out of speech on public forums", it indicates to me that you believe that Twitter is a such a thing (public forum).  To a libertarian, only public places could be considered as a public forum- and even those should be considered illegitimate on many grounds.  Instead of worrying about "speech on public forums", the libertarian should be worried about eliminating "public" forums and in favor of upholding property rights- even those of property holders you may disagree with, like Twitter.  

The fact is, there is no such thing as "the public".  In a free society, businesses open their doors to serve whoever they wish, and can keep the doors closed to whom they wish to exclude.  To think otherwise can lead to confused thinking such as this:

"Twitter, like many internet venues, invites the public in to voice their views, opinions, etc. In return they sell advertising space and monetize the site however they can. 

Should such a public forum start censoring"

According to the above, Twitter and "many internet venues" are "invit(ing) the public in to voice their views", and it is this invitation and the selling of advertising that puts Twitter and others on the hook to allow speech they disagree with.  This type of thinking is much more dangerous, in my view, than websites choosing to disallow speech they disagree with, for it completely leaves out the crucial right to exclude that the libertarian should consider fundamental.  A free society allows exclusion and does not equate the act of invitation to do business as a licence to certain predetermined "rights" in or on the property of others.  The property owner always retains the right to refuse to do business with someone based on any reason whatsoever.

Do you think Twitter and other websites (Target Liberty, for example) are "public forums"?  I am certain you have disallowed some speech on your websites- what gives?!  Are there special rules for the incompetent?...

I am curious as to what your thoughts are on this!

Hope you are well--

-- Rick
RW response:

Dear Rick,

Did you miss this part of my post?
 As a private (non-government) organization, Twitter should certainly be allowed to set any rules it wants...
This certainly indicates that I recognize  private property rights.

After you digest that I urge you to grab a dictionary. The word public does not necessarily mean a government sanctioned entity.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary lists definition 1 a. as:

exposed to general view.
3 a:  of or relating to people in general 

Since I qualified my post by stating that Twitter as a private organization could set any rules it wants, it is clear I used the term public forum in the sense of definitions 1 a. and 3 a. rather than definition 2 b:

of or relating to a government.

There is nothing in the world that says a private individual can't criticize private sector persons or entities, as long as we don't advocate coercion of said persons or entities.

I can certainly object vehemently to an offense the New York Knicks use and say something like, "You should never use the triangle offense in this day and age," but I am in no way attempting to coerce them into never doing such.

It's the same with my criticism of Twitter. I acknowledged that they are a private entity and can do whatever they want, but this doesn't mean I can't criticize their action.

They are a public forum in the non-governmental sense I am using the term and I think it is just terrible that such a forum would shut off a point of view.

I happen to like to see diverse views, if only to understand what people are thinking. I didn't follow any alt-righters on Twitter directly when they were allowed but I have occasionally seen a retweet. Now that option is gone.

If Twitter continues to censor more and more groups, it will, as commneters to my post indicate, lose many followers, but if they limit is to very occasional censorship it is hard to see how they will lose a mass of followers.

It is as I say "very dangerous to support the snuffing out of speech on public forums." I don't support it.  
As for your placing Target Liberty in the same category. TL does not pretend to be a public forum where all views are presented. Indeed, on a daily basis I reject article submissions and email suggestions because of points of view or other rreasons. No one is coming here to learn the Socialist Party's take on gender equality or the neocon view on why we must bomb Iran.
Target Liberty is not a general forum like Twitter is. I am all for advocacy web sites. It is just sad to see a general public forum snuff out views.
Rick, you also distort the other commenter's view that you quote, to set up a straw man. Nowhere does that commenter state that "Twitter and others [are] on the hook to allow speech they disagree with."
In fact, he makes clear the same point I do: "Twitter is free to do as it wants..."
That said, I want to point to what is really haunting, the spectre of Twitter going from a public forum to a tool of government.
Michael Flynn, who will be Donald Trump's National Security Adviser, has written in his book:
Why can't Facebook and Twitter start their own positive messaging campaigns about the betterment of humankind? Why can't they seek to maximize the potential of citizens around the world? These mediums are not simply a place to "express yourself" as I was told by the  executives of one of these companies. My God, if that is what they are for, the world is in deeper trouble than I think...This shouldn't require the U.S. government's involvement. If, however, it does, it will require imagination and intellect that more fully and deeply understands how social media provide a voice to the voiceless--especially women and children...if the U.S. government request their support, then those leaders are missing the point of what they truly have: a means to advance humanity in a positive more enlightened way. 
Rick, you should not fear bystanders calling out a private entity for censoring a public forum. You should fear a government that believes it may have to "request the support" of such public forums. And that their are libertarians who support such an Administration! 


  1. Bob,

    How is it again that Target Liberty is not "exposed to general view" and "of or relating to people in general", so as to be a “public” forum like Twitter is under your definition? TL even allows anonymous commenting- exposed to general view and many times of or relating to people!

    If Twitter were truly "pretend(ing) to be a public forum where all views are presented", why would they make someone register to post a comment? In addition, the act of banning people indicates that they do not think of themselves as a place for any and all to put up their views- only those approved by Twitter. This should be celebrated as a heroic act, as opposed to being criticized on the grounds that is doesn’t promote the hallowed “diversity” of viewpoints, in my view.

  2. I think the issue here is one of contract law. Of course, one can do as they wish with their own property or business. But these “public forum” sites promote themselves as a “public” forum. If they promoted themselves as sites like, relentless promoters of “progressive” politics, they obviously could ban whomever they like for refusing to toe the line. A “public” forum has no line to toe. To ban someone who doesn’t toe an unexpressed (and an implicitly non-existent) line because they are allegedly promoting “hate” or “fake news” is fraudulent when they are just stating anti-“progressive” truth. People in contractual privity with these sites, like advertisers, should be able to sue for breach of contract.