Last night I suspended Twitter indefinitely.
This had been building for some time for two primary reasons. First, Twitter, like Facebook (which I had given up a few months ago), is a hate machine. Second, Twitter’s ever-changing terms of service and curiously selective enforcement of said terms via shadow and outright bans made it increasingly obvious that Twitter is less interested in real conversation than it is in kabuki theater conversation—censored one-sided shadow-boxing—replacing freedom of speech with speech at the pleasure of one’s betters.
As such, Twitter has became a platform I can no longer support with my participation.
From my perspective, participation on a platform that actively censors political speech, even when that participation consists of criticism the platform, is a tacit approval. Remember how you felt when you saw those “Occupy Wall Street” folks using iPhones to bemoan capitalism? That’s how I began seeing giving Twitter my voice, a voice that they could choose to either allow or silence if it became pesky or popular enough.
Having your letter critical of state policies published in Pravda is not the same as speaking freely. You are still at the mercy of the state. Worse still, you are being used by the state to feign even handedness.
When you “join the conversation” on Twitter, you’re speaking at the discretion of Twitter’s censors, be they human or algorithms. Like Jonathan Edwards’ spider, you exist on Twitter at their pleasure. And per Jonathan Edwards, the Twitter gods “Abhor you and are dreadfully provoked.” With each new term of service added (the newest being the prohibition on “misgendering” and “deadnaming”) everyone is a potential violator. They’ve covered the floor with eggshells and then tell you that you’re free to jump around. A Twitter executive in 2012 quoted CEO Jack Dorsey proclaiming Twitter as “the Free Speech Wing of the Free Speech Party”. Hardly. Not Even Jack believes that bullshit anymore.
Being a conservative, free speech supporter, libertarian, or even the wrong kind of liberal on Twitter is engaging in speech that one hopes will pass muster with the company. It is speech reliant on approval from a system whose purposely opaque and broad rules shift with the winds. It is the acquiescing and providing power, reach and currency to the system one is criticising.
Any time I used Twitter to inveigh against Twitter unfairness, I felt as though I became another propaganda statistic that Twitter’s defenders can point to as demonstrable proof of how truly magnanimous Twitter is. “But we allow @FreeSpeechGuy557 to speak.” So there—shut up or we’ll ban you. The Soviets did, after all, hold public trials to show the world and convince themselves just how fair they could be.
It’s true, as Julie Kelly notes, that Twitter is, for all intents and purposes, the only game in town. But she and the recently banned-with-no-explanation-but-then-suddenly-reinstated Jesse Kelly insist that free-speech advocates not cede control of Twitter to the Left. That Twitter is the hill to fight for, that this is the ground to refuse to vacate.
The sad fact is, however, it’s not about ceding anything. The Left has controlled social media from the outset, owning the medium, or as Marxists are fond of saying, the means of production and dictating the terms of service, only lately weaponizing it politically through brazen censorship after it had been used so effectively by conservatives.
From my perspective, it’s not about re-taking or defending that hill, or even, in the spirit of Satyagraha, forcing the Left to censor political rivals and thus reveal itself for the authoritarian ideology we all know it to be. It’s about ensuring our voices don’t give energy and excitement, and thus credibility and viewership, to the medium. It’s about finding a new means by which to deliver our message. Kelly is correct that currently Twitter and Facebook drive the bulk of social media, and thus, sadly, are the means by which most of the population gets its news and narratives. But it won’t be so forever.
It’s hard for us to imagine now, but there was a time before social media and, sooner than any of us expect, the current crop of social media delivery systems will be perceived as an anachronism only old people use. Already the phrase “I’m going to quit facebook/twitter” is jumping in popularity and articles and books touting the benefits of quitting social media are legion. Some folks believe that we reached “peak social media” in 2017. And with many platforms hemorrhaging teens and young adults (teens and young adults soon to be voting adults) to quicker, more nimble messaging systems, I tend to believe them.
Times change and technologies change more quickly with each passing day.
Recently, American conservatives, like all revolutionaries before them, have battled against the hegemony of a narrative jealously guarded by their ideological foes and have found innovative ways around tight fisted control of mass media to challenge conventions and authority.
In the 80s it was through talk radio. In the 1990s and Aughts its was internet blogs and aggregated news sites that propelled the conservative message and were able to side-step traditional print and TV media to direct the national conversation. It was ‘right wing blogs’ that exposed Rathergate and were responsible for much of the 2004 election messaging—hence the rise of the Left’s attempt to use the term “right-wing blogosphere” dismissively in this last election. Then-candidate Donald Trump’s ability to use Twitter, coupled with Facebook organizing efforts on the Right, effectively focused the conservative signal to mobilize the base as well to broadcast that signal to the populace at large.
In all these cases it has been the Right, forced by necessity, that has been willing to take chances on new, untested, yet promising media and using it in hitherto unimagined ways after which the Left, seeing its effectiveness moves to control said media. As a matter of fact, this whole recent spate of social-media censorship and tightening of speech controls by Google, Twitter and Facebook is best viewed as the Left’s reaction to being outdone on this platform, a platform it owned. It represents little more than a bully screaming obscenities and throwing haymakers after being punched in the face on his home turf. Hence increasingly desperate cries of unprovable collusion and of “fake news” (the Left used the term long before Trump co-opted it so spectacularly during his first press conference after election day).
Ultimately, leaving Twitter was a choice I made because the threat of censorship constantly existed and I was tired of engaging on a platform that was demonstrably and openly hostile to my perspective; a platform which made me feel at every moment that I needed to look over my shoulder after commenting lest I say something inopportune and the Ban of Damocles fall. That’s not how real passionate conversations that I’d want to join work, and its definitely not how free speech functions. I’m certain new avenues of dialogue will present themselves and, when they do, I hope they’re as open and substantive as the platform Twitter initially promised but failed to be.
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