December 21, 2017

Libertarianism 101 and the “Twitter purge”



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Twitter has begun to suspend the accounts of Alt-Right users. Already affected are the accounts of American Renaissance, Jared Taylor, Jayda Fransen, and Occidental Dissent. I recommend that readers check for themselves to see whether they can find any evidence that the holders of these accounts are, as Twitter claims, "affiliated with a violent extremist group."

Also suspended is the account of the Traditionalist Worker Party. The latter is not shy about using the word "hate," according to the report on it at the SPLC website, but neither the SPLC nor Wikipedia cites any advocacy of violence or any violence committed by the organization. I do not say that the Party is as pure as the driven snow, but it does seem to me that it ought to be pretty easy to list some violent activities (not just "protests") if any can be found, especially for an organization with the resources and determination of SPLC, which is not known for giving non-leftists a pass.

There is no doubt in my mind that when the entry-level libertarians still repeating their classes in Libertarianism 101 decide to take up this matter, they will remind us that Twitter is privately owned and is free to suspend any accounts for any reason whatever. Some libertarians will even insist that Twitter should be permitted to slander or libel anyone it pleases as well.

They will remind us that the concept "censorship" applies only to governments, and that the First Amendment applies only to Congress (and to other government bodies by the "incorporation rule").

To which I reply snarkily, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"The Twitter Rules" are listed here. There may be libertarians who would like to take the time to read through them, examine the websites that have been suspended, and then tell us whether they think that Twitter is guilty of false advertising. If so, maybe that will get a rise out of them.

The replies I anticipate are so abecedarian that I almost wish those who will make them wouldn't even bother. On the other hand, American society is so ignorant about what counts as rights and force that I guess such lessons have their value. After all, if society must take remedial courses in political thought, there must be someone to teach the classes.

This publication recently carried a lengthy (somewhat wordy) essay on libertarians and racism, and it warned that sooner or later libertarians' views are going to be tarred with the dread label because they advocate a large number of policies that have a "disparate impact" on blacks and others. If the arguments of that essay have any merit, we can be sure that libertarians eventually will feel not only the fist of the state but the slap of Twitter and Facebook, and whatever other social media may be faddish at the time. PayPal, too, will surely serve notice that their accounts have been blocked and their money unavailable to them.

Their accounts will be suspended. They will be charged with hateful speech, with advocating violence or genocide. And when their advocacy of private ownership of guns (without any qualification or licensing whatever) is conjoined with their other positions, there can be little doubt that they too will be accused of being aligned with "violent extremist" groups. And they will have no basis on which to appeal, because neither Twitter nor Facebook (nor PayPal) has any obligation to tell them on what basis the accounts have been suspended beyond the general accusation.

And of course, the laughable irony is that no one — least of all Twitter — will be thanking libertarians for having defended Twitter's right to suspend the accounts.

But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Twitter, Facebook, and the others will allow the Libertarianism 101 chaps to continue using their platforms. But in that case, we may draw on an insight of Murray Rothbard's in his essay "On Civil Obedience" (Libertarian Forum, July 1970) and ask, Why have their accounts not been suspended?

Can it be (still drawing on Rothbard) that their accounts will serve the "privately owned businesses" as showcases, as "Potemkin villages," to "bamboozle the public into believing that we in fact live in a free society" and that the social media are tribunes of the people and exemplars of outlets of free expression?

Libertarianism 101 has never come to grips with the fact that there are lots of "private" organizations in America that serve the state freely and do its bidding without being commanded to or even forced to by implicit threats. Like Hollywood moguls who served the Soviet Union with the propaganda that they freely put out in order to advance Communism in the United States, these organizations freely, even self-congratulatorily advance the propaganda of Political Correctness and enforce PC by using the freedom that we must agree is their right. If you don't believe me, just try to get a major publishing house to publish a book in which you use the pronoun "he" as an impersonal, general pronoun and refuse obeisance to the clunky "she or he."

I say, "we must agree." But we do not have to believe that what they are doing represents anything having to do with liberty or the free market. Picasso and Jackson Pollock may be called painters, but their assaults on the visual senses and intellect are not art. John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg may be called composers, but their assaults on the auditory senses and intellect are not music. Just so, Twitter's and Facebook's assaults on political views they dislike and on our intellect are not freedom.

The TLD essay I mentioned earlier maintained near its end that "it would not hurt if more libertarians were more vociferous about defending fellow libertarians who are accused of racism or anti-Semitism and rushing to their aid when their websites are hacked or blocked, and their PayPal accounts frozen." I would insist that it would not hurt if more libertarians were more vociferous about defending non-libertarians against state-affiliated networks that posture as tools for free expression, but are in fact its implacable enemies.

Twitter and Facebook and others are de facto arms of the state; so is PayPal, with its arbitrary freezing of accounts on the basis of anonymous accusations. We must recognize them as functionaries of the state, and not defend them as if they were all privately owned and merely exercising their right to produce Rearden Metal. If libertarianism is incapable of developing a conceptual framework for condemning them and opposing them and for highlighting their affronts to liberty, if it is incapable of recognizing the non-state enemies of liberty, then what good is it? Ω

December 21, 2017

© 2017 Paul LeMoyne
Published in 2017 by WTM Enterprises.

Further reading: "Polite totalitarianism," by Ronald N. Neff.


To the editor ...

A good piece. The Twitter rules seem to be used very selectively. Shouldn't they apply to anything that seems to advocate war, e.g,, bombing Iran?

Drilling down to the rules page on "hateful conduct," we find:

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.

Examples of what we do not tolerate includes [sic], but is [sic] not limited to behavior that harasses individuals or groups of people with:

• violent threats;
• wishes for the physical harm, death, or disease of individuals or groups;
• references to mass murder, violent events, or specific means of violence in which/with which such groups have been the primary targets or victims;
• behavior that incites fear about a protected group.

Steve Sniegoski
January 8, 2018

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