You should regard anything I say about Robert Stacy McCain with skepticism, because I hate him.
My loathing for him is sincere and entire. My revulsion for him is both conscious and subconscious, like a Donald Trump perforated with asymmetrical holes
That said, I don't regret — not even a little — speaking out for his First Amendment rights in the face of vexatious litigation by unrepentant domestic terrorists and their lickspittles. That's the deal in America, or is supposed to be. We defend the rights of people we hate. We defend the First Amendment from frivolous, censorious litigation — even in favor of unserious hypocrites who advocate frivolous censorious litigation themselves. My only regret about arguing for Robert Stacy McCain's free speech rights is if I passed up any opportunity to say that I feel for him a transport of uncordiality.
Over the last 24 hours the rightward side of Twitter has been in an uproar — captured by the #FreeStacy hashtag — about Twitter's suspension of McCain's main account, @rsmccain. Many see it as a trend in Twitter disproportionately and arbitrarily disciplining conservative voices, as Marc argued last month. Though I've questioned that proposition, it's grown considerably more persuasive since Twitter appointed a "Trust and Safety Council" that appears calculated to have a narrow view of legitimate speech and a broad view of "harassment" (at least insofar as it is uttered by the wrong people.)
I don't know what McCain did (or is alleged to have done) to be suspended, and as far as I can tell nobody else does either. I've seen him say some pretty despicable things, either sincerely or mastubatorilly, so I'm not presuming that the suspension was based on nothing. Nor do I presume that any report of his conduct was honest, nor that any analysis of his actions was rational or principled.
So do I shout #FreeStacy?
When I say #FreeStacy, I mean "Twitter, you've providing an increasingly shitty product, I'm expecting to be banned from it arbitrarily soon, and I've been thinking for some time about where to focus social media attention instead." Or "Twitter, before I thought this was mostly about low-level employees acting on their own biases. But I'm increasingly convinced by the argument that you've decided to offer a product aimed at a specific political group." Or "Twitter, you sell yourself as separating harassment from free speech, but you don't deliver."
In other words, rather than indulging in cries that Twitter is engaged in fascism, or book-burning, or Nazism, or totalitarianism (all of which I've seen said today), I'm saying that Twitter is engaging in a mix of private speech and product development that I don't like, and demonstrating that its marketing patter about free expression has traveled beyond the realm of acceptable sales puffery into the noisome Kingdom of Bullshit.
Some people say this is pedantic. Some currently popular ideas are premised on blurring the distinction between state action and private action against speech: "cultural libertarianism," "thick liberty," "free speech values."
The right to free speech is America's most important right because it's how we identify and defend all rights. But you can't defend a right you don't understand or can't define. Distorting or blurring the definition of a right undermines it. In short: free speech legalism matters.
You think that Twitter has a civic or moral obligation to uphold "values of free speech"? Fine. How do you distinguish that from people arguing that Twitter has a moral and civic obligation to defend people from offense? If you say that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of diversity of views and the freedom to utter unpopular views, how do you respond to the argument that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of equality and "decency"?
To quote a noted food critic quoting a Roman emperor, of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does a private business do? It makes money and advances the agendas of its owners and/or leaders. They act according to two conservative principles: caveat emptor and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
Blurring the classification of things leads to exactly the sort of nonsense that Robert Stacy McCain normally rails against. Take a university. Is it a thing that teaches students? Or is it a place that empowers social justice? Is it a place for young adults, or is it a place for children in need of protection from mean ideas? Or take it up a few levels: do governments exist to impose their will upon us, or do they exist for us to impose our will upon them?
I classify Twitter's action as bad customer service and as private speech I don't like because of my conservative views. Those views include the following: private companies (which are individuals organized to do things as efficiently and safely as possible) have a right to free speech and free association. Corporations are people! They don't lose those rights because they get too big or because someone thinks they look like public entities if you squint. It's okay for corporations to sell products, or engage in speech, that people hate. People and corporations don't owe you anything: not a free lunch, not a free platform. You're responsible for reading the contracts you sign, physically or digitally. Whether or not you support anti-discrimination laws governing private entities, they can't be reconciled completely with free speech and free association rights. Or, put in law-professor-speech, anti-discrimination values and free speech values are in tension.
At least I thought those were conservative views. I mean, how can you argue that a bakery shouldn't have to make a gay marriage cake, but Twitter should have to offer a platform to someone they think (not unreasonably) is a total douche?
So, will I say #FreeStacy? Absolutely! For every hour McCain is gone, some feminist remains unfrothed-at. For every absent moment, there's a dead black kid whose Facebook page hasn't been thoroughly vetted. So #FreeStacy. By which I mean: free him from your foolish marketing decision to adopt a suspension system that predictably leads to arbitrary suspensions, because it's bad business and I'm a customer who doesn't like it. Free him by repenting your ill-considered and destructive expression in the form of a "Trust and Safety Council" that looks like a bad SNL skit. Free him from a system that — whether it's a marketing tool or a sincere gesture of opposition to harassment — will lead inevitably to button-mashing abuse of your report systems and endless (and unprofitable) internecine warfare amongst your very worst customers (or products, whatever). While you're at it, if you can, free him and his supporters from the Bernie-Sanderseque delusion implied by their rhetoric: that they have a right to speak on your platform that supersedes your right to run it the way you want. If you convince enough of them, maybe one will invent a good alternative I can seek out the day you suspend me.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- No, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Shouldn't Sue Over "Fake News" - February 20th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: The Eleventh Circuit Protects Doctors' Right To Ask About Guns - February 17th, 2017
- Eleventh Circuit Revisits Florida Law Banning Doctors From Asking About Guns, And I Can't Even - February 16th, 2017
- Erdoğan and the European View of Free Speech - February 10th, 2017
- Still Annoying After All These Years: A Petty Government Story - February 9th, 2017