Over the last two weeks, independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss have reported that the former operators of Twitter broadly and systematically censored speech and news seemingly according to their own ideological leanings and even the wishes of major US political figures.
While there is much debate about the ‘Twitter Files’ and what the reported data means, to an honest observer it raises significant concerns about the health of free speech.
“Gatekeeper search for the entire word” https://t.co/21EhdpcgJD
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 11, 2022
But, unfortunately, most observers aren’t honest. Left-leaning headline after left-leaning headline and leftist tweet after leftist tweet insisted that in no way whatsoever does the Twitter Files report mean free speech was being harmed in any way and certainly not by progressives at Twitter.
The “Twitter Files” that Elon Musk helped promote were supposed to be a smoking gun about Democratic election interference at Twitter. Instead it was a another massive flameout. (via @TheReidOut Blog) https://t.co/SMQrP5Vh3m
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) December 11, 2022
Democratic voters are near full denial mode on this. The episode reminded me of another past example of mass hypnosis.
The year was 2014. The New York Times published a story about U.S. military members’ encounters with abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq and how that exposure damaged their health. The story noted that members suffered from coming into contact with sulfur mustard and other nerve gases and that about “5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs” were on Iraqi soil scattered around the country.
The point of the story was to acknowledge that the U.S. government had covered this up. That was not the takeaway for many Republicans.
Conservatives rushed to claim that George W. Bush had been vindicated in saying there were “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003. Never mind that the weapons featured in the Times story weren’t remotely comparable to the “mushroom cloud” that the Bush administration warned Saddam Hussein would unleash should America fail to go to war. Never mind that the CIA had shown the WMD claim to be a lie as early as 2004. (Not that I trust the integrity of the CIA but they weren’t going to lie about WMDs if they were actually there. I would expect them to lie and say they were there!).
Republicans were still eager for any excuse to vindicate what they had come to believe in a post-9/11 world—Hussein definitely and unequivocally had WMDs. A 2015 poll showed half of Republicans still believed this.
This was no simple matter of what was true or not. The WMD belief was central to the core of what it meant to be a Republican at the time. You don’t just let something like that go.
MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote back then, “They’re still convinced the discredited WMD claims are true….there’s nothing admirable about this dedication to a falsehood.”
“It’s just sad,” he added.
The Twitter Files revealed at the very least, in a private capacity, which is not a violation of the First Amendment, the platform’s regulators worked to promote Left-leaning views and suppress conservative views. For a platform that once promised open dialogue without “barriers” obviously Twitter’s former regime turned its back on that principle.
2. Twitter once had a mission “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” Along the way, barriers nevertheless were erected.
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) December 9, 2022
The Twitter Files might have revealed at the most, a cozy relationship between a major social media company and the federal government which should be a red flag. But Democratic voters can’t just come out and say that the Twitter Files raise serious questions about free speech that should be considered—because supporting free speech has been a central tenet for American progressives for over a half-century.
‘WE haven’t changed!’
Now that so many on the Left are eager or at least comfortable with banning speech, do they admit they’re surrendering that principle?
No, they pretend they are still for free speech. Even if they really aren’t.
Did Bush Republicans admit there were no WMDs in Iraq? No, they insisted they existed. Even if they never did.
It was Donald Trump who finally relieved Republicans of their WMD faith when he said the Bush administration knowingly lied about the existence of such weapons to start a war.
The center of the Republican universe became Trump. Bush was replaced.
Fear of “misinformation” and “hate speech” being spread has now firmly replaced protecting free speech in Left minds, at least in the way the old American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used to mean it.
Liberals used to be in favor of absolute free speech. The ACLU even once defended Nazis’ free speech as matter of principle.
Today, lefties are censor-happy and hardcore opponents of free speech. They don’t even try to hide it. Just ask Elon Musk. https://t.co/YGXz7RSw6G
— Jack Hunter (@jackhunter74) December 5, 2022
There are still a minority of progressives who point out to their Left brethren that they have turned their back on free speech. What does the average Leftie call these heretics?
Just ask Bill Maher, Russell Brand, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Elon Musk, or any other major figure who has been a loyal Democratic voter for most of their life who now dares to hold up a mirror to the contemporary Left regarding their old principles.
Russell Brand is now being accused of being “right-wing” simply because he’s trying to show nuance and balance on a number of issues. Basically, his accusers are morons. They are the type of people who hate anyone who has a different perspective to them. pic.twitter.com/PIaqpKZsyz
— James Melville (@JamesMelville) March 15, 2022
If there is no threat to free speech, why would these figures say there was? If there were no WMDs, why would so many Republicans insist there were?
These Left and Right beliefs from differing periods were and are so integral to the political identities of those who held them, they are not going to be relinquished even if obvious facts show they should be.
For Republicans who knew there were WMDs, it was religious zeal, not sober reflection.
For Democratic voters who know they still believe in free speech, despite turning a blind eye to their ideological compatriots at old Twitter who clearly did not, this is a moment of religious devotion to their kind. Faith dictates their facts.
Facts also dictate facts. More sunlight will be needed. More reporting of the type Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss have done will be needed.
Our ability to speak freely depends on it.