Whenever I point out things companies do I usually preface it with “they have a right to because it’s a private company”. I don’t say this as a means to excuse what they have done. In fact, I get frustrated when people brush off the actions by saying that. Just because it’s a private company and they have the right to do something doesn’t meant it’s a good idea and it doesn’t mean we have to like it or be silent about it. Having the only thing you have to say about it be “their company!” is – well – boring. Just because someone has the right to do something, doesn’t mean we have to like it we just have to be willing to not pass laws to force them to change.
I understand that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube sell ads to make their cash and so they have to maintain a place where advertisers feel comfortable seeing their ads.
On Facebook for example many companies didn’t want their ads showing up next to content about guns or anti-Muslim content. They felt that implied a relationship between the content creator’s point of view and the product. Personally I think that modern consumers of the Internet don’t believe any such connection exists when it comes to random ads. It would be different if a vlogger said, “this antisemitism brought to you by Pringles!” but that’s not happening. I say this because I think these three platforms would actually be better off letting the loons alone. When you shadow ban the loons the other loons get quite upset. Sometimes it isn’t loons being banned but people with legitimate political points of view that don’t happen to agree with those who run the company.
For a business to really thrive you need to sell to as many people as you can.
Even in a niche market the need to expand your customer base is required for growth. A mom and pop place could likely get by on only the same customers over and over again such as a cafe in a small town but that’s a business that just provides them with food, clothing and shelter. If they also want that fancy car and that annual cruise to the Bahamas in winter they need to do more. Sure, it’s YouTube’s business and it’s clear that the parent company has a left leaning bent but they aren’t doing themselves any favors banning loons like Alex Jones. He’s a loon, make no mistake, but he brings them business.
At this point I’m drawn to think about the bakers who won’t make wedding cakes for gay weddings. They won’t because they have a religion that tells them that would be wrong and we have religious freedom as long as that freedom doesn’t interfere with someone else’s freedom. The Supreme Court recently ruled that in at least some cases there is no right to force someone to bake you a cake. There is no right to make Twitter allow you on their platform and not shadow ban you. Like the baker they have a right to their ethics and if a loon like Alex Jones doesn’t fit into that okay.
We can be boring if we want and just say it is their business but I like to dig down into why they have decided to run their business that way and just what it means to me that they have. Or what it means to society that they have.
There is in libertarian philosophy this idea about freedom of association which they connect with property rights.
Following this line of reasoning the diner owners in the south who put up signs that read, “whites only” were well within their rights to do so and those who forced them to take those signs down were wrong.
There is a fine line between that and the cake baking the supreme court recently ruled on. The court made it clear that their ruling was specific and not broad so I am not trying to apply it broadly here. I’m pointing out that such a case and those historical ones are related albeit different.
In one case there is freedom of religion and the choice not to serve is not based on the individual asking but rather the reason they are asking.
In the other case the refusal to serve is based, not on anything that the person has done, but rather the random fact that they are a particular race.
I hear people talking about freedom of association, and certainly that’s a principle I believe in. It doesn’t at all seem reasonable that anyone should be forced to spend time with someone they don’t want to. Then again, it seems like a horrible thing to deny someone service or goods just because of their race. Legally speaking we’ve made that an exception to the freedom of association. You may not have to go to church with white people but you do need to serve them in our restaurant. There are those who want to segregate this away again. I think that’s a terrible idea.
Freedom of association aside, how we exercise that freedom also matters.
Shouting about rights has this tendency to make people arrogant. Rather than seeing their rights as a thing that offers them protection they see their rights as a means to have power over someone else. “You can’t make me!” seems to be the undertone in how they see it all. “I have a right!” is meant to convey entitlement. You are entitled of course, that’s what a right is. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t be conscientious about it. I think it’s a mistake to dismiss those who warn against injudicious use of the right to freely associate.
We have rights, a government that rests on those rights, a nation that rests on that government, but we have a culture and society that I think dominates all of that. The American culture does best when it is open and inviting. You will exercise your rights as you please, I encourage everyone to stop and think about it from time to time and access if you are using them in the best way possible. Rights are individual things and we have likely heard Ayn Rand’s quote about, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
As a society we have the choice to use freedom of association respectfully or to become individual tyrants.
If a Twitter use is de facto banned from joining the conversation and isn’t informed of that fact, “shadow ban” seems like a perfectly fine shorthand.