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X continues to sit on two chairs and send mixed signals regarding the company’s stance on free speech.
A new blog post penned this week by X Corp CEO Linda Yaccarino goes into this, at once claiming that society must “empower people to express its thoughts” – but also, that the line must be drawn at “hate” and “hate speech.”
Considering the platform’s long and difficult history with suppressing free speech, well documented in the Twitter Files, and the fact terms like “hate speech” not to mention “misinformation” are so often used simply to cover up straight-up censorship, Yaccarino’s intent here can be seen as confusing.
All the more so since the blog post is entitled, “Safeguarding Information Independence and Combating Hate Speech” only to be followed by the subtitle, “Building an Indispensable Global Town Square.”
This is particularly interesting since it’s an admission of sorts that X is indeed a (digital) town square. The argument that this is the case with all major social sites has been used for a long time to prove that speech there should be protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment, regardless of the companies being privately-owned.
The term “modern public square” as it pertains to social networks is found in the 2017 US Supreme Court opinion in Packingham v. North Carolina.
And, another thing that the US Supreme Court has determined is that there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment (Matal v. Tam, also from 2017).
So – what is Yaccarino (i.e., X) doing here, evoking both free speech, “the global town square” – and, “combating hate speech”? Trying to eat the cake and have it too – or pacify many powerful detractors of X in these particularly “sensitive” campaign times?
First, she praises the need for “information independence – the free exchange of ideas, information and knowledge through freedom of speech” as a precondition to society’s progress.
It goes on – “Heavy content filtering practices of some platforms and media entities have altered people’s understanding of the truth.”
And on. “We’re seeing things we held as true being openly challenged. Control, censorship, and information centralization holds us back – while greater access to information propels us forward and fuels positive change,” writes Yaccarino.
But then: “For all the good, there’s also a point when information independence crosses a line too, and that’s hate speech,” the blog post states.
It seems to be fairly narrowly “motivated,” the context being Elon Musk’s address at the European Jewish Association’s symposium, with the latest major flare-up of hostilities in the Middle East looming large in the background.
Then Yaccarino switches into full Big Tech/legacy media mode: “It’s all our duty to combat hate speech – in our communities and on every platform. Because freedom of speech and safety can and must coexist. And the future of democracy and the global economy depends on it.”
Finally, there’s two messages: “Let’s make up our own minds – because we can handle the truth. Let’s fight hate with kindness and understanding.”
At least she didn’t say, “let’s fight it with more censorship.” And, sometimes sitting bad times out on two chairs is the only clever thing to (try to) do.
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