Gawker’s demise, Twitter’s quality control, and Milo’s ban are qualitatively similar. And the implications are dangerous.
Gawker is toast. The company, which was mired with controversies, is finally declaring themselves bankrupt. The company came out with this release, and I took a screenshot, in case it is not archived.
On the same day, Twitter declared that they will impose “Quality Control”, to stop Trolls commenting. The idea is noble, to stop random internet abuse. Mary Sue is of course happy.
However it should give us a pause. But before that allow me to trace some history.
I am no fan of Gawker. Since I started blogging and journalism, around 2007 December, I despised Gawker, and at the same time, tried to imitate their caustic sarcasm. My first idea of a World Watch column for Bombs and Dollars, (not this site, but the previous defunct one with the same name) was essentially a right of center version of Wonkette and Gawker.
For anyone old enough to remember the “blog wars” during 2008 US election campaign, will remember how vicious it was.
However, that was almost a decade back. Lot of water passed through Thames, and my co-editor Mitch and I are both serious professionals now.
However, much though we both hated Gawker, I can speak on behalf of him and I, that neither of us wanted them to shut down, because that would be against a fundamental notion of free speech, that we always believed in and preached. Words don’t hurt, and freedom of speech is the most important and cherished thing in a democracy, and also the most under attack. For those of us, who actually traveled a fair bit of the world for research and journalism, and seen some of the most vile and repressive regimes in this planet, can guarantee, we don’t appreciate often how fortunate we are in the West, where our freedom of expression is guaranteed by law.
The internet proved to be the last bastion of it; until now.
It is highly ironic to see those who bemoan Gawker’s demise on Twitter is now supporting Twitter’s censorship. How is that qualitatively different? Why is Milo banned, (and you can check my tweets, I despise his entire persona and everything his Alt-Right fan boys stand for) but Anjem Choudary, (I despise him as well, obviously) a convicted Islamist allowed to spout his poison?
My point is simple. The quality control is a sham, and Twitter is turning to be the echo-chamber, a glorified, sophisticated center-left Reddit of sorts, that many in the post-modern left like Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte, Brianna Wu, propagated. Criticism, of any sorts, will be rendered trolling, and that will be it.
Here’s an example. Twitter algorithm will find “I disagree with your radical feminism” to be similar to “Screw you bulld*ke”, similar and troubling, as they can both be arguably offensive and “trauma inducing” to some. While the latter is a vile insult, the former is as solid a critique as far as 140 characters crudely permit. Now, if individually they are judged, ofcourse someone will understand which is trolling in the case and which is not. However that’s also not logistically possible. So, it will be automated. Et Voila.
The counter argument then arise, Twitter is a private company, and it can do whatever it wants, because, market! Really? By that logic, a cake maker who refuses to serve gay couples should be also allowed to do whatever they want, because it’s his/her own company! A manager might refuse to hire someone because of his tattoos or shocking pink hair, because it is within his/her prerogative. My spidey sense tells me, that won’t be allowed, by those same people who support Twitter’s new policies.
Look, it’s not difficult to understand, and Stephen Miller tweeted it succinctly last night.
Twitter is whatever you want it to be. You have 100% control of what you see or hear or react to or who reacts to you on Twitter.
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) August 18, 2016
Two points to remember here that are important.
- Internet is a medium where you choose what you want to see or who you want to interact and communicate with. But, that choice is there, and it is not controlled by a third party, and that’s how it should stay.
If you are opinionated, and passionate about something, be prepared to face backlash. We journalists/researchers face that everyday, everyone whose job entails them to interact with public faces that everyday, and your status, sex, gender, and position doesn’t immune you from it, nor should it.
To put it simply, in terms that we used to learn back in our teenage years during the 90s, “if you can’t face the heat, get out of the kitchen”.
Unfortunately, with the demise of Gawker, and the coming censorship of Twitter proves those days might just be over. Only, those who are cheering it today, remember, as Auden once wrote, “‘I and the public know, What all schoolchildren learn; Those to whom evil is done, Do evil in return”.
Censorship and banning never stopped at one medium, and the precedent it sets is dangerous. Sooner it will ban and censor your thoughts too. Ultimately, democracy is the loser.