On Monday — the day Facebook, Apple, and YouTube purged Alex Jones — Twitter’s Jack Dorsey made a lonely stand. In a series of tweets, Dorsey explained that Jones hadn’t violated Twitter’s rules, that Twitter intends to resist outside pressure and act “impartially regardless of political viewpoints,” and that it was the responsibility of journalists to “document, validate, and refute” conspiracy theories.
For a brief moment, Twitter — arguably the social-media platform conservatives distrust the most — seemed to display a renewed zeal for free speech, including even the speech of one of the Internet’s most irresponsible, dishonest, and loathsome voices. After all, multiple Sandy Hook families are suing Jones after he had the audacity to accuse some of them of being “actors” who’d been “caught lying.”
But if you know anything about modern progressive corporations, you know what was coming next — the internal backlash, the soul-searching, and the climbdown.
Sure enough, as the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson reported early this morning, employees protested, and Twitter responded. Its message? Don’t worry, we’ll be better censors soon enough. Twitter’s vice president, Del Harvey, sent a company-wide email promising, among other things, to evaluate “how we can do more to help customers feel safe as it relates to hate speech.” Specifically, Harvey said that Twitter was developing proposals to deal with “dehumanizing speech” — a made-up speech category that’s a veritable carnival funhouse of subjectivity and ideological manipulation.
Twitter’s response should serve as an important reminder. As much as we focus on the online outrage mobs, unless those mobs have internal allies, their rage is often impotent. It’s the internal mob, the response of colleagues and peers, that truly drives much of the modern era of name-and-shame censorship.
Wonder what the true reason is that Google fired James Damore, the software engineer who posted a controversial memo suggesting that biology and free choice were more to blame for the relative lack of women in tech than gender discrimination was? Well, listen to Google CEO Sundar Pichai:
“I regret that people misunderstand that we may have made this for a political belief one way or another,” Pichai said. “It’s important for the women at Google, and all the people at Google, that we want to make an inclusive environment.” When pressed by Swisher on the issue of regret, Pichai stated more definitively, “I don’t regret it.” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who has spoken publicly about how Damore’s memo affected her personally, followed up with, “I think it was the right decision.”
And let’s not forget reports that Atlantic editor-in-chief fired my colleague Kevin Williamson in part because of fears for his “workplace relationships” with his new Atlantic colleagues.
The New York Times recently hired (and rapidly fired) writer Quinn Norton after an extraordinarily brief online backlash. It’s standing by new hire Sarah Jeong after a sustained online controversy (fueled by years of controversial and often hateful tweets from Jeong) that swamps the Norton controversy in both intensity and duration.
One wonders. What were the relative strengths of the internal constituencies supporting Norton and Jeong?
It is a simple fact that conservatives began to lose the online free-speech wars years ago. In some cases, the loss dates back to the founding and initial staffing of the most powerful companies in America. Disproportionately young tech employees (and the younger employees of elite media) are products of a very specific culture, a culture steeped in intersectionality and identity politics — a culture that increasingly sees traditional concepts of free speech as threats to social justice, not as engines of positive social change.
I frequently speak to young conservative audiences — to young people who believe in individual liberty and properly understand free speech as (to quote Frederick Douglass) “the great moral renovator of society and government” — and they are eager to make their mark for conservative values. Yet too many remain focused on the worlds of politics and conservative activism. They want to be “professional conservatives.” They want to be Fox News Famous.
Yet who has more power to shape our national debate? A senator? A Fox News contributor? Or a senior executive at Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter?
You’ll see online a number of angry populists who declare their intention to “make the other side live up to its own rules.” In other words, make progressive organizations fire progressive writers. Make them feel the same pain that conservatives feel.
I can’t help but laugh. Until you sit in the seat of power, you can’t “make” the other side do anything. In fact, they often wear your scorn and anger as a badge of honor. The Left drinks deeply of conservative tears with the same relish that the online Right “owns the libs.” The difference? In virtually every cultural or corporate context that matters, the Left actually calls the shots. They sit in the seats of power.
So, what to do? Persuade. Patiently and persistently make the case for free speech and for the culture of free speech. Make the case for true tolerance. But while persuasion is necessary, it’s not sufficient. Conservatives need to prioritize careers in tech, in media, and in entertainment. Conservative donors should prioritize investment in the fields that matter far more than politics. In other words, don’t try to make the other side live up to its own rules. Build the power to make better rules. If you can’t beat the internal mob, be the mob, a better mob.
In short, the conservative culture warrior is not the key to victory. It’s time for the conservative culture-maker to have his day.