I don’t have a Twitter account, but I read content on the platform more than I would like to admit even to myself. One particular tweet caught my eye. On June 6, the Wall Street Journal’s Vatican correspondent, Francis Rocca, retweeted a video of a dad dancing for his child who was born with Down syndrome and had been diagnosed with leukemia. The baby is clearly amused and claps along with his dad. It’s impossible to watch the video without being moved. Rocca tweeted: “Let’s just ban everything except this sort of content from Twitter and we’ll all be better off.”
Of course, I thought. If Twitter had been conceived of and marketed as Chicken Soup for Our Collective National Soul, no one would question its right to ban content it deemed contrary to that vision. So why do we get upset about censorship now? Because insofar as social-media platforms have become extensions of our very beings, censorship of our lives on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram is a violation of our freedom of speech. What is speech if it’s not on Facebook?
For me the question isn’t whether the government should regulate social-media outlets, or whether they should be treated like utilities, or whether the outlets themselves should adopt a First Amendment principle voluntarily, or whether they should de-platform views outside the mainstream or outside their own woke visions of society. My question is instead: Does this debate mean, on a moral level, that we now treat our social-media platforms as extensions of ourselves? How else could restrictions on our social-media activity be construed as a violation of the First Amendment? As Jonah Goldberg points out, any publication already censors anyone it chooses not to publish. In no way does that restrict free speech. No one could plausibly say that being rejected by National Review was a violation of his free speech. Facebook censoring a post is a violation of free speech only if my profile is me and I am my profile.
In 2011, I deleted my Facebook account. I had joined the platform in 2005, back when you needed an .edu email address to join, and before you could post images, aside from your single profile picture. I haven’t really thought twice about the decision to delete it. I’ve missed a few parties and many updates about significant events such as births and deaths. But really, only updates from people I’m no longer close to. I can, and do, send belated notes of congratulations or condolence when I realize that I’m behind on important news. When I run into people I haven’t seen in a long time, we have a lot to talk about, because I don’t know what they’ve been up to.
Admittedly, I enjoy reading social media. I spend a lot of time scanning Twitter despite not having an account. Too much time, I confess. I did set up an Instagram account recently after I started to learn photography. I made a decision not to post personal things there, only my professional photographs, but I’m already thinking of deleting it. I like that when I meet someone new in person, I am a blank slate in their eyes. Or I am a friend of a friend, or a former colleague of a classmate, etc. I am not those photos from 2007 that I wish I could make disappear. I realize there are ways to restrict photos. Many photos I am in have been posted without my knowing, but those are not all in one place for the world to see. I am not merely a series of images in chronological order all compiled in one virtual location whose security depends on the benevolence and competence of a few guys and gals in Silicon Valley. How long until a social-justice-warrior employee at Facebook starts leaking the off-color jokes in private messages sent by people he doesn’t like?
My advice: Delete your Facebook, yesterday. Don’t get your news from Twitter. The issues of free speech on social media will no longer matter to you. They don’t matter to me. I’ve made a decision not to subjugate myself to the whims of our new overlords. They can open their platform to everyone from neo-Nazis to Kim Jong-un, or they can have a litmus test that includes denouncing Donald Trump or the pope at regular intervals — a sort of school-bathroom pass fitting for our generation’s extended adolescence in which Mark Zuckerberg plays the schoolmarm. It won’t affect my life either way. In my own mind at least, I am free because these things no longer define my life. I am happier as a result. I can still read a book of some length, an ability I see dropping off sharply among my peers.
Not having Facebook is the 21st-century equivalent of becoming a cloistered monk. If I can just stop opening Twitter, I will feel like I’ve replaced Saint Simeon on his pillar. Monastic jokes aside, let me tell you: Life doesn’t end when you close your social-media accounts. In fact, the day you close them is the day your life truly begins again.
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