The Corner

Culture

The Problems With Twitter’s Alt-Right ‘Crackdown’

Twitter has cracked down on the alt-right, banning many of its most prominent accounts, including some of its most prominent thinkers and intellectuals. Even though the alt-right is vile, and even though it has targeted me and my family for months of abuse, I’m not entirely comfortable with Twitter’s move. My thoughts:

First, I’m deeply uncomfortable with a platform that is purportedly dedicated to the free exchange of ideas banning ideas it deems (and I deem) distasteful or hateful. My default position is – barring extraordinary circumstances like wartime jihadist recruitment – the cure for bad speech is better speech. It’s a cliché, yes, but its truth and worth are time-tested. It’s a principle I’ve defended my entire legal career.

Second, however, there is a difference between the expression of ideas and direct, targeted personal attacks. The Twitter abuse problem has little or nothing to do with a person or institution spouting off horrible or racist ideas into the Twitter void. No one has to listen. No one has to engage. The true abuse crisis isn’t the spread of ideas but rather vicious and precisely-targeted tweets directed at individuals and their families – attacks that aren’t designed to create discussion but rather to intimidate and threaten.

Twitter has zero moral or commercial interest in maintaining a platform for such attacks, but so long as abusers can not only commandeer my mentions (one free shot before they’re blocked, muted, or reported) but also share vile messages about specific individuals with impunity, it will remain an instrument for an unacceptable amount of evil, and its commercial growth will be capped. The idea that any given day I might see my young daughter’s face in a gas chamber is disgusting – as is the idea that her face continues to be shared on muted/blocked accounts.

Third, while some of the banned accounts may not have trolled anyone, don’t automatically believe their claims of ignorance. It’s well-known that some members of the alt-right tend to “fix” a target with a mention, then dozens or hundreds of smaller, anonymous alt-right accounts will then troll or threaten that person with a barrage of vile, directed tweets. The initial tweet acts almost like the bugle call of a cavalry charge. They know what they’re doing, and they richly deserve their bans.

Finally, there are some who write off Twitter abuse as simply “someone said a mean thing on the internet.” I would submit that if you’re reserving public spaces only for those people who can laugh or ultimately shrug off the worst and most grotesque insults imaginable, then we’re suffering a great loss for zero cultural or political gain. Oh, and most people who dismiss other users’ stories of abuse haven’t actually experienced anything remotely comparable. Talk to me after your third-grader is in the crosshairs.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Great Misdirection

The House Democrats are frustrated, very frustrated. They’ve gotten themselves entangled in procedural disputes with the Trump administration that no one particularly cares about and that might be litigated for a very long time. A Washington Post report over the weekend spelled out how stymied Democrats ... Read More
World

Australia’s Voters Reject Leftist Ideas

Hell hath no fury greater than left-wingers who lose an election in a surprise upset. Think Brexit in 2016. Think Trump’s victory the same year. Now add Australia. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison shocked pollsters and pundits alike with his victory on Saturday, and the reaction has been brutal ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More
Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
Film & TV

Game of Thrones: A Father’s Legacy Endures

Warning! If you don't want to read any spoilers from last night's series finale of Game of Thrones, stop reading. Right now. There is a lot to unpack about the Thrones finale, and I fully understand many of the criticisms I read on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, the show was compressed. Yes, there were moments ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More