The Corner

Culture

‘Hold Them Accountable’

Considering Internet-savvy alt-right entrepreneurs in Wired, Emma Grey Ellis writes:

Even with YouTube’s help, any solution that isn’t an eternal game of content moderation whack-a-mole is years away. So it’s time to stop being surprised when the far-right is good at the internet. It’s time to expect to see them trending, and hold platforms accountable when they do.

Ellis defines “far-right YouTube” as a group of commentators “who range in ideology from mainstream libertarian to openly white nationalist.”

In that context, what does her demand to “hold platforms accountable” actually mean? Part of this is just meaningless corporate-speak, a language in which the word “accountable” can mean anything, and often means the opposite of what “accountable” means in English. Politicians are particularly fond of “hold them accountable,” which is a way of saying, “Do something!” without proposing or committing to any particular course of action.

(I sometimes wonder if it really is the case that a few hundred million people in one of the most free and prosperous societies in the history of the world can really be so effortlessly buffaloed — but, unhappily, the evidence does point that way. Read the letters section in the New York Times and then meditate on the fact that these are the ones that were chosen.)

The implicit demand in Ellis’s column, not quite put into these words, is that media companies be used as instruments of suppression when it comes to unpopular political ideas. Or “mainstream libertarian” ones, apparently, which as Ellis informs us are part of the “far right,” another one of those terms so infinitely plastic as to be useless for the communication of actual political thought — which, of course, is not what that phrase is here to do.

We are supposed to conclude that YouTube has done something naughty or wicked if some adherent to a backwards ideology uses that tool of public communication to communicate publicly. The belief that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, et al. have a moral duty to act as stand-in censors, that their suppression of unpopular views serves the public interest, and that “the public interest” is another way of saying “what progressives are comfortable with” has somehow become an almost unquestioned assumption without anybody’s having made an intelligent and persuasive case for why this must be so. The opposite case has been made, repeatedly, throughout the history of liberalism, liberalism being the philosophy most despised by the Americans who call themselves “liberals.”

It’s a funny old world.

Postscript: It’s “Whac-a-Mole.”

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