A disturbing collaboration against “extremist” speech

The Guardian reports that “Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have pledged to work together to identify and remove extremist content on their platforms through an information-sharing initiative.” This amounts to high-tech blacklisting, and it could be very bad for people trying to convey unpopular ideas.

The article freely conflates “extremist” and “terrorist” content, as if anyone who advocates an extreme position must intend to support it with violence. Does this include extreme pacifists, I wonder? Perhaps even extreme programming?

The proposal would use digital signatures to “proactively flag extremist photos, videos and audio clips as they are posted online.” If one site deemed a post “extremist,” the others would be able to identify and remove it immediately by its signature, even if an unrelated account posted it.

Today, if one site bans content, the creator can speak out on other sites. A group called “Crimes of Britain” reported on Twitter that Facebook had banned it for “hate speech.” (I can’t find any independent confirmation of this, but it’s worth discussing even as a hypothetical case.) Later it reported being reinstated. From what I’ve seen of its Twitter feed, it denounces Britain’s historical support for tyrannical governments when it needed them as allies.

To some British politicians, this is no doubt “hate speech” and perhaps even “extremist.” If Twitter and Facebook had the new collaboration system in place, Crimes of Britain would have had a hard time letting people know about the suppression.

In the article “Extremism, or the Art of Smearing,” Ayn Rand wrote:

To begin with, “extremism” is a term which, standing by itself, has no meaning. The concept of “extreme” denotes a relation, a measurement, a degree. The dictionary gives the following definitions: “Extreme, adj. — 1. of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average. 2. utmost or exceedingly great in degree.”

It is obvious that the first question one has to ask, before using that term, is: a degree — of what?

To answer: “Of anything!” and to proclaim that any extreme is evil because it is an extreme — to hold the degree of a characteristic, regardless of its nature, as evil — is an absurdity (any garbled Aristotelianism to the contrary notwithstanding).

A unified social media blacklist, almost certainly influenced by governmental pressure, could kill “extreme” criticism before it can be widely heard. If they throw in a list of alleged “fake news” sources for good measure, we’ll just have to find other places to go to hear anything that deviates too far from the mainstream.

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