Much is being made of the fact that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter (I refuse to use these murderers’ names and give them the publicity they crave) had been spouting his anti-Semitic hatred on a social media site called Gab.com. That site has been assailed as a harbor for white supremacists and other lowlifes, and for that reason, it’s found itself practically blackballed from the Internet. Its server host, GoDaddy, has dropped it, Paypal has blocked its payments, and other sites have turned on it so completely that it’s currently offline.
But the founders of Gab.com deny that they exist as a platform for hate speech. They claim the site was designed to be an alternative, uncensored free speech site for all viewpoints, and that they are cooperating fully with authorities to help build the case against the shooter. They say they’re searching for a new host service and vow to return. You can read their full statement at their homepage: www.gab.com
This in a nutshell presents the conundrum of the Internet, and in a larger sense, the First Amendment. The Founders wanted us to have free speech, because they believed that in a free marketplace of ideas, bad speech would be exposed by good speech so that the best ideas would prevail and the worst would fall away. They didn’t envision the bubble world of the Internet where people who believe in bad ideas would speak only to each other and compound and amplify their ignorance. So it’s tempting to censor offensive speech, but then you get into the murky area of who defines what’s offensive and polices what people are allowed to say.
On the giant Silicon Valley social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it’s obvious where the line is drawn as they are systematically barring conservative voices, even benign ones, while allowing some of the most vile leftist rhetoric to run wild. Lately, they’ve seemed more concerned with shutting down people who defend President Trump or letting the discredited SPLC smear Christian organizations as “hate groups” than with shutting down ISIS recruiters.
One could argue that the leftist bias and censorship of the social media kingpins is one reason why sites like Gab.com are popping up. If that site doesn’t survive, then it’s inevitable that more will arise to challenge the giants by promising platforms free of PC Big Brotherism.
When these sites do appear, attacking them for allowing hateful speech will be like trying to burn the Bill of Rights to silence offensive speakers. The solution to bad speech these days is not merely more speech but more vigilance to expose the bad speech. If social media is going to give even the most twisted people on Earth access to a worldwide soapbox, then it’s up to not only the sites but the rest of us to police them and not let their bubbles grow bigger, but to pop them.
Remember “If you see something, say something”? That doesn’t just apply to suspicious activity in crowded places but also on social media; like the heroic mom who recently prevented a school shooting by reporting the scary Facebook posts of a creepy stranger hundreds of miles away in Kentucky.
If this murderous scum in Philadelphia was espousing his hatred on Gab.com, why did nobody – not just site administrators, but readers and other users - report that to authorities? Or if they did, why didn’t someone check into it? There have been similar questions about other shooters who put out plenty of online warning signals, such as the Parkland school shooter, and those were on major social media sites, not obscure corners of the Internet like Gab.com.
Democratic strategist Rochelle Ritchie says she actually complained to Twitter about threats made against her in her Twitter feed by the alleged Florida pipe bomb mailer, and those complaints were completely ignored. Between that and all the violent tweets against conservatives, it sounds as if Twitter exercises no more responsibility for real hate speech on their platform than Gab.com has been accused of. But is anyone seriously proposing yanking Twitter’s hosting or is Paypal refusing to provide service to Twitter?
All this should cause Americans to pause and think very carefully about what we do next. There are a lot of questions that need to be considered and debated freely to insure that we aren’t stampeded into throwing out the Bill of Rights with the offensive speakers. One that must be asked is this: “Is the banishment of Gab.com a necessary squashing of an evil mouthpiece service for dangerous haters, or is it just an easy scapegoat because they’re a small start-up trying to compete with the super-rich and powerful sites that are really no better, but like well-connected Wall Street banks, are ‘too big to be held accountable’”?
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