Oh, Madge, don’t you know the Twitter gods shouldn’t be trifled with?
Twitter’s suspension of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s account kicked off yet another round of conservatives barking for Big Tech accountability. Rep. Greene had her personal Twitter handle padlocked after she posted dubious COVID-19 vaccine information, namely a crowdsourced vax sequela database that’s as medically reliable as Yahoo Answers.
Spreading spurious, selectively curated data about a protective health measure during the pandemic’s accelerando entr’acte is immoral. But it’s hard to see how it’s grounds for proscription. There’s a ton of COVID misinfo out there. In fact, I’d argue that most things you read online about the respiratory virus, and its lung-bashing malady, is off the mark. Until two weeks ago, dismissing positive cases was seen as murderous advice spewed by science-hating red staters with a death wish. Now the most credentialed immunologist in the country is deemphasizing rising COVID trend lines.
No matter. Rep. Greene ran afoul of Twitter’s terms and conditions and was stripped of her account, like a teen delinquent denied phone privileges by her parents. There is something disturbingly paternalistic in how social media Securitate are tasked with epistemologically protecting adults against themselves in others. All the brown-nosing tattletales you knew as a kid have grown up to be Twitter hall monitors.
The outcry over Greene’s Twitter karet (courtesy, she must imagine, of those fiendish space-laser-wielders!), and coincident Facebook suspension, scratches like a broken record. The song and dance is always in 4/4 time: a daring right-winger pushes the envelope on posting policies, warnings are issued, provocations continue, the moderators tire of the taunting didoes and smash the “ban” button. Conservative ire ensues. Pitchforks, pine-knot torches, and “off with their avatar heads” declarations pop up. Accusations of double standards and leftie bias proliferate. Demands for federal intervention are made. Arcane arguments about a provision in a 1996 law governing lewd and sexual content are authored. Meta-debates on the nature of the digital agora follow in more tactful publications.
To paraphrase Charles Péguy, everything begins in grievance and ends in politics. And it’s all so exhausting. Yes, techie c-suites hate conservatives, and are happy to shadow ban, or outright interdict, effective accounts, while letting progressive provocateurs slide. It’s unfair; infuriating even.
But what to do other than let Washington subsume Silicon Valley and turn Google into the DMV? Much as we tremble before the all-powerful information-sifting giant, only a handful of microchip reactionaries want to pay a yearly charge by mail to watch bushmen build intricate mud houses in the jungle at 3AM.
Likewise, conservatives make a lot of interesting arguments about the looming threat of tech execs accretioning power, and the anti-democratic suppression of heterodox personalities online. But none have any solutions that aren’t just stato corporativo doctrine dressed up in communitarian language.
Econ columnist Noah Smith makes a novel suggestion to how the right can address its online muting: embrace it. Wait! Hold your reflexive objection: as a liberal, Smith isn’t attempting reverse psychology, trying to persuade conservatives that Stockholm syndrome to the Metaverse is healthy and desirable. He thinks Twitter’s tone policing actually makes the right more respectable, and more likely to win elections, in the long run.
“Twitter banning the QAnoners, antivaxers, 1/6 supporters, and Nazis provided crucial respectability for the nascent conservative resurgence, and its failure to ban extremists on the left will weigh liberalism down over the next few years,” he tweeted.
Ah, respectability. The coin of the political realm. Love it or hate it, most American elections are determined by that most odious of social genera: the petit bourgeois. And they generally prefer not having to verbally litigate their vote for someone who drafts Facebook screeds on how long-bearded fellows with skull caps and tassels make it snow in summer.
“The fundamental dynamic of Twitter—which we all hate, but can’t do anything about—is that everyone is forced to answer for the tweets of the most insane fringe members of their political ‘side’,” Smith elaborated. If Democrats have to answer for their members soliciting bail funds for cold-blooded killers, shouldn’t Republicans have to do the same for their cadres who suggest a mere flu wiped out nearly a million Americans in under two years? Well, the latter can’t if the crazies are gagged.
“Seeing the unvarnished voices of our politicians is a double-edged sword, and without social media, someone like Rep. Greene can seem closer to reasonable,” writes Nellie Bowles. The same reasoning can be applied to Trump, whose exile from social media has made him less unfavorable compared to President Biden.
Like Wittgenstein said, whereof one cannot sh*tpost, thereof one must be silent. Or something along those philosophical lines.
None of this is novel to conservatives. Free speech, as Matthew Schmitz points out, is a classical liberal value, not a conservative one. Likewise, the professional right has long policed its ranks, barring entry to all types of cranks, shysters, grifters, loons, and unstitched conspiracy fiends. Sometimes gatekeeping worked, such as when Bill Buckley banished the John Birch Society from the pages of National Review; other times, it backfired, such as when David Frum cut an exclusionary swath through “unpatriotic conservatives,” e.g. Iraq War critics, also in National Review. And sometimes the guards get barrelled over—such as when a certain celebrity hotelier wiped the floor with his traditional Republican opponents in a presidential primary.
Gatekeeping is inextricable from any political philosophy. And it usually serves to hone and improve ideas, making them more palatable to voters.
Were it not for the interference-running media, Democrats would have to answer more for their slick-tongued, undisciplined members. In a limited scope, that already happened. The “defund the police” tagline continues to be a yoke on liberal office-seekers. Dismissing parental concerns about school curricula and gender-exclusive commodes cost Democrats Virginia’s governorship.
Before the internet, broadcasting one’s asinine delusions used to be limited to a few high-barrier mediums. You could write a letter to the editor of your local daily about mind-controlling fluoride being dumped in the water supply. You could rent out a billboard urging others to support Lyndon LaRouche for president. If you needed to know if divorce was the proper recourse when your spouse voted for Dukakis, you could write Ann Landers. And if you were really peeved, you could send a few incendiary devices through your local post office, then return to your remote Montana cabin to await the FBI.
The web’s allowance of hair-trigger opinionating has been enlightening in a way that would have appalled Locke, Newton, Rousseau, and all those overly caffeinated, breech-wearing 17th century big brains. It’s given easy access to our immediate thoughts, none of which are politic, prudent, well-thought-out, or remotely worthy of public airing.
That’s all to say that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy isn’t breaking a sweat trying to get Rep. Greene’s Twitter personal account restored. In all likelihood, he probably asked Parag Agrawal to shut it down. He’d sleep even sounder if the other rah-rah MAGAers, like the bespectacled bar owner or the paraplegic honeypot mark, were evicted from the Twitter piazza.
Nancy Pelosi would be so lucky to have the Squad booted from the birdie board. Freedom of speech is great; free dumb speech, not so much. Thankfully, losing Twitter doesn’t mean Madge Green is permanently muted. I’m sure the Rome News-Tribune eagerly awaits her editorials on fazzledrip and Hillary Clinton’s unquenchable thirst for virgin blood.
The deranged screeds will be filed and printed straight into the scrapbasket, right where they belong.