In the wake of notorious phrases such as “alternative facts” and “fake news,” some tech companies and media outlets have decided to crack down on what they consider propaganda. In doing so, they have arguably peddled their own propaganda from a different angle. In the wake of this narrative maelstrom, Twitter has taken a remarkable stand for a virtue that seems vanishingly rare today: humility.
“We are not the arbiters of truth,” Nick Pickles, Twitter’s head of public policy for Britain, admitted during testimony before British lawmakers in Washington, D.C. “We are not going to remove content based on the fact this is untrue. The one strength that Twitter has is it’s a hive of journalists, of citizens, of activists correcting the record, correcting information.”
Pickles make these remarks at an event featuring tech giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google at George Washington University at a public committee hearing for Britain’s House of Commons, the first ever such hearing outside the United Kingdom, The Washington Post reported.
Conservative Member of Parliament Simon Hart reportedly asked Pickles about information that is “provably, demonstrably untrue.” Pickles responded that tweets containing false information might be removed if they also violate rules against hate speech, but that the company will not remove tweets based solely on “the truthfulness of a piece of information.”
“I don’t think technology companies should be deciding during an election what is true and what is not true, which is what you’re asking us to do,” Pickles added. “I think that’s a very important principle.”
Predictably, the Post‘s Callum Borchers took a very negative angle on this news. Reminding readers that “President Trump has helped stretch the definition of fake news beyond recognition,” Borchers drew the conclusion, “You can lie on Twitter.”
Unfortunately for Borchers, it isn’t quite that simple. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have taken up the standard of “truth” in recent years — “Democracy Dies in Darkness” and the Times‘ “Truth has a voice” campaign — but while facts often are independently verifiable, all messages come from a limited perspective.
The result? One man’s “truth” is another man’s “fake news.” Outlets like CNN, the Times, and the Post color their reporting of the facts with a certain degree of liberal bias — that doesn’t mean the facts they’re reporting aren’t true, but it does mean that the lesson they draw from those facts might be suspect. Here at PJ Media, we attempt to correct that record.
(There has been a great deal to correct: The New York Times spread a lie about Romans 1, misidentified the Syrian city of Aleppo, said Christian opposition to abortion was “new;” The Washington Post said a Canaanite study disproved the Bible when it very much did not; and of course there were the “Fake News Awards.”)
Perhaps Borchers knew “you can lie on Twitter” based on the remarkably offensive and factually inaccurate statement the Washington Post posted on Twitter on Christmas Day last year. “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up,” the paper’s opinions section tweeted.
Should Twitter have removed the tweet based on the evidence from the Gospels and from Jewish (Josephus, Babylonian Talmud), Roman (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger), and Greek (Lucian of Samosata) sources that Jesus was a real historical figure? According to Pickles, Twitter should keep the tweet up, and there are good reasons for doing so.
While Jesus’ case may be rather straightforward, there are many more dubious narratives where it takes considerable judgment to choose whether something is true or false.
Even in the wake of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault, there is a general understanding that allegations of sexual assault remain allegations until proven true. Men like Harvey Weinstein and former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar did indeed abuse women for long periods of time, while actor Aziz Ansari seems guilty of pressuring a woman into sex but not assaulting her.
News breaks on Twitter, and if the site were to remove tweets accusing Ansari of “sexual assault” when he actually seems innocent of that crime, that would be an act of suppression and censorship that damages the public debate.
Recent news about the political climate at tech companies, the suppression of ideas online, and the branding of mainstream groups as “hate groups” helps provide context to Twitter’s decision.
A Lincoln Network survey taken last December found that 67 percent of Silicon Valley tech employees said their workplaces were “liberal” or “very liberal.” A full 89 percent of very conservative employees and 74 percent of conservative employees said they could not “truly bring their whole selves to work.” Even half of moderates (50 percent) said the same.
Former Google senior software engineer James Damore filed a lawsuit against his former employer, and in that suit he revealed a stunning Left-wing cultural bias at the company. Advocates for conservative social structures were ridiculed and even reprimanded, while all sorts of LGBT lifestyles were encouraged — one employee even gave a seminar on sexually identifying as a “plural being.” This individual (preferred pronouns unknown) identified as both “a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin” and “an expansive ornate building.”
Google has also come under fire for restricting YouTube videos from Prager University (PragerU) for being unfit for children, despite not restricting Left-wing perspectives on the same topics or other users that repost the exact same videose. PragerU is suing Google for this alleged targeting, and about 450,000 Americans have signed a petition to “Stop Online Censorship.”
Wikipedia — a site widely considered a neutral source, similar to Google — has also revealed a remarkable bias against particular viewpoints. Last October, they removed the entry on distinguished German insect paleontologist Günter Bechly, seemingly due to his position on intelligent design (ID), the scientific movement (not a religious conviction and not based on the Bible) considering evidence for design behind nature.
Even the acts of restricting videos and removing Wikipedia entries seem benign when compared to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) smear campaign, however. The SPLC has attacked mainstream conservatives, Christians, and even at least one Muslim by ranking them on “hate group” lists with the Ku Klux Klan. The organization has admitted the lists are based on “opinion” and are designed to “destroy these groups, completely.” A terrorist who tried to kill everyone at the Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington, D.C. admitted he got the address from the SPLC’s “hate map.”
Tragically, Internet companies like Vanco Payments, Amazon, and Guidestar have adopted the “hate group” list, refusing to provide service to Protestant and Roman Catholic charities and branding a broad swath of nonprofit organizations “hate groups.” Apple has also partnered with the SPLC in an effort to fight “hate.” To make matters worse, the SPLC has openly called for Internet censorship.
In this context, Twitter’s decision to accept that it is not the “arbiter of truth” is wise, humble, and quite welcome. The battle of ideas should take place without censorship or tech companies’ pretensions to know better than other people.
Yes, some “fake news,” from the Right and the Left, will proliferate — but the great thing about free speech is that people are free to counter the lies with their understanding of the truth. In a polarized political climate where everyone accuses the other side of lying, an open platform that allows fools to look foolish and discerning people to correct them is extremely important.
Then again, Twitter really should learn to stop suspending conservatives’ accounts. PJ Media’s terrorism expert and Washington, D.C. editor Bridget Johnson has been suspended, with no explanation. The company should apply its newfound humility to Johnson, and some other conservatives it has suspended…