Recently, liberal feminist author Naomi Wolf was banned from Twitter for publishing what the BBC described as “anti-vaccine misinformation.”
One would think that, if Wolf’s views on vaccines were mistaken, then the answer would be to explain why she is wrong, to correct bad speech with good speech. Twitter, however, does not believe its users capable of deciding the truth for themselves, and so it promptly banned Wolf.
The banning of Wolf’s account is, of course, the latest in a long line of such actions by Twitter. Furthermore, Twitter has been using a number of other, subtler tools to dissuade certain lines of dialogue on their platform, such as placing tags of shame on posts containing wrongthink.
It is debatable as to whether any of this violates the letter of the law, but conservatives who argue about tech monopolies and Section 230 risk missing the larger issue. Widespread banning on social media represents an assault on the very spirit of free speech itself.
Freedom of speech is not merely a legal principle enshrined within the First Amendment, but a cultural value necessary for sustaining a free society. It is based on a very simple notion: that human beings are rational creatures capable of discerning good ideas from bad ones, that the truth is discoverable via free and open debate, and that if all ideas are allowed to be heard, the better ones will ultimately prevail – not always, and not everywhere, but often enough to be worth it.