The next day on the Hannity show, Dorsey elaborated. “We do believe in the power of free expression, but we always need to balance that with the fact that bad-faith actors intentionally try to silence other voices.”
As has often been the case with Twitter’s haphazard enforcement, it is difficult to reconcile this with the fact that Jones is a bad-faith actor by his own admission — or at least the admission of his lawyer during a custody battle. “He’s playing a character,” Jones’ attorney Randall Wilhite told the judge during a pretrial hearing, claiming that Jones should be held no more accountable for his actions than Jack Nicholson would for playing the Joker in a Batman movie. Rather than a fiery iconoclast telling controversial truths, he’s simply “a performance artist.” What, if anything, does it mean to say that you are concerned about bad actors when you also vociferously defend providing a megaphone to perhaps the most extreme bad-faith commentator in political discourse?
Twitter, which once identified itself as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has long listed toward the sort of free speech absolutism that says absolutely anything goes, so long as it isn’t overtly criminal. It’s a popular idea among the Silicon Valley cyberlibertarians who hold some the most powerful positions at tech companies and, not coincidentally, a founding principle of the internet itself.
There lies, within this absolutism, an often very idealistic and sincere belief: if we simply allow all speech to compete in the free marketplace of ideas, then the best, most productive, and most truthful ideas will win out. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the best answer to bad, shitty, and sometimes even abusive speech is simply more speech.
Dorsey echoed this belief in his thread defending Jones as a legitimate and not-at-all-in-violation-of-Twitter-rules user: “Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”
The article has a good roundup of studies showing that the truth is no match for a well-judged lie.