The “ good speech ” does not win
This is the letter from the editor in the current issue of The week magazine.
Almost a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that the best remedy for “lies and mistakes” was not “forced silence” from censorship, but “more talk”. This fundamental defense of free speech rested on an optimistic assumption that has served us well: In the marketplace of ideas, good thought and truth will eventually triumph over bad thought and lies. Can we be so confident of it today? Social media has deeply disrupted public discourse, eroding and bypassing filters and turning every crank into an editor with far-reaching potential. On Facebook and Twitter, every day brings a new tsunami of hyperpartisan argument, tribal resentment, propaganda of all flavors, death threats, conspiracy theories and lovely baby photos and wonderful scriptures and reflections. The wonderful thing – Brandeis’ “more talk” – doesn’t necessarily triumph over “lies and mistakes”. This is why Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg now faces heavy decisions regarding the surveillance of his huge private platform.
Zuckerberg’s reluctance to serve as a “arbiter of truth” is understandable: How does Facebook filter out the 4.7 billion posts that its 2.7 billion users share every day? It can’t. But its rage-boosting algorithms, allied and nurtured by Fox News’ media ecosystem, have allowed tens of millions of Americans to secede into an alternate reality that facts and evidence don’t penetrate. In this bubble, massive electoral fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 election, January 6 was a peaceful assembly of patriots, Representative Liz Cheney is a traitor, COVID was not dangerous, masks offered no protection and life-saving vaccines are part of a sinister plot. These lies have led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths during the pandemic and a violent attempt to overturn the elections. They now threaten democracy itself. The truth and our best angels may prevail in the long run, but let’s be honest: the outcome is uncertain.