#FreeStacy — But From What? In Defense of Free Speech Legalism

You should regard anything I say about Robert Stacy McCain with skepticism, because I hate him.

My loathing for him is sincere and entire. My revulsion for him is both conscious and subconscious, like a Donald Trump perforated with asymmetrical holes

That said, I don't regret — not even a little — speaking out for his First Amendment rights in the face of vexatious litigation by unrepentant domestic terrorists and their lickspittles. That's the deal in America, or is supposed to be. We defend the rights of people we hate. We defend the First Amendment from frivolous, censorious litigation — even in favor of unserious hypocrites who advocate frivolous censorious litigation themselves. My only regret about arguing for Robert Stacy McCain's free speech rights is if I passed up any opportunity to say that I feel for him a transport of uncordiality.

Over the last 24 hours the rightward side of Twitter has been in an uproar — captured by the #FreeStacy hashtag — about Twitter's suspension of McCain's main account, @rsmccain. Many see it as a trend in Twitter disproportionately and arbitrarily disciplining conservative voices, as Marc argued last month. Though I've questioned that proposition, it's grown considerably more persuasive since Twitter appointed a "Trust and Safety Council" that appears calculated to have a narrow view of legitimate speech and a broad view of "harassment" (at least insofar as it is uttered by the wrong people.)

I don't know what McCain did (or is alleged to have done) to be suspended, and as far as I can tell nobody else does either. I've seen him say some pretty despicable things, either sincerely or mastubatorilly, so I'm not presuming that the suspension was based on nothing. Nor do I presume that any report of his conduct was honest, nor that any analysis of his actions was rational or principled.

So do I shout #FreeStacy?

Sort of.

When I say #FreeStacy, I mean "Twitter, you've providing an increasingly shitty product, I'm expecting to be banned from it arbitrarily soon, and I've been thinking for some time about where to focus social media attention instead." Or "Twitter, before I thought this was mostly about low-level employees acting on their own biases. But I'm increasingly convinced by the argument that you've decided to offer a product aimed at a specific political group." Or "Twitter, you sell yourself as separating harassment from free speech, but you don't deliver."

In other words, rather than indulging in cries that Twitter is engaged in fascism, or book-burning, or Nazism, or totalitarianism (all of which I've seen said today), I'm saying that Twitter is engaging in a mix of private speech and product development that I don't like, and demonstrating that its marketing patter about free expression has traveled beyond the realm of acceptable sales puffery into the noisome Kingdom of Bullshit.

Some people say this is pedantic. Some currently popular ideas are premised on blurring the distinction between state action and private action against speech: "cultural libertarianism," "thick liberty," "free speech values."

They're wrong.

The right to free speech is America's most important right because it's how we identify and defend all rights. But you can't defend a right you don't understand or can't define. Distorting or blurring the definition of a right undermines it. In short: free speech legalism matters.

You think that Twitter has a civic or moral obligation to uphold "values of free speech"? Fine. How do you distinguish that from people arguing that Twitter has a moral and civic obligation to defend people from offense? If you say that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of diversity of views and the freedom to utter unpopular views, how do you respond to the argument that Twitter ought to uphold "American values" of equality and "decency"?

To quote a noted food critic quoting a Roman emperor, of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does a private business do? It makes money and advances the agendas of its owners and/or leaders. They act according to two conservative principles: caveat emptor and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Blurring the classification of things leads to exactly the sort of nonsense that Robert Stacy McCain normally rails against. Take a university. Is it a thing that teaches students? Or is it a place that empowers social justice? Is it a place for young adults, or is it a place for children in need of protection from mean ideas? Or take it up a few levels: do governments exist to impose their will upon us, or do they exist for us to impose our will upon them?

I classify Twitter's action as bad customer service and as private speech I don't like because of my conservative views. Those views include the following: private companies (which are individuals organized to do things as efficiently and safely as possible) have a right to free speech and free association. Corporations are people! They don't lose those rights because they get too big or because someone thinks they look like public entities if you squint. It's okay for corporations to sell products, or engage in speech, that people hate. People and corporations don't owe you anything: not a free lunch, not a free platform. You're responsible for reading the contracts you sign, physically or digitally. Whether or not you support anti-discrimination laws governing private entities, they can't be reconciled completely with free speech and free association rights. Or, put in law-professor-speech, anti-discrimination values and free speech values are in tension.

At least I thought those were conservative views. I mean, how can you argue that a bakery shouldn't have to make a gay marriage cake, but Twitter should have to offer a platform to someone they think (not unreasonably) is a total douche?

So, will I say #FreeStacy? Absolutely! For every hour McCain is gone, some feminist remains unfrothed-at. For every absent moment, there's a dead black kid whose Facebook page hasn't been thoroughly vetted. So #FreeStacy. By which I mean: free him from your foolish marketing decision to adopt a suspension system that predictably leads to arbitrary suspensions, because it's bad business and I'm a customer who doesn't like it. Free him by repenting your ill-considered and destructive expression in the form of a "Trust and Safety Council" that looks like a bad SNL skit. Free him from a system that — whether it's a marketing tool or a sincere gesture of opposition to harassment — will lead inevitably to button-mashing abuse of your report systems and endless (and unprofitable) internecine warfare amongst your very worst customers (or products, whatever). While you're at it, if you can, free him and his supporters from the Bernie-Sanderseque delusion implied by their rhetoric: that they have a right to speak on your platform that supersedes your right to run it the way you want. If you convince enough of them, maybe one will invent a good alternative I can seek out the day you suspend me.

Fun With Twitter!

We've had our share.

But I'll commend OCP Chairman, a bot twitter account that sends immediate, unwanted @ replies to any user who types certain keywords:

If someone tweets the word "Dick" he gets an immediate autoreply: "Dick, you're fired!"

If someone tweets the word "shoot" or "Murphy" he gets an immediate autoreply: "Nice shooting son, what's your name?"

Detroit: "Old Detroit has a cancer. That cancer is crime."

And so on and so forth.  The guy has about a dozen classic Robocop quote autoreplies, and they seem to be expanding.

Facebook may be the dominant social medium on the internet, but it's no fun.  I have fun with Twitter.

Your Friday Afternoon Suddenly Likes Twitter

I am not a big Twitter guy. It seems like an unholy magnification of the narcissism of the Facebook status. Still, every once in awhile something comes along that shows me the good that Twitter might do. But, nothing prepared me for this: SI Sports Vault.

This Twitter is the people at SI tossing up random photos from their immense archives each day. It's even better than their website, because the poster has a nice sense of photos that are topical, but still very obscure. Current favorites include this astounding shot of Manute Bol swimming and this shot of Larry Legend with his game face on.

If you are a Twitter person, this is definitely one to follow.

Greetings of the Season

Of all the platitudes put out by people at the dawn of the New Year, I think I like John Cleese's the best:

"…may you continue to be facinated by me, because I really am a wonderful human being."
No one right now does self aware egotism like Cleese, not even Shatner.

It Says A Lot About Twitter…

That the email letting me know that [someone on the Popehat blogroll] is following our Twitter account has this as its third sentence:

If you believe [someone on the Popehat blogroll] is engaging in abusive behavior on Twitter, you may report [someone on the Popehat blogroll] for spam.

I enjoy using Twitter, and someday, perhaps as a Friday timewaster, I'll post a big list of links to everyone we follow on the service.  They'll give readers an instant reading list of interesting things to read, in 140 characters or less.

But I'd guess that over 90% of the accounts that have followed our own were spammers.  In other words, it's about as useful as Usenet.  Twitter would be well served by some stringent bot protection, but that would run counter to its "Billions and billions served" claims.

At least with McDonalds. shareholders can determine exactly how many hamburgers are served, and can be assured that real humans are paying for them*, if not eating them.

*My dogs get Chicken McNuggets on the drive home from visits to the veterinarian.

All Of A Sudden, I Am Interested in Twitter

Sorry Chris, but this is going to be another "how cool is living in SF" post. The other day I was walking around and found a little trailer selling some incredible crepes. I talked with the folks there briefly, and they let me know that San Francisco has a great tradition of "street food" and that most of it is now coordinated by Twitter.

Turns out, you can get everything from curry to tamales to goat tacos, on the streets of San Francisco (sorry, I couldn't resist..) in conveyances ranging from the classic taco truck to a guy on a bike. And, they use Twitter to tell you exactly where they are going to be. They also give you hints as to what's on the menu.

Acting as a guiding force in this is an organization called La Cocina. They are helping street vendors deal with city ordinances and permits, acting as incubators for food ideas and even offering kitchen space for aspiring street vendors. Here's a map they put together of some of the many choices around SF.

I'm not usually one for the Twitter/flashmob/social networking sort of thing, but (probably because I love food like I love oxygen..) this whole thing just seems very cool to me. It's almost enough to make me sign up for Twitter and follow a bunch of these folks in hopes they make it to my neck of the woods. Especially those bacon wrapped hotdogs!

North Korean Twitter Account: Not Genuine.

If you read the Volokh Conspiracy or Instapundit (we read and enjoy both), you may have discovered the official North Korean Twitter news feed.

The feed has given its author (us) endless amusement for the past couple of days, but it's getting worrisome.  Per the Norwegian website ABC News: North Korea threatens Cyprus with war.

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(Click images to enlarge translated screen captures.)

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Rather than spur further international tension, we're pulling the plug.  The feed will cease operation at 5:00 eastern time, with the message:

Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il promises rocket annihilation to Cypriot bandit pirates.

(To the credit of Eugene Volokh, he quickly got the joke. As for Instapundit, we believe he got it immediately, but posted it to amuse his readers.)