11 / 02 / 2021

Those Who Can’t, Tweet (Or Only Two Characters Separate Banning from Burning)

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 describes a place where book burning is the law of the land, and firefighters are forced to set fire to the “heap of contradictions” that is the printed word. In this day and age, when you can’t burn words, then you’re left to ban them, as Jack Dorsey and Twitter have done with Donald Trump. But where will it lead?

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

Anyone who’s ever taken a basic philosophy of rhetoric  class has had a lesson on the logical fallacy that is the “slippery slope” argument — the claim that one event will inevitably lead to another worse one. Professors tell you it’s employed to mislead and proceed to offer examples that students can easily recognize are flawed: missing class leads to a failing grade; marijuana use leads to heroin abuse; same-sex marriage leads to people wanting to marry their cat. But just because those outcomes aren’t inevitable doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t ever happen.

By banning the former president, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has started his company down a slippery slope. I’m not saying it will inevitably lead to a muddy quagmire, just that it’s very, very, very likely.

No, Dorsey has gotten Twitter in a heap of trouble because now he and his Twitter minions will have to constantly explain why the company banned Trump, and not all the other inciteful, prevaricating members of the human race. It will be a question that’s raised every time someone tweets something they shouldn’t. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that people will tweet things they shouldn’t. 

So what is the lesson in this for company founders? Don’t overreact, to start with. Things have a way of settling down on their own. Problems resolve themselves and jackasses exhaust themselves. Don’t make decisions that can’t be reversed without giving them long and careful thought. And definitely don’t phone them in from French Polynesia, à la Dorsey.

But perhaps the more important takeaway should be the risks of building a brand entirely on someone else’s platform as Trump did. Lots of founders do it because it’s the easy thing to do, because they perceive those Big Tech companies as more experienced, because for some reason they trust them — and hey, everybody’s doing it. But the fact that “everybody’s doing it” is the best reason not to do “it,” whatever “it” might be, and the easy route is almost always the wrong path. No matter who controls the platform, you will always be under their thumb. At best, they’ll exploit the fact that you rely on them; at worst, they’ll silence you and send you packing.

One interesting solution may be the Solid project, launched by Tim Berners-Lee, that would allow all users to control their own data. If it works out, it could be as revolutionary as the automobile in giving people the freedom to go where and when they want, without relying on someone else’s timetable. And it could make our current reliance on Big Tech seem as outdated as the stagecoach. Hopefully that day comes soon.

Meanwhile, morons will continue to be morons, and unfortunately they’ll always be in the majority, no matter who’s in power. And it’s because there are so many of them that Twitter will find it virtually impossible to determine which ones to silence. Better to just let morons be morons, and let them tweet until they’re blue in the face if that’s how they want to spend their time.