Something you aren't grappling with here is the way the Internet has enabled previously-scattered terrible people to connect and self-radicalize. David Neiwart, who tracked various "patriot", white supremacist, and other fringe groups since the 90s, wrote a very readable book about how things have changed since then: https://www.amazon.com/Alt-America-Rise-Radical-Right-Trump/...
I definitely appreciate the early ethos of the Internet. It's a good founding myth, and I would like to work to keep things open by default. But if the worse 0.1% of humankind ends up not being able to host anything because otherwise they will work together to murder people, I am 100% ok with bending my "anything goes" bias a bit.
As you point out, free speech isn't absolute. There are many crimes of pure speech, from false advertising to inciting violence and soliciting murder. Society already has a complicated balance between principles like "free speech is good" and "people shouldn't be murdered".
There is also conflict here between "free speech is good" and "ethnic cleansing is bad". America has a long history of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing (see, e.g., the Trail of Tears, or the Tulsa Race Riot, where white Americans carried out a ground and air assault on a prosperous black district, killing 100-300 and terrorizing thousands). As we saw in Pittsburgh, that era is not over. Reasonable people have concluded that a) Gab aided Bowers in his path to radicalization, and b) they do not personally want to support that.
Now you could argue that you are ok with some level of ethnic violence as a cost of free speech. You could even argue that unfettered communication is so important that we should diminish the freedom of association of people and their companies, requiring them to host Nazi. But if you are going to argue that, you have to argue that. Talking about warm and fuzzy principles is great, but if you aren't grappling with the costs, then at best it's useless. At worst, though, it's taken as a sign that you don't care about the body count. And it gets taken that way both by the marginalized groups supplying the bodies and by the people who are looking to create more corpses to further their principles.
At the very least I have seldom seen lunatics locked up for sharing such sentiments as "Kill all the jews"
I would be happy if this changed.
The implicit psychological construct behind this little “mini-panic” around fringe groups be “de-platformed” is a common one: something bad is happening, and we are losing freedoms/rights/capabilities we (society) has in the past.
It’s a variation on the notion that “the world is going to hell a hand basket.” The rhetorical fallacy is called “false idealization of the past.”
In fact, the access of everyday people to a variety of mediated forms of communication is at historically unprecedented levels.
In virtually the entire history of human society, access to powerful methods of communication was completely under the control of the elite power structures of the society.
The problem that these new communication platforms are trying to deal with is unprecedented. It turns out there are unexpected consequences of allowing access to mass communication, and means of spreading propaganda, to “fringe” groups like “white supremecists” The problem is unique in a couple of ways.
One is that it is only very recently, very recently, in our society (the US in this case) that the precepts of white supremacy have been “fringe!” In fact these are the hateful ideologies that built much of our modern world, on the backs of those unfortunate to have not been born “white.”
This has been hard fought-for progress, and banishment to the “fringe” of these ideas is a major success. The attempts to drive these ideas even further to the fringe represents a triumph of humanistic values. Especially as reactionary groups inevitably fight back with whatever means they have at hand.
It just happens to have happened right around the time that technology put methods of mass media into the hands of more and more everyday people.
Using “De-Platforming” as a method of social control is entirely civilized, and justified. We have bedrock principles of free speech in the US, but those are almost entirely based around the idea of preventing the government from jailing speakers it diagrees with.
To raise an alarm about, “well, what if your currently considered ‘progressive’ movement is deemed deserving of De-Platforming in the future” is a false alarm, because there simply are no historical examples to draw from. These technologies are too new. (Not just the technology, also the increasing ubiquitousness of networked communication.)
It also pretends that in some philosophical sense, all ideas are equally valid, and is divorcing the content of ideas from the form.
I don’t agree that all points of view are equally valid, and viewing ideas through the lens of “form” over “content” is antithetical to the very core concept of ideas and thought itself.
IMO, people are too quick to trot out “slippery slope” fears about difficult problems. However, we can’t get “off of the slope” in a metaphysical sense. We are alive, until we aren’t,and must navigate the treacherous slopes of reality to the best of our capabilities. As both individuals and as members of society.
The early internet had to deal with the same problems, yet it was much more free than the internet of today. This isn't a false idealization of the past - I was around at the time.
To me the only reason the internet matters is to let individual people speak and be heard - without being silenced by advertisers, the government, or the mob. If we let these entities institute censorship for the common good, we might as well have TV.
Most conversations on the Internet took place on Usenet, and even in the alt. hierarchy, there were rules and politics behind what stuff got propagated.
I always believed that the reason it took years for Usenet to do something about spam is because (1) before spam got so bad they had to do something about it, there were no existing restrictions on the propagation of messages and (2) a widespread ethic among those running news servers that any restrictions on propagation, even restrictions on spam, were to be avoided.
What sort of content, in your opinion, was denied propagation back when most conversations on the Internet took place on Usenet?
I got the impression that the ban on commerce over the US backbone was to prevent making any business big enough to be able to afford a PR person or a lobbyist in Washington afraid that the Internet was a threat to its revenue stream.
Back when only a small fraction of the public knew anything about the Internet, the US Government was spending a relatively large amount of money keeping it running, and was consequently vulnerable to sniping from journalists and politicians to the effect that the US government is spending money to giving, e.g., people who are sexually attracted to people dressed up as animals, a forum to communicate with each other.
You and I know that the marginal cost of adding an alt.sex.furries news group to the Internet was so low as to be not worth thinking about, but it would've been hard to get that point across to the voting public.
People were worried for example about the National Science Foundation, one of the major funders of the Internet, getting one of these:
Or maybe the ban on commerce over the US backbone was a concession the US backbone's patrons in Washington needed to make to get Congress to continue to allocate funds for it.
The ban was mostly successful only because very few people wanted to do commerce on the internet while the ban on commerce over the US backbone was in place. Possible exception: the last year or so of the ban when the internet was growing very quickly. Exception: people seeking W2 workers or W2 jobs rather than 1099 workers / jobs would've liked to be able to use ba.jobs to advertise, but IIRC it was a moderated newsgroup, and the moderator, like most people running internet infrastructure back then, grudgingly recognized the need for the ban (i.e., to protect the Internet's supporters in Washington from ridicule or from the animosity of powerful groups).
Your notion is that 3 corporate-run, lowest-common-denominator TV channels controlling nationwide communication is exactly the same thing as a global network where everybody can participate and they can talk publicly about anything except, say, "Hey, we should kill all the Jews and brown people"? That seems woefully unsubtle to me. I see a useful middle ground. One where people are radically more free to communicate than they were at any point in human history.
Not also that neither advertisers, the government, or "the mob" are silencing anything here. People are exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of association. This is the same thing that happened in the real world pre-Internet when people would throw Nazis out and refuse to support businesses who made Nazis welcome. Businesses are free to host Gab or not; everybody else is free to use those businesses or not based on their desire to support companies that support people getting minorities killed.
You might think that silencing people doesn't reduce the murder rate, but you would be wrong. There are specific crimes of speech related to that, like incitement to riot, because that kind of speech historically leads to violence. You can also look at the history of people who end up killing people. Many of them have histories of radicalization, and that path starts with the mildest of entrypoints. See, e.g., Bellingcat's examination of the radicalization of internet fascists: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2018/10/11/memes-in...
Or look at how Bowers and Sayoc got to the point of violence: https://www.bellingcat.com/news/americas/2018/10/31/magabomb...
I agree that silencing people in general is bad. But it's very clear historically that some kinds of speech if tolerated lead to violence and death. If you think you can demonstrate otherwise, by all means take a swing at it.
that seems like a big assumption.
This is untrue.