Is Twitter really cracking down on hate speech? And will it work?

So Twitter’s moving to suspend a few high-profile accounts associated with the alt-right (whatever that means — isn’t it easier and more straightforward to call sexism, racism, and homophobia for what they are?) and adding some tools that allow users to mute certain words.

Initially, one wants to approve, and to ignore the inevitable cries of “censorship” and “political correctness” and victim narratives. After all, it’s not a question of freedom of speech (although you can bet there’ll be a battle royale over how this gets framed); your right to say whatever you want doesn’t impose a corresponding obligation on anyone else to listen or provide you with a megaphone. You’re entitled to speak your mind. You’re not entitled to an audience, and you’re not entitled to evade responsibility for what you say.

(This raises a few questions about why USA Today’s choosing to illustrate these stories with a picture of a guy with tape over his mouth, but we’ll just save those for another time.)

USA Today screenshot
USA Today screenshot

So yes, it’s heartening, to an extent, to see the Tweety Bird not merely acknowledging that it has a problem, but at least appearing to address it. (If 10 years of failure isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is.) Other social-media platforms might want to take note.

That’s in the short term. In a couple of days, however, one suspects we’ll probably see yet another round in the depressingly familiar game of whack-a-mole that starts whenever any platform tries to chase out the trolls; shut down a particularly obnoxious poster and then count the seconds before it reappears with a new account. Sure, it’ll look like an egg with three followers, but that won’t stop it from spewing its garbage. If there’s a technological fix to this, I don’t know what it is, and I’m not especially optimistic about the prospect of raising the underlying level of discourse.

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