Studio Glibly+ Your Authors @NoTotally Shaun Lau. He/him residing on unceded Tongva land. Jul. 18, 2018 2 min read + Your Authors

Facebook's hands-off stand on Holocaust-deniers is a good opportunity to think about the "marketplace of ideas" concept and how it's used to defend hate speech.

So, this marketplace is theoretical, and the main thrust is that bad ideas- like genocide- will automatically lose when exposed to it.

First: how long until an argument is expected to lose? The Third Reich argument, you could argue, ultimately lost, but according to estimates WWII ultimately cost somewhere between 38 and 55 million lives.

At the low end, that's about the population of California. We have this historical narrative about "winning" wars, but the marketplace allowed that idea to cascade into the loss of tens. of millions. of lives.

Second: how does modern communication fit into the overall theory of the marketplace of ideas? The marketplace assumes 1) good faith debate; 2) obedience to intellectual authority; 3) people, not capital, driving policy decisions.

Social media and virality do not inherently incentivize any of those three things. Studies of virality indicate that ideas, at some point, become popular because they are popular. Qualitative standards don't necessarily apply.

Here's what I would argue: Facebook and other social networking sites, despite what they may think, are the final arbiters of the marketplace of ideas. A "win" in the marketplace of ideas is that these ideas are given platforms.

Laissez-faire policy feels more neutral, because it requires no active enforcement. But, as should be obvious, passivity is a form of enforcement as well.

I don't think we should let anyone get away, at this point, with thinking that they're objective because they don't act. When the conversation gets pushed over certain boundaries, it's not courageous to hold firm to inaction.

Facebook and Twitter, et al, absolutely have blood on their hands, in my opinion. Their platforms have subverted the kind of gatekeeping that long kept both oppressed and ultra-oppressive views out of the mass media spotlight.

To look at those two broad classes of ideas and say "well, in a way, they're equal to each other" is appalling, and if our current understanding of neutrality, objectivity, and the marketplace of ideas makes that equivalence?

Well, then, perhaps it's worthwhile not to fall back into arguing that you're being neutral, or trusting the marketplace of ideas. Maybe it's time to really interrogate our understanding of what all of those things actually mean, and how best to value life over principle.


You can follow @NoTotally.



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