I think it is fairly safe to assume that most of my readers are either on twitter or at least have an operating idea of how it works. In case you don’t, I need to explain a couple of terms very quickly, as they are the opening premise for this post. There are broadly speaking three types of twitter accounts. There are most peoples’ accounts where they may or may not use real information about themselves, and may or may not care what information about them leaks out on the platform. Then there are verified users, these people have literally verified their identities or organizations with twitter and receive a blue check mark next to their name. They are typically well known public figures or organizations. Finally there are the “anons,” these are people for whatever reason they choose make up a handle, user name, avatar, and sometimes even intentionally obscure or turn off their location settings. These people do so for a number of reasons but most do out of a desire for privacy, freedom of expression, or some security concern.
Well within the past two to three days there have been two different conversations that have sparked huge discussion over the nature of accounts on twitter and how people choose to operate. The first revolves around an announcement from “Jack” the founder of twitter. This week he announced that twitter would be essentially cracking down on their terms of service violations, more on this shortly. The second was Tom Nichols a well known speaker, author, and professor opining that anon accounts should perhaps be banned or forced to verify due to the amount of hate, and supposed lack of useful content that comes from them. We will take each of these in turn.
First lets talk a little about the problem with Jack. Twitter is well known as a platform that has a left of center bias with its enforcement of its terms of service already. While most people would probably be open to a fair and level enforcement of the terms of service. This is not how works in practice, and people are beginning to fear that there will no be a wider crack down on politically active users on the political right. This has been stoked by wider concerns in American culture where we see our culture drifting away from what were once bed rock principles in the United States such as free speech and expression. I personally have my doubts, but in fairness it does remain to be seen just how serious this push will be or if it will actually be enforced at all.
Secondly there is the matter of Mr. Nichols. He is a well known supporter of institutional strength and seems to have a high opinion of credentialing. It becomes a fairly natural extension of this then that he would be skeptical of anonymous accounts just by their very nature. As a highly public figure I also have no doubt that he faces an unreasonable amount of hate on a daily basis. It finally boiled over this week when he began tweeting against the existence of anonymous accounts themselves. This led to a broader discussion between himself and a number of other users, verified and otherwise.
I would like to acknowledge that Twitter as an independent corporation has a right to operate in whatever way they deem appropriate. That said they should also be more open to recognizing the role that they have accepted by setting up the platform that they have. This is also where things intersect with Professor Nichols. Twitter is a service that exists explicitly to provide a platform and networking service to individuals across the world. We are at a point in human history where most of the world nominally accepts traditionally Western values about rights. In this Western tradition there is a right and an expectation of both privacy if desired and freedom of expression.
In the United States we have both of these codified in our founding documents. These exist there in the form of negative rights. This theoretically means that the government isn’t permitted to deny us these things as citizens. This is not the entire story though. If it were only a “negative right” it wouldn’t even be a discussion. Tom and Jack would be right and no one would have a right to actually say anything if society and the services of civil society did not permit them. The point is that these are not just negative rights, if they were they would still be derivative of the state. No, they are as a matter of objective fact natural rights. They are “self-evident” and we are morally entitled to them by nature and nature’s God.
This is not to say that people will not try to violate these rights. The fact that we are having this discussion shows that they will. They must be stringently defended however. They must be defended because it is natural rights, and the various different moral systems that they imply that truly shape what we understand to be true Western culture and indeed civilization today. I know that you all know better. You all get it. Not everyone does. I will never advocate for wading into the culture war, but this is not a matter of culture war. This is a matter of our rights and the tyranny of both corporations and self appointed gate keepers. It is important that we not be bullied or de-platformed. Know your rights and accept no tyrants.