Twitter is making it easier to avoid tweets you don’t want to see, and it is cracking down on “abusive conduct.” This will do more to exacerbate America’s problems than to solve them.
The social network is expanding its “muting” feature. It announced that it would empower users to decide not to see notifications about certain keywords and conversations. It said it has made it easier to report “hateful conduct” and retrained its staff to enforce its hate-speech rules. And it suspended the accounts of a number of users associated with the alt-right, including an alt-right think tank.
Twitter’s website isn’t bound by the constitutional freedom of speech, which forbids only the government to restrict speech. But Twitter proclaims itself a forum for free speech. And key reasons to cherish free speech are also reasons to protest Twitter’s decisions.
Many Americans are afraid to say some of the things they think because they fear they will be shunned as bigots. Silencing people and driving them out of mainstream online forums encourages them to stew in their own resentment, embrace others who say things similar to what they’re afraid to say and seek opportunities to lash out. Engaging with them promotes mutual respect and a sense of community.
Twitter argues that harassment can drive people off Twitter, suppressing their speech. That’s true, and the new muting feature may, in extreme cases, help bullying victims. But it is likely to be overused, separating people into ideologically segregated Twitter worlds.
We have a serious problem in this country of people failing to understand each other across ideological lines. We need to try to understand one another. And that means we need to face what others are saying.