Sam Harris devoted his latest podcast to airing some unresolved feelings toward his old flame, Twitter. Remarking that leaving Twitter is like leaving a bad relationship, Harris again rehashed the issues and circumstances that led to their break up, and also added some thoughts about his ex’s recent behavior. For a man who claims his personal well-being has benefited from cutting ties with the social media platform, he still seems to spend a fair amount of time thinking about it.
That said, there was little to disagree with for the first ten minutes of his rant. Everything he said about Trump’s behavior as president, Republican capture by the cult of Trump and the Democrat’s bewildering devotion to identitarianism seems pretty spot on. However, he can’t resist picking up a stick and beating that old dead horse that was at least partially responsible for his Twitter break up. Once again he defends Twitter’s suppression of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story, even going so far as to point out how much Twitter executives agonized over censoring the story. Golly, we should all thank our lucky stars we’re never confronted with making such a difficult decision.
Sam Harris claims to care about free speech. He also claims to care about the integrity of this country’s institutions. No one’s saying we should just let Twitter become 4-chan. But social media companies censoring mainstream media institutions is an attack on those institutions and an attack on free speech. Whatever you think about the New York Post, it’s been around doing journalism for a long time. Twitter executives and content moderators in the Philippines have no business second guessing the work of a mainstream media outlet. This should not be controversial. This isn’t a matter of hindsight. The New York Post did its homework on the story and any other media outlet could have as well. Let the Post live or die by its reporting. Twitter and Facebook should be under no obligation to censor mainstream reporting. They should, in fact, have an obligation to let it circulate, if they respect our country’s journalistic institutions and care at all about free speech or public debate.
Moreover, suppressing or censoring the contributions of Stanford and Harvard professors to the public debate over health policy is hugely scandalous and constitutes an attack on their profession and the institutions they represent. When did content moderators become the ultimate arbiters of what is acceptable public discourse in health policy debate? What expertise do they possess over doctors who represent America’s leading educational institutions? How are social media companies not undermining these institutions by pursuing censorship policies? Let these doctors face the criticism of their peers, but the Twitter execs should stay out of it.
It is bewildering that Sam Harris, who claims to be a man of rationality and reason, would defend these censorship policies on his “Making Sense” podcast. In both of the previously cited examples, the suppressed and censored turned out to be largely correct in their assertions. Additionally, they were making these assertions from a position of knowledge and expertise, not in an environment where nothing was known. By not respecting experts, their professions and their institutions, Twitter, Facebook and defenders of their reckless decisions, like Sam Harris, do harm to our institutions and undermine their own credibility in the process.