Gregg “Opie” Hughes, formerly of the Opie and Anthony radio/satellite radio show, once called Twitter “the worst place in the world.” His assertion was in reference to the horrid behavior exhibited by some in response to, well, just about anything. We’ve all seen it, on Twitter and other social media platforms: some responders will write utterly vile, aggressive, or offensive things, even in circumstances that warrant nothing of the sort. Indeed, as a political friend recently commented, even a Youtube video of cute puppies will often have racist or Godwinian non-sequiturs attached.

This reality came to the fore, yet again, around an incident wherein some vile person sent a threatening letter to Donald Trump, Jr. The letter itself was secondary to the inclusion of a white powder in the envelope, an inclusion that led to the hospitalization (precautionary, fortunately – the powder turned out to be corn starch) of Jr.’s wife and mother-in-law. Jr. tweeted an innocuous thank-you to the first responders, which should be expected and unremarkable, but of course it was an invitation for people to hop on political soap boxes, wish personal harm on Jr., call him nasty names, etc. While such negatives were not ubiquitous – there were ample “glad you’re safe” responses – this and countless other examples of “the worst place in the world” speak to the dehumanizing irony of the social media platforms that have connected us so closely to each other.

Some may consider citing a Trump as an example of this bad behavior ironic in itself, but if we don’t retain our own humanity in the face of behavior that’s crass, boorish, hateful and worse, we become co-conspirators in the destruction of social fabric. Such destruction incites over-reacting backlashes, where some call for the criminalization of certain types of speech, an action that, if carried out, will wreak near-irreversible havoc on our nation and society.

There’s an adage, attributed to Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

As a libertarian, I wholly embrace this adage. This, of course, does not mean I cannot condemn speech I find wrong or offensive. I merely refuse to seek the use of force to prevent it.

Thus, I can agree that Twitter is the “worst place in the world” and condemn those who use any opportunity to say vile things, while also arguing that government should not intervene and demand censorship. The latter is an incredibly dangerous path. Unfortunately, it is one that more and more people are willing to travel. Commentators are lamenting the oligopolistic control that the social media giants are seeming to exert on our communications, and either implying or actively declaring that regulation is necessary. Get the wrong sort of politicians in power, and we may very well see efforts to take control of social media platforms as “public goods.”

That would be a terrible outcome. Futile, as well, since, by the time that might happen, it’s likely that this oligopolistic dominance will have faded. People were freaked out about AOL’s total dominance of social media in its heyday, and some called for intervention. Intervention didn’t happen, and AOL ossified and faded into the dustbin of history. Indeed, Facebook is already losing cachet among the young, who are opting for other platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, et al. Facebook, like every other entity in history, must “adapt or perish.” Twitter, likewise. Social media platforms are engaging in efforts to manage the trolls, haters, and other posters of vile vacuous content, and as private entities, that is their right. We, as consumers, should continue to vote with our keyboards, supporting those platforms that act as we feel is good and eschewing those that don’t, but we should be very circumspect of any call for coercive changes. Once that Pandora’s box has been opened, it doesn’t get closed again.

Twitter may be the worst place in the world, but even as we condemn those who’ve made it thus, we should defend its right to be so. The ease it offers in making throwaway comments along with the degree of impersonality and “protection” from retribution it offers enable (and some argue, foster) the vilest of commenters, but those thoughts have to be there in the first place, and coming down on the platform is a form of shooting the messenger. Yes, it may feel hard and fruitless to stick to principles when those around us do not, but it’s the only way to be part of the solution. So, we should condemn the Twitter-trolls, eschew the platform or the parts where they frequent, and let market forces sort it all out. And, we should resist the temptation to crawl into their mud and respond in-kind.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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