The Issue of Censorship
takes from: Nadine Strossen and Matthew Harwood; Scott Alexander; John Cochrane
On September 30, conservative outlet Just the News published allegations that an agency within the Department of Homeland Security helped create a shadowy public-private partnership called the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP) to censor and suppress right-of-center voices and media in the run-up to the 2020 election with the help of Big Tech.
…There is a serious argument that a partnership like the EIP violates at least the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment. …
Government itself has only strictly limited power to restrict false information—for example, when it satisfies the specific, narrow standards for fraud, defamation, or perjury. These constitutional guardrails are wise precisely because such vague concepts as “disinformation” give officials too much enforcement discretion, which they predictably use to target critical, dissenting, and minority voices. Denying government the power to implement such an inherently manipulable concept as “disinformation” honors the cardinal First Amendment principle of “viewpoint neutrality,” which ensures that the general power to discern what’s true and false belongs to the American people.
Moderation is the normal business activity of ensuring that your customers like using your product. If a customer doesn’t want to receive harassing messages, or to be exposed to disinformation, a business can provide them the service of a harassment-and-disinformation-free platform.
Censorship is the abnormal activity of ensuring that people in power approve of all the information on your platform. If the sender wants to send a message and the receiver wants to receive it, but some third party bans the exchange of information, that’s censorship.
Academic freedom is a problem of institutions. Twitter-mob students are visible. But the key restrictions on academic freedom lie with university leaders, university bureaucracies, hiring and promotion procedures; and beyond universities to funding agencies, professional organizations, and journals. I hope we can discuss and remedy dysfunction in all these institutions.
…There are now faculty protest letters and demands in the faculty senate that Stanford distance itself from this conference. Critics involved the media. They complain that we are “closed,” for restricting attendance when the room got full, and for restricting media to preserve space for participants, though these are routine for academic conferences. [The Stanford global energy forum of the last two days is explicitly “invitation only” without complaint, and without Bjorn Lomborg or Steve Kooning.] They complain about some of our speakers’s deplorable, to them, views. People with such views should, apparently, never allowed to speak on anything. They cherry pick one or two hated speakers, to declare us “unbalanced.” But have any of them looked up the other 35 speakers on the program? The Chronicle of Higher Education declared this conference a “threat to democracy.” Even the Hoover Institution declined to support or co-host this conference, deeming it “too political.”
I cannot picture a future in which academia is characterized by open inquiry. Those attempting to save it, like Jonathan Haidt and John Cochrane, are fighting for a lost cause.
I think we are making a mistake by fighting for the typical institution to be free to open inquiry. The path forward is to create pockets of dissent that are sufficiently insulated from the dominant cultural pressures in academia to nurture talent and develop ideas that can assert themselves when the opportunity strikes. Paradoxically, these pockets will probably have to restrict entry or expression to some extent in order to successfully build up institutions that are not captured by the dominant ideology.
Arnold writes, "I cannot picture a future in which academia is characterized by open inquiry. Those attempting to save it... are fighting for a lost cause." Good Lord, I hope you are wrong. Ill-founded ideas tend not to work and the "marketplace of ideas" will tend to reject them... eventually. As a positive example, "Modern Monetary Theory" has been a fad roundly rejected by the evidence of extremely loose fiscal and monetary policy during 2020-2021 leading to the consequent high inflation of 2022. We haven't heard much from the MMT "school" lately given how wrong they have been.
I hope that the marketplace of ideas remains vital at the academy and elsewhere once current, adverse trends and fads prove to be ineffectual.