Why I Permanently Deleted My Twitter Account This Morning
There is an ethical dimension to political speech as well as a constitutional dimension
I have been remiss in keeping up with my writing on American Commonwealth over the past several weeks because I am working long hours on the collection of essays I have mentioned entitled The Curse of Demagogues: Lessons Learned from the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. It is going to be released on November 29. The print book is now up on Amazon. An ebook should be available this upcoming week.
Here is an apt quotation from the collection by historian Joseph Ellis (from September 2020):
"There have been two occasions in American history when the fate of the republic was placed at risk. The first was the Civil War . . . The second was the Great Depression . . . We are currently on the cusp of a third serious challenge to our republican roots, which has emerged in the person of the first full-scale demagogue who was elected president . . . This is the chief reason why the looming election is the most important political event of our lifetime."
--JOSEPH J. ELLIS, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Cause
Now I would like to explain why I permanently deleted my Twitter account this morning, fifteen hours after Elon Musk announced that he will reinstate Donald Trump.
It is not that I do not uphold with all my heart and soul every American’s constitutional right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the First Amendment.
This sacred right is guaranteed to you and me by the Constitution and our court systems. However, there is an ethical dimension to political speech as well as a constitutional dimension.
There is terrible confusion about “freedom of speech” in American society, including in the mind of Elon Musk. Conventional wisdom has it that the inviolability of this constitutional right means that demagogues like Trump should have the right to say what they want, where they want, when they want.
Pure and simple, that is bunk. The First Amendment prevents the government from infringing on citizens’ free speech. That’s it. It does not restrict in the least what any other entity or individual in American society can do in this regard.
As a vitally important media institution, Twitter can and should govern itself by democratic values and democratic codes of ethics. As a matter of values, not constitutional constraints, Twitter should not permit speech that incites hate, racism, xenophobia, and violence in American society.
That’s a truth I believe in. So this morning, catalyzed by Musk’s irresponsible decision, I permanently deleted my account, bidding farewell to my 2,660 followers.
As a point of stark contrast, let’s remember NPR’s code of media ethics:
Our purpose is to pursue the truth. Diligent verification is critical. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context.
We take seriously our democratic role as watchdogs, holding the powerful accountable as we hold ourselves to the core principles of honesty, integrity, independence, accuracy, contextual truth, transparency, respect and fairness for the people we serve and the people we cover.
To tell the truest story possible, it is essential that we treat those we interview and report on with scrupulous fairness, guided by a spirit of professionalism. We make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories.
In our reporting, we rigorously challenge both the claims we encounter and the assumptions we bring. We avoid hyperbole and sensational conjecture. We edit and present information honestly, without deception.
Everyone affected by our journalism deserves to be treated with decency and compassion. We are civil in our actions and words, avoiding arrogance and hubris. We listen to others. When we ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers—not confrontations.
Our work, whether on the air, online, through podcasts, video, or in any other form, aspires to the heights of public service.
There’s no reason why Twitter cannot make the same sacrifices of money and popularity as NPR in adopting a similar code of ethics, one that serves the public interest.
No reason at all.