This was a good move on Twitter’s part: tech companies need to do much more to prevent the dissemination of conspiracy theories, lies and the kind of false information that could have deadly consequences. But it’s also a moment that reveals the real danger Americans are in right now. We shouldn’t be at this juncture. Tech companies should not be, and cannot be, our last bulwark against the spread of deception, distortion, bigotry and incendiary political discord.
And yet, with a Republican Party that refuses to police itself, a right-wing media apparatus that is more propaganda than news or journalism and a stubborn pro-Trump base willing to believe and parrot anything the former president says, American democracy — and truth itself — are in peril. That’s an illness that tech companies like Twitter can only seek to contain; it’s not a disease they can cure.
It is true that the risk of dying of Covid increases with age. But “elevated risk” is not the same as “only at risk.”
This isn’t the first time that Greene has used her platform to spread lies and conspiracies. She has indicated that she believes the QAnon conspiracy, a bizarre far-right lie that Democrats make up a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles — a claim so outrageous and easily disproven that it would be funny if so many people didn’t believe it (and if they weren’t showing up to pizza places toting guns, or winning seats in Congress).
She had also compared Covid-related masking and other protective measures to Nazism.
Social media companies increasingly police online speech, determining — vastly imperfectly — what is and is not acceptable in the public square. There are always going to be liars, charlatans, racists, ignorant people and people whose grasp on reality is tenuous as best. Social media companies have to decide what they will allow users to post to their platforms, and whatever lines they draw will by definition not exclude every bad thing.
What’s stunning about this moment, though, is that so much of the troubling misinformation isn’t coming from fringe conspiracy theorists or random yahoos, but members in good standing of one of two of America’s major parties. There may not be an easy way to keep all of the bad actors off of Twitter, but there should surely already be a mechanism in place to keep the reality-challenged out of elected office.
Twitter is indeed the last wall of decency right now. And given how paper-thin it is, that’s no comfort at all.