Unlike Ken White, I have no strong emotions about Robert Stacy McCain. Until yesterday, I had never heard of him. What I know about him I know from reading White's post at Popehat and Robby Soave's at Reason.
I grant White's argument that Twitter is a private company and that "free speech" is therefore not, technically, the issue. (Interestingly, this is also something that Katie Hinde has emphasized in her argument to change academic culture. That's a bit more troubling, since academic freedom, to my mind, is a stronger norm than mere "free speech", i.e., an academic's free-speech "platform" should be more, not less, protected than a mere citizen's. It's a practice, not just a principle. But that's a longer argument.) White puts it well when he says that the McCain suspension is not a violation of civil rights but "bad customer service".
It feels a bit like a free speech issue because, from my point of view, the real harm is not done to McCain, who is now a little less able to express his views, but the rest of us, who are now a little less able hear them. As John Stuart Mill put it in On Liberty:
Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
I've experienced the collision of truth and error many times on Twitter since I began. From both sides, of course. Of late, however, I've felt them bringing less clarity of perception; my impression of truth has become ever less lively. The reason for this, I think, is the spirit in which the place is increasingly "policed", and the spirit in which many of the participants (on both sides of the discussion) approach the exchange.
Too many people on Twitter are much more interested in exposing each others' heresies than exchanging their errors for truth. That would be tolerable if my issue were only with other individuals in the conversation. With the invention of the Trust and Safety Council, however, something important has changed. An "authority" has asserted itself. I don't want my exchanges to be subject to its power.
Again, it's not just that I don't want to moderate my tone so as not to run afoul of the Council. I'm also not much interested in talking to other people who can do so only at the Council's pleasure. Twitter is not a place I thought I had free speech in principle, but it was a place I felt I enjoyed it—both mine and that of others—in practice. I no longer feel that way. The user experience is not what it once was. So I'm taking my freedom elsewhere.
This appears to be an interesting moment in Twitter history, so I'm going to use this as a bibliography of commentary on the McCain suspension.
Feb 23: J.R. Salzman. "I’m Leaving @Twitter Because Of @Jack Dorsey, And I’m Taking My Partygoers With Me." (personal blog)
Feb 24: Debra J. Saunders. "The Twitter police: Conservatives not welcome." (SFGate)