In the sketch, Robinson’s character is on a ghost tour, specifically the late-night adult version of the tour, when the guide tells guests they can say “whatever the hell we want.” Robinson’s character, who clearly has some challenges with social interaction, immediately starts asking questions that stretch the bounds of decency, leading the guide to get extremely upset and the people in the tour to eventually force him out.
Robinson, almost by accident, seems to have nailed down the problem with unfettered “free speech” on social media. It’s not that you shouldn’t have your right to free speech, but if your free speech makes everyone around you uncomfortable, it puts pressure on both the venue and the listener to force people out.
This is why, if you want real free speech, with no true risk of censorship, you have to go outside the confines of the private business. You may not find as big of an audience for your more outré views, but you will be guaranteed that you’ll have as little interference as possible, because the First Amendment applies to the government, not individual businesses.
(This point is the reason why the recent panic over books in schools and libraries is so controversial, because in that case the First Amendment directly applies.)
Every social network that has attempted to make a “free speech” equivalent has run into this problem—if they want to ban a user, it is no longer pure free speech, and they are limited by the law. This is actually why Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1996 exists, because building a network with no rules means that you have to let in a bunch of stuff that you, as a business or an employee, don’t want to be associated with. If someone else wants to take on that liability, let them. But doing so in an unfettered way has indirect effects that will ultimately harm your organization or business.
(This actually came up, true story, because Jordan Belfort—The Wolf of Wall Street himself—was causing problems on the early online service Prodigy because of his company’s controversial business practices.)
So my recommendation is that, the next time someone brings up this whole free speech debate on social media, share this R-rated Tim Robinson sketch with them. It makes the case for businesses moderating social media far better than any billionaire can muster.
Freedom of speech is not freedom of venue. If you’re on a ghost tour and you start spewing bile, you’re going to get asked to leave.
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