Many of us have called for free speech alternatives to social media given the expanding censorship programs on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. Former President Donald Trump announced this week that he was supporting the creation of such an alternative site in TRUTH Social. Any alternative to the regulated speech found on social media is welcomed from a free speech perspective, but TRUTH Social contains a fatal flaw as a free speech site: it reserves the right to censor any criticism of itself. The inclusion of this reservation in the “Terms of Service” was not just hypocritical given the free speech premise of the site but self-destructive as the creators seek to roll out the site.
The “Terms of Service” also include a prohibition on the “excessive use of capital letters.” That rule seems a tad odd given the name of the site, which is fifty percent caps: “TRUTH Social.” Then there is President Trump’s own signature use of all caps writing.
However, the loss of all caps communications is hardly a major blow against free speech. What is far more concerning is this specific term for service:
You may not access or use the Site for any purpose other than that for which we make the Site available. The Site may not be used in connection with any commercial endeavors except those that are specifically endorsed or approved by us.
As a user of the Site, you agree not to:
disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site.
While companies like Twitter have embraced biased and extensive censorship platforms, they do not censor criticism of their sites. Indeed, while Twitter has refused repeatedly to “verify” my identity, it has never censored my many tweets criticizing the company or its officers.
It is not clear what “us” encompasses, which adds a dangerous ambiguity to the regulation of speech on the site. Free speech demands bright lines. Saying that you can censor criticism of “us” without a definition is an absurd rule of service.
The reservation also uses sweeping and ill-defined terms of “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm,” which could mean anything. Merriam Webster defines “to tarnish” as “to dull or destroy the luster of by or as if by air, dust, or dirt” or “to detract from the good quality of ...[or] to bring disgrace on.” That could mean anything from mocking to outright defamation.
We have faced such issues on this blog. As a site committed to free speech values, we minimize the deletion of comments. As stated in the site policy, we will remove threats, doxxing, or personal attacks as well as possible copyright violations, profanity, and openly racist comments. (Profanity is automatically deleted by WordPress through a list of prohibited words). Repeat violators can be barred from the comment section. However, our stated default is against such deletions. We prefer good speech to correct any bad speech on the site. We delete a tiny fraction of comments despite our disagreement with the tenor or substance of some postings.
Many blogs have eliminated comment sections. We have kept our comment section as a forum for free speech. Comments routinely criticize or attack me as the host. To that end, I have never deleted a criticism of the site or myself without some violent or threatening element. That includes comments that contain clearly false statements about me, my writings, or the site. Moreover, I follow a long-standing view of columnists that it is a privilege to write for newspapers or major sites. The cost of that ticket is to allow others to criticize your writings or views. That is why I rarely respond to comments on the blog.
To be honest, I do not put much stock in the objections of the many commentators crying foul over the rule on TRUTH Social. Many of these same writers are silent or openly supportive of censorship rules on social media to combat what they define as “disinformation” on subjects ranging from election fraud to climate change to gender issues. There is even a new Orwellian term for censorship: “content modification.” Saying that you are no better than we are is hardly a compelling argument.
Nevertheless, the hypocrisy of these critics does not justify the same hypocrisy on sites like TRUTH Social. The reservation on the TRUTH Social site is anathema to free speech and immediately undermined the credibility of the site. It should be removed.