- - Saturday, November 7, 2020

In the philosophical tradition of ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates, the American philosopher Ayn Rand wrote, “Defiance, not obedience, is the American’s answer to overbearing authority.” Twitter either never got — or somehow lost — the memo. The tech publisher has apparently decided that fraud in either the casting or counting of votes is impossible, and that raising questions about the legitimacy or accuracy of official tallies is suspect. 

Comedian and commentator Matt Walsh took to Twitter, where he learned that a trove of some 128,000 votes from the critical battleground state of Michigan were quietly awarded to Joe Biden early Wednesday morning. This did not smell right to Mr. Walsh, who wrote, “This is reason enough to go to court. No honest person can look at this and say it’s normal and unconcerning.” 

Mr. Walsh’s tweet was quote-tweeted by President Trump, and then promptly slapped with a label warning that “Some or all of [its content] is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” 

At least the content wasn’t taken down, or his account locked, you might say. What’s the harm in Twitter saying that something’s disputed, if it’s disputed, right?  

We now know that labeling tweets is not harmless, that it reduces the engagement rate — if not the reach — that a tweet might otherwise enjoy. A label applied on election night dramatically reduced the rate of engagement with one of Mr. Trump’s tweets — from 827 times per minute before the label was applied, to 151 times per minute afterward.

Twitter, by applying seemingly innocuous, even virtuous, labels, is hindering the natural, necessary process of citizens questioning authority and holding government officials accountable. 

Why were 128,000 Biden votes suddenly added to the tally? It turns out that it was due to a typographical error. (Not that Twitter’s fact-checker had any way of knowing that when he or she decided to apply the label.) The tech publisher’s policy, by reducing the engagement rate of anyone who dares to question the legitimacy of “official” information, is only exacerbating the mistrust and division surrounding this election. Many of the president’s supporters see Twitter’s arbiters of misinformation as part of a coordinated cover-up effort, and it’s hard to blame them.  

Further, while abandoning the ideal of unlimited and unmitigated expression of thought by its users, Twitter chooses to leave some authorities completely unthrottled and unchecked. Was Twitter’s decision to leave Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei’s anti-Semitic tweets untouched a harbinger of things to come? For Twitter, it seems, certain favored authorities are not to be questioned, not even by them. History tells us where this approach may lead, but just look at Iran, where authorities are not to be questioned on punishment of death.  

Don’t be so dramatic, you say. We can trust Twitter. But that leads us to the final point: Content curation policies embraced by Twitter and others hinder the discovery of truth. And they do it, ironically, much in the same way that the president is attempting to do by stopping the process of vote counting in various states. If you need more evidence that the official results should be vigorously questioned, look at the early calls made by Fox and AP in Arizona, in reliance on “official” data. How can we discover and correct errors like these if the tech publishers, along with the media, treat questioning officialdom as inherently suspect?  

The health of our republic requires that our election results stand up to scrutiny. Pointed questions should not be blocked or labeled by self-appointed experts and fact-checkers. Yet this is precisely what centralized content curation involves.   

While we anxiously await accurate, verifiable election results, we properly expect accusations and innuendos to fly. Raising questions should not be seen as a problem, as something to be suppressed. Rather it should be embraced as an opportunity to strengthen our system, to build trust and integrity, by answering them in the sunlight.  

This process is necessary for arriving at both truth and understanding. And only a citizenry armed with both can hold politicians accountable, and thereby restore and preserve our system of limited government.  

The Internet is full of coding schools, ready to supply online tech publishers with a fresh batch of employees. The fact that these schools do not offer courses in “fact-checking” — i.e., in critical thinking skills — is one indication that this crucial process cannot be outsourced, that it must be performed by each and every individual. There is no shortcut, no algorithm that will instantly and automatically yield truth. 

The revolution we need is not the one currently festering online. The long overdue critical thinking revolution requires both resuming the teaching of this lost art and, simultaneously, embracing platforms, like Parler, which are committed to allowing people to speak freely and think for themselves.

• Amy Peikoff is the chief policy officer of Parler, where Jeffrey Wernick is the chief operating officer.

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