The baby and the bathwater: free speech and online extremism – Tauhid Zaman

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Tauhid Zaman

From The Hill

As a Muslim American, I was shocked by the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand that took the lives of 50 completely innocent people and injured scores of others in March. The tragedy was made more sickening by the fact that the alleged gunman, reportedly a white supremacist, live-streamed the first attack on Facebook Live.

The fact that the attack happened during the Muslim Friday prayer, a religious service I attend regularly myself, left me deeply shaken and heartbroken. Besides privately grieving for those who perished in Christchurch, I also attended public rallies to show solidarity with the victims in the aftermath of the carnage in New Zealand.

But there’s something you won’t see me doing: Calling for a crackdown on what some deem offensive speech on social media — and a crackdown on what some consider extremist right-wing speech on social media in particular, as many have called for in the wake of the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings.

I know this may surprise some people. As I said, as a Muslim, I was particularly outraged by the slaughter in New Zealand. But I’m not outraged to the extent that I believe that:

  • Censorship of speech, whether by governments or near-monopolistic social media corporations, is an appropriate response to extremism; and
  • censorship of speech is an effective way to combat extremism.

To be clear: I applaud the swift action of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social-media sites to take down videos of the Christchurch shootings. Indeed, Facebook reported it removed or blocked 1.5 million videos in the first 24 hours after the attacks.

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Beyond Polarization – Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Jason Jay

From Technology Review

This past June, I attended a conference in New York City with colleagues from around the world. After our three days together, my European, Indian, and Latin American friends were a bit vexed. The conversation kept getting pulled into the lightning storm of American politics. We struggled to pay attention as our phones flooded with alerts about congressional primaries, Supreme Court decisions, executive orders, and the flurry of terrified, furious, indignant, or despairing comments ping-ponging between political extremes.

Over beers, a few of us “coastal liberal elite” academics and journalists huddled and commiserated about our extended family members in South Dakota, North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana. How could they deny the reality of Sandy Hook, climate change, and science in general? I suspect those same relatives are similarly confused—why are we so eager to support illegal immigrants, anti-police protests, and lawlessness in general?

This polarization is only increasing as we head to the midterm elections. With our country split into factions like anti-fascists, progressives, moderates, libertarians, evangelicals, and Trumpists, it’s increasingly difficult to know how to engage with others who don’t share our views.

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