What's More Dangerous Than Hate Speech?

It's politicians who want to use the vague concept of "hate speech" to shut down people with opinions they despise. Here's UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh who takes to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal noting the latest effort in the Empire State: New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution.

New York politicians are slapping a badge on my chest. A law going into effect Saturday requires social-media networks, including any site that allows comments, to publish a plan for responding to alleged hate speech by users.

The law blog I run fits the bill, so the law will mandate that I post publicly my policy for responding to comments that “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group” based on “race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” It also requires that I give readers a way to complain about my blog’s content and obligates me to respond directly.

I don’t want to moderate such content and I don’t endorse the state’s definition of hate speech. I do sometimes delete comments, but I do it based on my own editorial judgment, not state command. Still, I’m being conscripted. By obligating me to do the state’s bidding with regard to viewpoints that New York condemns, the law violates the First Amendment.

Today's Eye Candy is Professor Volokh testifying in 2019 before the House Ways And Means Oversight Committee, at a hearing devoted to examining "how the tax code subsidizes hate".

I assume you can see the red flags already. That hearing has its own web page here. (Note: Given the GOP takeover of the House next month, I'm not sure how long that link will work.) Apparently the brainchild of the late Congressman John Lewis, the hearing was about denying tax-favored status to organizations that could be construed—by politicians—as giving support to that big fuzzy concept of "hate", under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Were the witnesses called before the committee that day tax code experts?

Well, not all of them. Brandon Wolf's qualification for appearing: he was a "survivor of the Pulse Nightclub shooting" in 2016. Jeff Binkley was the father of Maura Binkley, who was killed in the Hot Yoga Studio shooting in Florida in 2018. And Dr. Sylvia Y. Acosta was CEO of the YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region, who … well, she talked about the 2018 Walmart El Paso shooting.

Those witnesses were properly despondent over the violence perpetrated against their family members, friends, and neighbors.

Did they establish any causal link between Section 501(c)(3) and that violence? No, of course not. Their sole purpose was heartstring-tugging.

Fortunately, Professor Volokh was there to point out the First Amendment issues. From his prepared statement:

Many thanks for inviting me to testify about “How the Tax Code Subsidizes Hate.” The Tax Code indeed subsidizes hate, just as it subsidizes Socialism, Satanism, and a wide variety of dangerous and offensive ideas. Under the First Amendment, tax exemptions have to be distributed without discrimination based on viewpoint; that means that evil views have to be treated the same way as good views.

This isn't too difficult to understand. Even I can understand it. Unfortunately, some members of Congress—who take a freakin' oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"—don't really get it. The oath taken by New York legislators and the governor has similar language.

In a country that valued liberty, this would be an easy call: impeach these folks.

Briefly noted:

  • Hey, remember when we were all being told that using social media to influence election results was a threat to Democracy?

    At Reason, Robby Soave summarizes the latest on that front: Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi Reveal Why Twitter Censored the Hunter Biden Laptop Story. He links to Taibbi's twitter thread describing the debacle:

    The thread contains fascinating screenshots of conversations between various content moderators and company executives as the laptop story debacle was unfolding. But given how massively Musk hyped the revelations, the results are a tad disappointing, and mostly confirm what the public already assumed: A (still unidentified) employee or process flagged the story as "unsafe" and suppressed its spread, and then Twitter moderators devised a retroactive justification—violation of a "hacked materials" policy—for having taken such an extraordinary step. Then-CEO Jack Dorsey was largely absent from these conversations; Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's former head of trust and safety played "a key role." None of this material is groundbreaking; it's already well-known.

    To be clear, it's useful to see some of these internal messages. They confirm that Twitter's various departments—communications, moderation, senior management—horrendously mismanaged the entire affair. They were not all on the same page: Vice President of Global Communications Brandon Borrman, for example, was immediately unconvinced by the "hacked materials" justification.

    It's pretty clear that Twitter was in "censor first, then try to find a justification" mode.