Elon Musk said this week he’ll buy Twitter after all, and the hopeful view for online speech is that his rockets-and-flamethrowers heterodoxy might be an answer for what ails social media. He won’t have it easy. On Tuesday more than a dozen environmental outfits, including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote to the big tech companies to blame them for “amplifying and perpetuating climate disinformation.”
What the letter asks for sounds modest, but the implication is clear. The Digital Services Act recently enacted by the European Union includes transparency rules, and the green groups want Silicon Valley “to commit to including climate disinformation as a separately-acknowledged category in its reporting and content moderation policies in and outside of the EU.” Then they could proceed to complain that the tech giants aren’t doing enough censoring.
“We partnered with Google,” Melissa Fleming, the communications undersecretary for the United Nations, told a panel last month. “If you Google ‘climate change,’ at the top of your search, you will get all kinds of UN resources. We started this partnership when we were shocked to see that when we Googled ‘climate change,’ we were getting incredibly distorted information right at the top.”
Huh. Who else has “partnered” with Silicon Valley? It is hardly fake news, to pick a phrase, to point out that the internet is full of bad information. Amid the pandemic, Facebook worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fact-check claims that Covid-19 vaccines might cause “magnetism” or “alter blood color.” Twitter asked the CDC if it could flag “examples of fraud—such as fraudulent covid cures, fraudulent vaccines cards.”
Yet it was also initially dismissed as tinfoil-hat lunacy to wonder if the Covid-19 virus might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory. Shortly thereafter, experts with scientific standing acknowledged that as a real possibility to be discussed in earnest. It’s a bad sign when one side of a political debate demands to cut off the microphones of the people on the other—and the tech censors these days are almost uniformly progressives.
On climate change, the disinformation tag gets liberally applied even to people who agree that it’s real, caused by fossil fuels, and a problem . . . but who also think humanity can adapt, apocalyptic predictions are overwrought, or subsidies for green energy are a poor investment.
“We need the tech companies to really jump in,” White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said this summer. Dissent has shifted from climate-change “denial” to “the values of solar energy, the values of wind energy,” she continued, but “that is equally dangerous to denial.”
In other words, censorship must increase the more the public resists the climate lobby’s preferred solutions. If Gina McCarthy’s ideas lose a debate, the cause must be “disinformation.” With statements like that from White House bigs, is it any wonder that skeptics of big tech’s power are gaining ground?
The left increasingly wants Silicon Valley to deploy its mute buttons as a way to stifle opposition, especially on climate. If the platforms give in, they’ll be begging the next Republican Congress to rewrite the liability shield under Section 230. Sen. Josh Hawley proposed a bill in 2019 to make internet sites get a federal certificate proving lack of bias. This is a bad idea, but one that the continuing censorship push is doing its best to popularize.
Which brings us back to Mr. Musk, assuming his Twitter purchase goes through. His plans for the social site are far from clear, but he has spoken or tweeted in the past that Twitter should be the modern town square and should be an “inclusive arena for free speech.” A good place to send that message would be to shut down the climate censors.