This Tweet Contains Speech. Click Here to Learn More.

“Misleading,” it says, with an exclamation point inscribed within a red triangle. “Learn about the science behind COVID-19 vaccines and how health officials say they work. Find out more. This Tweet can’t be replied to, shared or liked.”

It’s the current warning Twitter places on one of the most viewed tweets of all time, an April 4, 2021 missive from the @roadtoserfdom3 account:

They’re not “vaccine passports,” they’re movement licenses. It’s not a vaccine, it’s experimental gene therapy. “Lockdown” is at best completely pointless universal medical isolation and at worst ubiquitous public incarceration. 

Call things what they are, not their euphemisms.

Previously, Twitter was telling people “Learn why health officials consider COVID-19 vaccines safe for most people.” The current warning “Learn … how health officials say they work” is a bit of a rhetorical step-down — perhaps a subtle acknowledgment of the actual “science behind COVID-19 vaccines,” just not the “science” the Twitter link serves up.

Twitter has regressed far from when its CEO boasted to NPR back in 2013, “We’re the free speech wing of the free speech party.” The social-media platform grew by leaps and bounds under such robust free-speech promises, but in recent years it began reworking its terms of service to become more and more the Thought Police gaming room of the Thought Police party. 

Twitter’s effete “content management” prigs were not content with outright banning some users for WrongThink (or saying “learn to code“). They also resorted to such passive-aggressive measures as shadow bans, suspensions without explanation, throttling of likes, ad hoc “warning labels,” even hiding tweets behind “warning screens.” Having grown up in a different era, it’s weird to go past a warning of “sensitive content” only to discover it’s an MD quoting a medical journal article on Ivermectin. 

Here’s just a sample of warning labels they dreamed up in between sessions of “therapeutic coloring“:

  • “Get the facts about COVID-19.”
  • “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
  • “Want to review this before Tweeting? We’re asking people to review replies with potentially harmful or offensive language.”
  • “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet conflicts with guidance from public health experts regarding COVID-19. Learn more.”
  • “This Tweet violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence.”

About that last one: In a feat of tetrapyloctomy, “glorification of violence” was their rationale for banning the account of Pres. Donald Trump while accounts affiliated with, for example, the Taliban, Iran, and China never had a moment’s worry. Subjective censorship, inconsistency with the application of its own policies, and abandoning its former commitment to free speech are all things apparently motivating Elon Musk’s decision to purchase Twitter.

If Musk does what Twitter’s gormless content stiflers fear the most — in the words of a Babylon Bee headline, “Twitter Workers Worried Elon Musk Will Turn Their Free Speech Platform Into Platform That Allows Free Speech” — what will they do? Will they resort to going door-to-door, screaming “SHUT UP!” at people, or will they be seen on street corners behind crudely drawn signs reading “WILL HIDE FOLLOWER COUNTS FOR FOOD?”

I suggest they stay put. In fact, I propose they keep applying labels, only now use them to help guide fellow frustrated censors in this uncertain new land of speech freedom. Here are a few they could adopt:

  • “Get the facts about free speech. Civil society is better with this attitude attributed to Voltaire: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”
  • “Misleading? Maybe. Maybe not. The free exchange of ideas helps people like you and the speaker reason your way to the truth. Healthy debate sharpens your understanding and leads to better ideas. It also teaches you how to handle disagreements like an adult.”
  • “Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet conflicts with guidance from experts and questions current science. Questioning science is how scientific inquiry starts. Even if it turns out to be wrong, you should be thankful.”
  • “Disinformation? Alert: The answer to false, misleading, hateful, or just plain wrong speech is not censorship, but better speech.”
  • “This claim about _____ is disputed. But c’mon; let’s not pretend that’s unusual. Find one claim out there that isn’t disputed by someone. Calm down.”
  • “‘Sticks and stones’ advisory: Depending on their size and velocity, they can break bones. A Tweet, however, is just words on a screen. Toughen up, cupcake.”
  • “This Tweet impacts our ‘De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum’ policy. Loosely translated, it means there’s no accounting for tastes. That means you don’t need to get bent out of shape over a matter of opinion. Chill.”
  • “Want to review your response before tweeting? You don’t always need to get the last word. People like that are annoying.”
  • “This Tweet falls under our ‘Res Ipsa Loquitur’ policy. Humanity’s fate does not hinge upon whether you rebut something everyone can see is ridiculous. The thing speaks for itself.”
  • “Learn why First Amendment advocates consider freedom of speech specifically to protect really dumb, wrong, or vile speech. OK, we can’t keep it to ourselves. It’s because the best test of whether speech is truly free is if you can get away with saying something stupid and offensive. After all, no one is going to have conniptions over you saying something pleasant — well, other than ‘Merry Christmas.’”

We will see soon enough if Twitter gets restored to its former position as the “free speech wing of the free speech party.” If so, Twitter users who had grown accustomed to surrendering their critical thinking to warning labels placed on others’ Tweets may need a period of adjustment. A new batch of pro-free-speech labels might just do the trick.

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is an economist and the senior fellow of regulatory studies and research editor at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Jon researches a broad range of areas, including energy and electricity policy, occupational licensing, red tape and overregulation, alcohol policy, executive orders and overreach, poverty and opportunity, cronyism and other public-choice problems, emerging ideas and economic growth, and other issues as they arise.

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