The Internet social network Twitter is at long last cracking down on members who use the site’s “tweets” for abusive behavior, and stop those creeps from creating new accounts on the service.
According to the Associated Press, Twitter, the best-known user of which is President Donald Trump, finds itself in the middle of a love-hate malaise, with people who like the openness of the service, and who generally use it without harm to others on the one side, and people who use it to spread hatred and slander on the other.
However, the people who run Twitter are finding it is one thing to ban certain spreaders of hate and quite another to do so without levying outright bans on certain types of formerly free speech.
Newspapers and magazines for centuries have solved those problems by employing editors whose job it was to make sure the language that appeared in their publications was the sort that could be used without offending the general public or without causing libelous harm to others.
There was a general understanding of the type of language that would be allowed through and wind up on the printed page.
However, from the earliest days of print, editors and writers pushed the limits of what was and was not acceptable.
The Madera Tribune and other newspapers, for example, are generally free of scatological attempts at humor, which has the potential of offending people to whom references to activities that take place in one’s bathroom can be offensive.
Newspapers and magazines of general circulation generally don’t call people names, nor do they make false accusations.
But there always have been publications — books and magazines generally — which pushed the limits of good taste. Displays of the early supermarket tabloids, for example, sometimes had to be covered up to avoid offending some people and over-exciting others. Playboy could not be sold on the newsstands of many towns, and in others, the postmasters would not deliver it. Subscribers had to go to the post office to pick up their copies.
The courts generally upheld the magazine and book publishers when the post office refused to deliver them, and a great tsunami of pornography washed over the country as a result.
When the Internet came along, it was wide open, mainly because magazine and book publishers had blazed the trail. For a long time, the most prevalent Internet commerce was in dirty books, dirty movies and dirty pictures. It very well still may be.
Publishers of newspapers, most magazines and many books have held the line, believing that part of their obligation is to set and maintain standards for public discourse if for no other reason than to preserve the democracy.
Now, comes Twitter to try to do the same thing. It will not be easy. The horses have been out of their barn for a long time, and rounding them up and corralling them will take time and money.
But we wish them the best of luck.