On Monday, I’ll be giving a talk at Airbnb about the Paradox of Tolerance and how tech companies can use it to decide whether or not to allow white supremacists to use their products. Here’s the TL;DW version:
The Paradox of Tolerance says that a tolerant society should be intolerant of one thing: intolerance itself. This is because if a tolerant society allows intolerance to take over, it will destroy the tolerant society and there will be no tolerance left anywhere. What this means for tech companies is that they should not support intolerant speech when it endangers the existence of tolerant society itself.
I propose the following rule for tech companies to use in deciding which content to host or clients to support.
The Intolerable Speech Rule
If the content or the client is:
- Advocating for the removal of human rights
- From people based on an aspect of their identity
- In the context of systemic oppression primarily harming that group
- In a way that overall increases the danger to that group
Then don’t allow them to use your products.
This isn’t the only rule you should use – you should use this rule in addition to all your existing rules against spam, fraud, illegal activity, etc. Implementation is key. Be proactive in seeking out violations, have a diverse empowered decision making team, and collaborate with outside experts.
Update: Cory Doctorow wrote an article about this talk, including a longer exploration of issues around the implementation of the Intolerable Speech Rule at scale.