Thoughts on JS Mill and Social Media Bans

~200 words, ~1 min reading time

I’ve been reading Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty – “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion”. In part, I wanted to figure out what Mill would think about things like social media outlets banning or restricting the speech of people like President Trump.

A couple observations:

  1. JS Mill does not draw a sharp distinction between legal consequences and social ones. As far as he’s concerned, if there are penalties that arise from simply expressing a thought – even if those penalties are just social stigma – then it is a violation of the liberty of discussion. In this way, Mill would disagree with a position that I’ve seen many Hoppe/Rothbard libertarians suggesting that “these are private companies, so they can do what they want”.
  2. On the question of instigation to riot, JS Mill’s most informative passage in this chapter is in a footnote. In this footnote, he talks about how discussion of Tyrannicide should be allowed. In brief, his view is that the discussion of tyrannicide should be allowed – it is a totally valid moral question to consider – but that instigation to tyrannicide could be punishable IF there is an actual act and “at least a probable connexion can be established between the act and the instigation.”

Given all this, I suspect that Mill would be opposed to a Twitter ban for Pres. Trump, though he seems be in favor of treating incitement to riot as a crime. But, dishing out punishments for a crime before there’s a trial would probably be an issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.