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Collectively, the tech leaders assembled that day in Palo Alto might be called €œthe Deciders, € in a tribute to Nicole Wong, the legal director of Twitter, whose former colleagues affectionately bestowed on her the singular version of that nickname while she was deputy general counsel at Google. At the dawn of the Internet age, some of the nascent industry €™s biggest players staked out an ardently hands-off position on hate speech; Wong was part of the generation that discovered firsthand how untenable this extreme libertarian position was. In one representative incident, she clashed with the Turkish government over its demands that YouTube take down videos posted by Greek soccer fans claiming that Kemal Ataturk was gay. Wong and her colleagues at Google agreed to block access to the clips in Turkey, where insulting the country €™s founder is illegal, but Turkish authorities €”who insisted on a worldwide ban €”responded by denying their citizens access to the whole site for two years. €œI €™m taking my best guess at what will allow our products to move forward in a country, € she told me in 2008. The other Deciders, who don €™t always have Wong €™s legal training, have had to make their own guesses, each with ramifications for their company €™s bottom line.

The deciders, of course, have blind spots of their own. Their hate-speech policies tend to reflect a bias toward the civility norms of U.S. workplaces; they identify speech that might get you fired if you said them at your job, but which would be legal if shouted at a rally, and try to banish that expression from the entire Internet.

But given their tremendous size and importance as platforms for free speech, companies like Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter shouldn €™t try to be guardians of what Waldron calls a €œwell-ordered society €; instead, they should consider themselves the modern version of Oliver Wendell Holmes €™s fractious marketplace of ideas €”democratic spaces where all values, including civility norms, are always open for debate.

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