Bill Maher on Friday returned to the subject of “ridiculous” censorship on Twitter and other social media platforms, calling for users to “develop a better bulls— detector” to protect themselves from lies and misinformation.
“This idea that we can clean up Twitter and protect you from fake news and disinformation, it’s so ridiculous,” the comic said during the “New Rules” segment of his HBO series “Real Time.” “It’s like fact-checking the graffiti on the bathroom wall of a dive bar. We called this number and we didn’t have a good time.”
The host began with a Mother’s Day salute, and then argued that social media companies shouldn’t have to pose as our parents online. “Let’s pause and take a moment to think about how your mother was always there for you, looking after you and keeping you safe — and then realize, That’s not Twitter’s job! Keeping you safe and sorting out the lies from the truth, that’s your job.”
Maher acknowledged the challenges of the social media age. “Do lies spread faster than they used to? Of course, but so can the truth,” he said. “You just have to learn how to use Google for something other than porn.”
The host noted that “whenever a new means of communication comes along, some reach for the censor button.” He recounted historical objections raised by the printing press in the 15th century, the trans-Atlantic telegraph in the 19th century and radio in the 1930s — particularly after Orson Welles’ “obviously fictitious” radio drama “The War of the Worlds” caused a panic among people who thought Martians really had invaded Earth.
“You cannot censor away that level of naivete,” Maher said.
Then Maher compared misinformation to germs. “Lies are all around you — develop a better bulls— detector. That’s a better solution than me giving up what I’m allowed to read.”
He also argued that both conservatives and liberals are guilty of spreading outright lies (like QAnon conspiracy theories) and half-truths without full context (alarmist COVID warnings). He also took a dig at organized religion. “Most people in this country still have a religion. They believe they have an imaginary best friend in the sky, who they can talk to help them with their problems,” he said. “Nobody throws up a warning label on that saying, There’s no evidence for this.”
Still, Maher does not believe free speech is absolute. “Of course we should ban kiddie porn and libel and personal threats and calls for insurrection,” he continued. “That’s a no-brainer because they’re already illegal. Just as it would be illegal in actual town square to whip out your d—.”
Then, with “America the Beautiful” surging in the background, he summed up his point: “This is still America, where people have the right to express what they think, including to be wrong, to lie and, yes, to be an asshole.”