Free Speech, recent, Social Media

Deplatforming Won’t Work

Last year Robert Bowers shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven people. Before committing this atrocity he wrote on Gab: “HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Gab is a Twitter alternative used by many neo-Nazis and alt-righters who have been (or know they would be) banned from actual Twitter. The unintended—but entirely predictable—consequence of throwing extremists off Twitter has been to create a large community of exiles on Gab. In Gabland, it is people who question Jewish conspiracy theories or the idea that the US should be a white ethnostate who are considered “trolls.” A similar community is developing on the YouTube alternative BitChute, whose Alexa ranking is rising quickly.

Bowers’s threat of imminent violence (“Screw your optics, I’m going in”) didn’t alarm any of his fellow extremists on Gab. What if he had written the same thing on Twitter? Someone would have been much more likely to contact the police. Perhaps at that point there wouldn’t have been enough time to stop him anyway. But if he had been on Twitter, it’s possible that someone would have reported him to the police long before the shooting for some ominous statements he had made in the past. In any case, relegating Bowers to a non-mainstream platform didn’t stop him from committing the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

In the last few weeks, the leading social media companies have doubled down on their strategy of deplatforming people and censoring content. Alt-right accounts are disappearing from Twitter, videos on controversial topics are being deleted from YouTube, and even some politically moderate YouTube streamers/content creators who didn’t violate the terms of service are being demonetized in an effort to drive them away. But deplatforming won’t work.

This claim needs clarification. Whether something “works” or not depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If Twitter/YouTube/Facebook want to virtue signal by showing that they oppose controversial views (which could well be their true aim), then deplatforming controversial people will work. What I mean is that it won’t accomplish the noble goals that these companies say are motivating them: to prevent violence and the spread of socially destructive misinformation. If these are their goals then deplatforming will backfire—and already has backfired.

Advocates of deplatforming tend to think only one step ahead: Throw people with opinions you don’t like off mainstream social media and you won’t see them again—out of sight, out of mind. But the deplatformers should try thinking two, maybe even three, steps ahead: What will people do after they’re banned? How will their followers react? How will this be perceived by more or less neutral observers? With some forethought, it’s easy to see that banning people with supposedly “bad” or “wrong” views may not be the victory that deplatformers think it is.

Banning people from social media doesn’t make them change their minds. In fact, it makes them less likely to change their minds. It makes them more alienated from mainstream society, and, as noted, it drives them to create alternative communities where the views that got them banned are only reinforced.

Banning people for expressing controversial ideas also denies them the opportunity to be challenged. People with extremist or non-mainstream opinions are often written off as deranged monsters who could not possibly respond to rational argument. There are, of course, some neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, and the like, who conform to this cartoonish stereotype. With these people, reason and evidence go in one ear and come out the other. But not everyone outside the mainstream, and not everyone who falls for a misguided conspiracy theory, deserves to be written off. People do sometimes change their minds in response to reason. If they didn’t there would be no point in debating anything.

Kevin MacDonald, a former California State University, Long Beach, psychology professor and current alt-right thought leader, argues that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” that leads Jews to undermine gentile society for their own benefit. Last year I published the first academic critique of MacDonald. My paper received a fair amount of attention on social media (by the standards of academic papers). Some people completely changed their minds about MacDonald, some moderated their views, many alt-righters called me names, and a few crazies threatened me. I couldn’t have hoped for more than this. Most people aren’t going to immediately give up their deeply-held beliefs in response to a paper. But I think I at least made a large number of MacDonald followers aware that there is an argument on the other side. And I was happy for people to challenge my own conclusions on this subject.

Many of my critics have recently been banned from Twitter. Threads about my paper are filled with long strings of “This tweet is unavailable.” All of these banned people—even if they were arguing in bad faith—were still engaging with the other side. Banning them means limiting their ability to even become aware of alternative views and arguments. Now they’re on Gab and 4chan egging each other on to become more and more extreme.

One rationale for deplatforming controversial people to prevent them from negatively influencing others; to stop the “corruption of youth.” It’s true that when you ban someone, or take down a YouTube video, you make it more difficult to access controversial content, which will stop some people from seeing and potentially being influenced by it. But this strategy can easily backfire for at least three reasons.

Firstly, banning people or censoring content can draw attention to the very person or ideas you’re trying to suppress. After Alex Jones was banned from YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, there was a huge jump in traffic on the InfoWars website. Now he’s well known for being banned. It’s quite likely that some people have come under his influence because of the ban.

Secondly, even when banning someone reduces his audience, it can, at the same time, strengthen the audience that remains. Despite the initial bump in traffic, as a result of the social media ban, fewer people are regularly watching Alex Jones’s videos. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s less influential. His website still gets several hundred thousand visits every day. The people who stuck with him—or started listening to him because of the attention brought to him by the ban—probably feel more aggrieved than ever, and they are being pushed further away from mainstream platforms and into alternative communities where they will get less exposure to alternative views.

Thirdly, any kind of censorship can create an aura of conspiracy that makes forbidden ideas attractive. This was the main consequence of the foolish laws against Holocaust denial in several European countries. No one in history ever gave up Holocaust denial because of these laws. On the other hand, quite a few people have concluded that, if it’s necessary to ban discussion of the mainstream narrative, something fishy must be going on. The correct answer to Holocaust denial, or any other wrong idea, is to explain why it’s wrong. Of course some people will fail to be convinced by the evidence. We have to make peace with the fact that, to use T. H. Huxley’s expression, “so long as men are men and society is society” some people will hold and promote crackpot ideas.

An even more fundamental reason why social media companies shouldn’t try to suppress controversial ideas is that they are very bad at determining who and what is wrong or dangerous. There will inevitably be many false positives and false negatives. A major consequence of deplatforming and censorship will simply be to introduce chaos into our political discussions. Nothing good can come of that.

 

Nathan Cofnas is a philosophy DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter @nathancofnas

66 Comments

  1. PBW says

    Deplatforming invokes the Streisand Effect. There are many people I would have never heard of, let alone heard, had they not been deplatformed in one form or another. The effect this has had for me is to become increasingly skeptical of media because oftentimes, people I’ve never heard of and never would have spent time on, are characterized a certain way, but when I’ve actually listened to what they were saying, it doesn’t match the media/social media narrative. An illustrative example is Bret Weinstein being called a racist, then I listen and come to a WTF? conclusion. At this point, my trust in media is hovering around zero.

    • Out of Nowhere says

      You could call the latter the Red Pill Effect. You’ve believed the mainstream narrative all your live, until one day accidentally you stumble across how some fact looks like in reality. Now you realize how you’ve been lied to and misled in this case, and you start questioning other self-evident truths you’ve believed so far, too.

      “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

      Really good article, thanks Mr. Cofnas!

  2. DiamondLil says

    “He who must not be named.” Words and ideas that become unspeakable also become powerful. There may be no more powerful word in modern American than the “N-word,” precisely because it is unsayable.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @DiamondLil

      Of course you’re familiar with Lenny Bruce’s standup on that subject? Sometimes it takes a comedian to state the obvious. There is a book, written by a black scholar: “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word”. I saw the author interviewed and of course the interviewer was unable to say the n-word. But the author made him say it. He made him say it a dozen times to break the spell. There was this palpable release of tension after the magic spell was broken and the n-word became merely a vulgarity that folks would mostly want to avoid, but not a magic spell that can actually hurt anyone.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Ray Andrews

        I assume the interviewer has been let go and that the station has issued a profuse apology for the violence caused by the airing of the interview.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Asenath Waite

          I don’t know, it was quite a few years back and the taboo at the time was not quite as strong as now, so he might have been spared. Wouldn’t it be both fun and instructional if we could get few dozen successful, admirable, intelligent and respected blacks to each say it 50 times on videos? And not melt, or be triggered or any of that shit? Break the spell once and for all.

    • David Barnett says

      The very phrase “N-word” shows just how childish and immature we as a culture are becoming. Everyone knows what the phrase refers to, and everyone who sees or hears the phrase fills in that blank in their mind. So this notion that this phrase protects anyone from the emotional harm that supposedly comes from actually confronting the word nigger is simple minded at best. And really, where is the greater harm, hearing someone say the word nigger aloud, or having your own mind generate it?

      Further, there is a difference between using the word in, say, a discussion of Huckleberry Finn, or of the history of the KKK, and calling someone a nigger to their face. Again, a distinction lost on the simple minded and the chronically outraged.

      • Interguru says

        In the 19th century, cursing was about religion. This lead to curses such as “God damn you” and “go to hell”. In the 20th century it was sexual and excretory, such as “fuck you” and “shithead”.. In the 21st century it is over racial and ethnic slurs such as “nigger”, “spick”, “kike” and “wop”.

      • Justyne Thyme says

        “everyone who sees or hears the phrase fills in that blank in their mind”

        Maybe 15 years ago that was the case with me. But in the time since then the near exclusive use of “N-word” has me hearing “ennword” in my head when I read it.

      • Jonny Sclerotic says

        @ johntshea

        You’re only making it worse for yourself!

      • derek says

        In Quebec the swear words were church related. Maudit tabernac de chalic. Quite funny

    • Denny Sinnoh says

      Diamond,
      Hmmmm …
      Now that you mention it, this guy I work with is an “n-word”.
      He’s a great guy.

  3. Jonny Sclerotic says

    “…relegating Bowers to a non-mainstream platform didn’t stop him from committing the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.”

    Was he actually banned from Twitter? It’s not clear from the article whether he actually was ‘deplatformed’ so it’s possible there’s no connection in this case. I found no evidence that he was banned, only that he left of his own volition. Gab, however, did deplatform the bastard in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Were they wrong to do so?

    Apologies if I missed something. I’m no big fan of deplatforming, and agree with the general thrust of the article, but we should also be wary of assuming that ideological echo chambers are necessarily a direct consequence of deplatforming, or that a crazy person even needs a social media platform to push them over the edge.

    • Good observations. Sometimes social media is blamed when it is merely coincidental – one might as well note that they used toothpaste that morning and wonder if toothpaste is the cause.

      Which is not to say that I think “social” media is good or worthwhile. Before anyone realised the huge financial opportunity in selling personal data that people didn’t even sell to them but voluntarily gave up, we seemed no worse as a social sociiety.

  4. TarsTarkas says

    It might have been the deadliest attack specifically targeting Jews, but it wasn’t the deadliest attack on Jews. That was 9/11.
    Which was also the deadliest attack on Muslims, Hindus, and several other creeds as well in American history.

    When people’s intellects get too confined, when they all they do or can do is look into mirrors and only see themselves and the like-minded, their minds frequently start pinballing back and forth against the walls of social norms, absorbing more and more negative energy from their social surroundings until they reach escape velocity. Which is getting lower and lower because social norms are now being called racist and patriarchal and oppressive.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @TarsTarkas

      “… pinballing back and forth against the walls of social norms, absorbing more and more negative energy from their social surroundings until they reach escape velocity. ”

      That is poetry. Sentence of the month.

  5. David of Kirkland says

    It seems more likely that 9/11 was targeting wealth and the capitalist system, as it not only hit both towers of the world trade center, but also hit the Pentagon.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ David of Kirkland

      I may be wrong, but I believe that The World Trade Center was selected as a target because it contained a court, which had previously been used to try an international terrorist as a criminal. Or at least, I believe that this was the reason for the first attack by a vehicle bomb, on the parking levels of The World Trade Center. This is all based on vague memories of an excellent documentary on Rick Rescorla, the Brit turned American and hero who saved over 3,000 lives on the day of 9/11. His life and deeds are commemorated in many ways, but perhaps most poignantly in ‘The Man Who Predicted 9/11’.

  6. David of Kirkland says

    You won’t achieve a greater society through censorship. But deplatforming is more like throwing someone out of your home or business because of obnoxious behavior. In private space, being kicked out is fair game. There are always alternatives, but one of them won’t be my home or my business.

    • WH says

      Well we still don’t know how to define these things, they’re not quite public utilities and they’re not entirely private entities either. But to your point, they can be taken to court, and that is likely the sole motivation behind these actions. You might also assume that NOT banning these people is bad for business, but given a second thought that’s not at all obvious. People like controversy, they’re bad at boycotting things they’re addicted to, and if I may be wildly optimistic it looks like they appreciate free speech, too. Enough so to eliminate the bottom line as another incentive, I mean.

  7. Tom Shen says

    There was a time when disputes were settled not by words, but by action; action like a punch in the mouth, a bullet to the brain, or in the case of nations, war. So by cutting off the civility of words, it leaves some with only one alternative; settle things the old fashion way.

  8. Sylv says

    It’s interesting to chart the rise in the number of people who choose, apparently on their own initiative, to publicly express some version of “Opinion silos are great! We demand opinion silos!” as it correlates to the rising influence of algorithms that produce opinion silos.

    Not only do the algorithms tend to only show you sentiments with which you already agree, but somehow this also gets applied to the meta-discussion. Demands for safe spaces and no-platforming perfectly parallel the capture of public discourse by devices and algorithms designed to create confirmation bias loops; the rise of insular online communities built around conspiracy theories follows a similar trajectory.

  9. Alexandria Mau says

    I do agree with the main argument here that deplatforming is ridiculous and will not promote the outcome that Silicon Valley professes to want. However, alt tech sites like Gab, BitChute, Parler, Minds, etc. are not the great bastions of the alt-right that the media has been pushing and which this author seems to concur.

    It is because many alt tech sites are promoting themselves as committed to free speech (don’t know how true that will be in the long run) that deplatformed alt-right figures are congregating on them. If anyone wants to challenge the ideas of the “alt-right” (which seems to include mainstream conservative, libertarians, classic liberals and just about anyone right of antifa these days), I suggest getting an account. No one, including moderates, are being thrown off.

    The other assumption, that Silicon Valley is virtue signaling, is also only partly correct. Anyone who has been following the deplatforming trend will know that it is no longer just the right being taken out. Tim Poole just reported that an antifa channel on YouTube got shut down and Feminist Frequency just moved to BitChute according to several YouTubers and Bitchute itself. This goes beyond perceived political ideology. What is happening is taking advantage of the Postmodernist, Identitarian movement as an excuse to mold platforms for monetary advantage.

    Deplatforming is happening because major social media platforms and the multinational corporations whose advertising drives their bottom lines don’t want controversial topics or personalities dominating platforms. Advertisers obviously don’t want any perceived associations that social activists can scream “racist” about and Silicon Valley wants money.

    As an example, YouTube feels that Netflix is it’s main competition; even though what they do is very different. They’d be happy to remove almost all content creators in favor of multinational media companies and producing their own content. Those same media companies are losing viewership on TV, do poorly on social media and don’t want to compete with YouTubers that can produce content for a fraction of what it cost them. Their partnership with YouTube as preferred content creators has produced algorithms that drive traffic to sites like CNN and Fox News and away from smaller creators to the point of passive deplatforming and the loss of people’s livelihoods.

    If you follow the money, it comes down to wealthy corps protecting other wealthy corps to control all major platforms and continue to increase their own bottom line in a vertical monopoly. That is why even banks a “deplatforming” controversial figures, including at one point, the alt tech site Gab. This is probably the most dangerous turn of events to come out of this modern day witch hunt.

    When anyone accused of “wrong think” can be depersoned not only on social media, but in their ability to participate in commerce, we really will have entered a dystopia of epic proportions. The ban of someone in the public square and the marketplace is horrifying. One can only hope that the insanity will burn itself out sooner rather than later and before more people are harmed.

    • X. Citoyen says

      What is happening is taking advantage of the Postmodernist, Identitarian movement as an excuse to mold platforms for monetary advantage.

      I suspect you’re right on this. A strategist looks at the near-infinite supply content and the short life of the average social media sensation and says let’s focus on anodyne, bankable fluff that appeals to advertisers and keeps the activists and gov’t off our backs. Win, win, win.

    • Jonny Sclerotic says

      @ Alexandria Mau

      Thanks for this well reasoned comment. I agree with your point about banning someone in the public square/marketplace and the adverse impact that can have. Although I’m far from a purist free marketeer, I think in this case the market is doing what it does best. Conservatives seem to be the ones advocating for tighter regulations – or even state monopolies – on social media, as they feel most under attack from the prevailing forces of the market leaders.

      Gab et al (and Quillette for that matter) have proven that there is a demand for platforms that welcome non-conformist, non-ideological expression.

      So my question to conservatives who are outraged at ‘deplatforming’ from Twitter and Facebook is this: where has your trust in market forces gone? Virtue signalling marketing evidently leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people, from across the political spectrum. Surely the most pragmatic steps to take are: i) let the insanity play out ii) find another platform which will allow your voice to be heard iii) accept that commercial viability only requires a small minority of a population iv) don’t be beholden to attitudes shaped by commerce, ie ignore what offends you and move on.

      Remember, there is only one facebook account for every 3 people on earth. You can phrase that statistic in a way that sounds ominous, or you can take it at face value. You can go further still and recognize that, once you remove all the unused/deceased/group accounts, the vast majority of the planet is not influenced by these platforms.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Jonny
        One can still trust in market forces when one is being swindled by a dodgy operator.
        But I think conservatives get cross about deplatforming, because it has little to do with market forces, and more to do with an effort by suppliers to rig the market. In fact you could argue that deplatforming is contrary to market forces.
        After all, wouldn’t it be in the interest of YouTube, for example, to have as broad a range of viewers as possible? The same I would have thought would apply to the advertisers. Even neo-nazis need loo paper.
        But as Alexandria has noted, YouTube can get enough profits from moving towards the big legacy media content providers. So it can avoid the awful hassle of hearing the squeaky wheels of our society constantly calling for the banning of stuff they don’t like.

        • Jonny Sclerotic says

          Peter,

          It’s not in YouTube’s interest to have a broad range of viewers. All that matters is the totality of numbers. The advertisers will adjust accordingly.

          Let’s say YT starts deleting accounts and channels owned by bald people, while reinstating all the controversial YT accounts and channels, whether alt-right, terrorists, pornography etc. If 10% of the user base stand in solidarity with bald people by boycotting, YouTube’s only consideration is: does the bald community + 10% of the non-bald user base account for more or less revenue than the reinstated user base.

          If there were more money to be made sticking with the crazy people than the slapheads, YT wouldn’t hesitate to switch strategies. Finasteride and Kangol wouldn’t advertise there, but the NRA and God might. It makes no difference to YouTube. I’m not saying it should or it shouldn’t make a difference, it just definitely doesn’t.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Jonny
            I don’t think your example is really on point.
            The fact is that braod audience is a larger audience, which leads to more revenue for YouTube.
            People don’t leave YouTube because they dislike some of its content. But they do leave if they feel the content they like is removed.

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Jonny

            The underlying problem is that across the West, around 2% of the broader 8% of the population, who call themselves progressives, have weaponized the ‘blue brand’. This means that anyone who they don’t like gets banned from platforms they frequent, and anyone attempting to leave to start their own platform gets branded as a far-right extremist.

            These children in their twenties have been brainwashed by college lecturers into accepting the grievance studies religion without question, told by their parents that they are special and important and told by their teachers for years that they are finally going to be the generation to finally change the world. For years they have been taught that the best way to have an impact, is to blithely acquire an incredibly superficial veneer of knowledge and then pronounce judgement on a topic- when every generation before them has had to humbly submit themselves to subordination, followed by promotion through competency- in order to achieve this incredibly successful march of progress, which has left the world a fundamentally better and happier place.

            I recently saw a TED talk that promised to deliver proficiency in any subject within 20 hours. What was shocking was not that it was given, but that so many people bought it hook, line and sinker. I would estimate that beyond primary, secondary and higher education, it takes roughly 10,000 hours to acquire the ability to speak or write with competency on a core of subjects you are interested in, and significantly longer if your desire is to turn these interests into anything of real commercial value. It’s why commercially successful creatives are so rare, by comparison to those who want to be- because few people have the necessary discipline to sit in front of a computer every day and type, with no implicit promise of financial rewards, and fewer still have the type of heavyweight mind filled with knowledge, that we have recently found the public has a thirst for.

            The real source of optimism on this subject though, is that of the 92% of people who will never fully accept their worldview, a larger and larger percentage are finally becoming aware of the epistemological and cultural threat that ‘woke’ liberalism represents. They made the mistake of believing that the voices reflected back to them through the ether of the Twitterverse, were representative of the attitudes of the population as a whole, rather than the manifestation of the selfsame twisted ideology occupying a similarly youthful, inexperienced and naive mind. In the meantime we will have to put up with the Tech giants trying to push us back into consuming the intellectually somnambulistic gruel previously fed to us by corporate mainstream media. But in long run, I have high hopes, enough of us have developed an appetite for long form conversations, dissenting journalism and better documentaries.

            P.S. In the meantime, watch Tim Pool and Timcast on YouTube, as well as David Pakman for balance- and Triggernometry in the UK. It’s important to support independent content creators and share info on them at a time that YouTube is attempting to subtly remove them from the discourse.

      • @Jonny,

        If Russiagate taught us anything, it’s that the attempts to regulate social media are a wholly bipartisan agenda. Their strategies differ, but they both have overall goal: to prevent another Trump from amassing a sizable attention market and subverting their “planned” systems of election.

        As for Gab, it also taught us that all it took to label an entire platform as a Nazi hangout was a lone gunman. I don’t think it’s doing very reputation-wise, even after its crackdown on anti-semitic / nazi shitposting. If you want true free expression, I’d suggest 4chan, or its mutant counterparts, where anonymity still has some staying power and is somehow still immune from mainstream outrage-farming. I doubt that’s the kind of demand people really are requesting.

        And while it is true that the vast majority of the planet is not influenced by Facebook accounts posting Yosemite Sam memes and confederate flags, the vast majority of western media and most political entities believe that very influence was enough to elect some form of Russian game show host, which is much, much sadder… and a bit hysterical.

        • Jonny Sclerotic says

          @ IIC

          You’re right, this reductive infantilism is sad, and hysterical in two senses of the word.

          One side is convinced that swarms of Fascists are coalescing online to take over the world, the other side is convinced it’s Marxists. Risible, indulgent paranoia.

      • Stephanie says

        Jonny, it’s the current regulation of this market that is the problem. The social media giants are shielded from the consequences of their business model by a regulatory environment that treats them like platforms. When they deplatform people, they are acting as publishers, and thus should be regulated as such. Social media companies should be asked to pick their lane, and then be regulated accordingly.

    • Kencathedrus says

      @Alexandria: this is a brilliant commentary. I believe you are right.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Alexandria
      I agree completely. This of course it not a new phenomenon. Big companies likes dealing with big companies, just as big government likes dealing with big companies and big unions. It’s far easier to have a few large customers or compettitors than a mass of them.

    • Tim Wu charts this trend of centralization and monopolization (after early periods of decentralization and openness) in electronic technologies in his book The Master Switch.

  10. Weasels Ripped My Flesh says

    Sorry, I missed the tutorial part of the last couple of years.

    What, exactly, is a “”neo-Nazi”?

    What exactly is an “alt-righter”?

    People throw the terms around like verbal diarrhea.

    Why are “neo” and “alt” added as prefixes to “Nazi” and “righter”

    Nazi’s existed in Germany until mid 1945. But now, apparently, all it takes to be a Nazi is to wear a Trump campaign hat.

    Is a “righter” someone that believes in private property, individual liberty, rule of law, free markets, etc.? If not, what is a “righter”?

    • We are in agreement. The academics who write for Quillette tend to exist in an intellectual limbo, never quite able to shake off certain tics and tropes. I find the term “neo-Nazi” particularly annoying when used by the left, not only because they use it too often and incorrectly, but because the Left is virulently anti-Israel. Alt-right is also a BS term. First of all, it isn’t synonymous with neo-Nazi. You could correctly call Richard Spencer alt-right but isn’t a neo-Nazi. He has never advocated violence against Jews. And most of the people labelled as alt-right,be it Milo Yiannopoulis or David Rubin, aren’t alt-right at all. The professor who wrote this not only got this wrong, but is blind to the real problem of deplatforming. The problem is not that some nutjob might use an alternative to Twitter,the problem is that nut jobs, i.e. extremists who think Antifa are a swell bunch of people, have veto power on Twitter. And CNN. And Google. And more.

  11. Peter from Oz says

    Could I make a special plea to all Quillette writers and commenters?
    As an existential protest, and in the spirit of good fun, I call upon us all to slip the word ”nigger” gratuitously just once into every comment and article. Of course, I don’t mean that we should use ”nigger” as an insult or as a demeaning term, but merely as a descriptor. We need to claim back the language from the puritans and defang the insult that some seem so much to want to hold on as a weapon in their perpetual self-imposed victimhood; a victimhood that blights all it touches.
    So let your inner nigger be free. Throw away your pusilanimous ”n-word” crutch and walk tall in your understanding that a word spoken without malice is no insult.
    Come, there is no reason to be niggardly.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ Peter from Oz

      I would settle for ‘Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty’ no longer constituting a disciplinary offence- given that the earliest reference in any historical record, relates to British Naval and Merchant Marine logs, AFTER slavery was banned, with the Americans subsequently adopting it from us.

      Or how about someone finally acknowledging that the ‘rule of thumb’ relates to carpentry, and that Judge Cane was widely pilloried, when he made the now infamous statement about the width of a stick.

      Maybe just a Quillette article about all of the common parlance which the Left now finds ‘problematic’, with an historical explanation on why they are wrong.

    • Interguru says

      Niggardly is a homophone with no relation to nigger.

      “In the United States, there have been several controversies involving the word niggardly, an adjective meaning ‘stingy’ or ‘miserly’, because of its phonetic similarity to the racial slur nigger. Etymologically, the two words are unrelated.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_about_the_word_niggardly

  12. No sharia says

    It’s been the s as me with drugs and prostitution: banned them and people will do anything to get them.

    • Peter from Oz says

      No sharia

      Don’t ban drugs and prostitution and people will still do anything to get them. They also cause physical harm to those who indulge in them and lead to crime whether legal or not.
      WHat I find amusing is the fact that people don’t understand that the ”legalsiation” of drugs won’t just be a case of taking all the old criminal laws off the books. No, it will involve passing 10 or 20 times more laws regulating the production, distribution and use of drugs. There will also be new taxes and excises imposed, leading to more laws. So in fact there will more government control of our lives if drugs are legalised than if they remain illegal.

      • Photondancer says

        @Peter

        What I find funny about the “legalise drugs” argument is that it’s usually premised on a naive assumption that the current illegal drug barons will just meekly pack up and go away. I rather doubt it.

      • (Drugs and prostitution) also cause physical harm to those who indulge in them and lead to crime whether legal or not.

        Regarding drugs, yes, some of them cause physical harm. Not all do. Compared to something like alcohol or tobacco or a bag of MSG-laden potato chips, cannabis and most psychedelics will do less direct harm to your body, though they could make you clumsy and you may end up hurting yourself incidentally. If you freak out, just take an anxiolytic, which you should have handy if you’re a well-prepared first-timer, anyhow.

        Keep in mind, the cultivation and production of drugs can also be dangerous, even to people who don’t even use them! However, if methamphetamine were produced in safe, government-approved laboratories, we wouldn’t have to see one more meth lab explosion. We also wouldn’t have to worry anymore about toxic mold, salmonella and other contaminants in organic drugs such as cannabis and psylocibin cubensis.

        Banning things they cause physical harm would make our society grind to a halt. No knives, no cars, no stoves and ovens, no lighters, no electricity, no gasoline, no construction equipment, no foods containing fat or sugar or small bones that could be choked on… the list is endless. Danger is an inherent property of life itself. That’s why we have safety regulations, not outright bans on things that are unsafe. Balance is often more effective than bias.

        If drugs are legal, we can educate people in how to safely dose and consume them, rather than teaching people “just say no” and expecting them to figure it out for themselves when they choose to try them anyway. Drugs can and are used responsibly, and irresponsibly. The ratio is dependent on abundance of education and lack of stigma. For people who use drugs irresponsibly, they should be treated with compassion in hospitals and addiction centers, rather than being subjected to contempt in jails.

        In terms of criminal activity, oh, please. Drugs don’t “lead to crime”. People said that back in the 1930s about alcohol. Look how much crime went up after prohibition, and how much it went back down once prohibition ended. A lot less people got machine-gunned in the streets once booze was legal again! As for addiction, that can lead to crime, but again, we see that in alcohol, but nobody’s asking for it to be banned for a second time. It seems that once is enough to learn that lesson, but unfortunately it seems our society is so stupid as to require it be done over and over and over again on a drug-by-drug basis.

        Also, the illegal nature of drugs increases overall crime statistics, when you can count possession, sale and cultivation as crimes. People who don’t want to go back to jail will prefer to use violence against police and other people they think will rat them out. People who sell and cultivate drugs are at risk of robberies because the robbers know your product is illegal, and that you won’t call the cops if you get your product stolen. This makes more violence the only recourse for robberies. Don’t you see how legalization will end most of this?

        Regarding prostitution, again, you’re wrong. The Internet has nearly eliminated pimping (although SESTA/FOSTA has reignited that industry somewhat in the U.S.,) prostitutes can self-manage and avoid nearly every danger that was once historically associated with the job, and I’d argue that a society of men who aren’t getting laid is much more likely to result in random acts of violence, compared to a society where people can get their rocks off for sixty dollars whenever they need to.

        So in fact there will more government control of our lives if drugs are legalised than if they remain illegal.

        Yes, but the drugs will be safer. Ideally, I want just as much government control over my recreational drugs as there is with food. Apparently some dealers are putting fentanyl in weed now. Weed, of all things! However, I don’t need to worry about that, since my country has legalized cannabis. All of my cannabis is lab tested before it gets mailed to me. When’s the last time anyone bought weed off the street that’s been through a GC/MS prior to sale? That’s a $100,000 machine that requires a college graduate to operate.

        In case one of my friends ends up with fentanyl-laced weed, I’ve got a nalaxone/narcan kit at home and I’ve been trained in its use. I hope I never end up needing it, but it’s there just in case. If we legalized and regulated the production and sale of all recreational drugs, nobody would have to worry about fentanyl and carfentanil creeping into the supply chain.

        I love my drugs, but please, bring on the government control! Doing it like this might actually make me trust them again!

      • Jonny Sclerotic says

        There’s decriminalization, which has worked wonders for Portugal.

  13. Pingback: “neo-Nazis and alt-righters who have been (or know they would be) b… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

  14. Geary Johansen says

    I’m starting to get tired of the free speech vs private platform argument, along with all the obvious political bias. I just wished YouTube, Google and social media, could have a setting or search engine that allowed you to pick out informed and balanced content, from all the rubbish that the algo’s throw my way (and no, my user profile didn’t program it that way).

    If often takes 15 – 30 minutes, to find new one hour plus content, that I am interested in. And then I have to be incredibly specific about what I’m looking for- only to find that some of the greatest content ever, only has 200 views. It’s like we’ve all lined up at a Michelin-starred restaurant, only to be served a tasting menu of McDonalds, followed by Taco Bell, followed by Pizza Hut.

    • Jonny Sclerotic says

      @Geary Johansen

      I never use the recommended videos feature. I usually sign out of YouTube so I don’t get their algorithmically curated suggestions. You can also filter by video length and view count. Doing that, in combination with specific keywords, will go a long way towards filtering out the ephemera.

      The best longterm strategy for viewing content you like is to subscribe to channels that produce content you like. Of course there are still plenty of spammers who manage to sneak in, but the more esoteric your filtering options and search terms are, the less attractive that search space is to spammers.

      Good luck finding interesting videos – they’re definitely out there!

  15. Mike Walsh says

    This writer -tellingly- seems to believe that the big social media venues deplatform people because they are extremists with potential for violence. But people are deplatfomed all the time simply for having opinions that conflict with the approved leftist narrative. The danger is not that psychos might grow worse or be encouraged by having their paranoid notions affirmed, but that the country grows increasingly polarized by a woke left that will do all it can to disenfranchise people it doesn’t like. The danger is a cold civil war, and the left is the problem.

  16. “Gab is a Twitter alternative used by many neo-Nazis and alt-righters…”

    Stopped reading there.

  17. pat says

    earnst zundel was a famous holocaust denier in canada long before the net. he was jailed for his writings which were “likely to incite violence”. canadian jews and virtue-sginalling canadians of other stripes not only silenced zundel but jailed him for his stupid ideas.

    did the jews really think their goy friends really believed zundels crap? let me decide whats garbage. not the jews, not the muslims, not the indians, not the whites, not the women, not the men, not the nazis, not the fascists… Inciting violence should be stopped, but let the nutcases ramble on. were not as stupid as you think.

  18. “Relegating Bowers to a non-mainstream platform didn’t stop him from committing the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.” I’m sorry, but it simply does not follow from this that Twitter owed him a platform. The inverse is also worth considering – that if millions of people are enabled to share anti-semitic content by major media platforms, where twenty years ago it was a few thousand people limited to paper circulars and in-person symposia, then the overall likelihood of synagogue shootings is actually much higher than it otherwise would be, regardless of the specific limitations imposed by the platform. And who says that Bowers was relegated to a non-mainstream platform, anyway? There’s a ton of virulently antisemitic content all over the major platforms, from verified users like RamZPaul and Stephan Molyneux to ban-evading accounts like Mike Enoch’s. The assertion that censorship is the problem sounds very noble and all, but the fact is that social media is awash in neofascist content. The phenomenon is as unprecedented as everything else we’re experiencing in the internet age, including the Pittsburgh attack, and the connection is obvious.

  19. “Even some politically moderate YouTube streamers/content creators who didn’t violate the terms of service are being demonetized in an effort to drive them away.” This should alert us to the fact that censorship is not about combatting hate, it’s a set of sometimes complex, sometimes improvised business calculi in an era where certain bans or suspensions are guaranteed to become news stories. According to a recent study reported by NY Mag, 24 million Americans hold alt-right beliefs. If that many people are sharing neofascist content on YT, Twitter and FB, it means this is a major market that big tech knows it cannot just excise. I have been following the alt-right, with a limited degree of sympathy, since 2012, and I can tell you for a fact that Jews are staring down the gun-barrel of the biggest wave of anti-semitism since the 1930s. Little by little, the school shooters are taking up positions around the school. Fascists (real fascists, I’m not talking about Trump supporters or something) are incredibly effective at seeding propaganda that garners the support of alienated people with limited capacity to reason. And just like in the 1930s, this poison is promulgating itself openly, in real time, precipitating murder, and we’re all just treating it like parlor talk.

    • clf says

      “Fascists (real fascists, I’m not talking about Trump supporters or something) are incredibly effective at seeding propaganda that garners the support of alienated people with limited capacity to reason.”

      And who exactly gets to decide who are the real fascists?

      • Fascism is fairly well defined. But it doesn’t matter who gets to decide, because the category has no legal definition and doesn’t appear in the terms of service of any big tech platform. Big tech has the right and obligation to regulate the use of their platforms in any case, and the way they do that isn’t going to please everyone. This is also true of Gab, Minds, and Bitchute, except that the bigger services have a far greater obligation to a much larger pool of users.

      • Fascism is fairly well defined. But it doesn’t matter who gets to decide, because the category has no legal definition and doesn’t appear in the terms of service of any big tech platform. Big tech has the right and obligation to regulate the use of its platforms, and the way it does that is not always going to please everyone. This is equally true of Gab, Minds, and Bitchute, except that big tech has a far greater obligation of a much larger market.

  20. cfkane1941 says

    It’s a good point about de-platformers not thinking a few steps ahead. Silencing someone doesn’t equal convincing them. Bad ideas (or ideas one thinks are bad) flocked to the internet because it was an easy and convenient way to get those ideas out there. But those ideas are like water; if they are blocked by an obstacle they flow around. The promulgators find the next easiest way to disseminate their ideas. Pretty soon the deplatformers will be confronted with Alex Jones et al. again and say: “I thought we dealt with these guys!”

    Here’s an example. Colin Kaepernick complains about the Betsy Ross flag going on a shoe. Nike caves, the internet melts. Again. It may well be some White Nationalists have been using the Betsy Ross flag to augment their blood and soil ideas. But has Kaepernick thought any more steps down the road? It occurred to me today one can strategically enrich one’s opponent in the short term, preparing them for a big loss down the road. What happens if a hundred White Nationalists dress head to toe in Nike gear and march down the street shouting about blood and soil and racial purity? And then they keep doing it? And what if more White Nationalists do likewise? Contrary to the presumed narrative, there aren’t that many organized White Nationalists out there, but there are enough. How long does it take for people to start thinking Nike gear is a symbol of White Nationalists?

    Suddenly a lot of people have a lot of problems on their hands. The NFL, college football, the NBA, Michael Jordan, Nike, the people who’ve accepted Nike advertising, everyone who has a shoe or a garment with a swoosh on it. What happens then, in our milieu of acute sensitivity and corporate wokeness?

    All because one half-educated former athlete made a half-informed decision about a small group on the fringe and didn’t think a few steps ahead. Wouldn’t it be better to just put the flag on the shoe?

  21. Gabriel M says

    As always, Cofnas’ article is a good example of unpretentious, closely-argued logic, but on this occasion I think he misses the point a bit.

    The purpose of tech censorship isn’t to fight radicalisation, it’s to, in general, preserve left-wing dominance over public debate in the internet age and, specifically, to make sure Democrats win the 2020 election. There’s every reason to think that it will be successful.

    Now, as to the points Cofnas’ raises I think there are three categories of pro-tech-censorship liberal:

    a) Those that have not considered that tech censorship creates radicalized far-right echo chambers which encourage mentally unbalanced people to commit acts of violence.
    b) Those that have considered it, but judge it to be acceptable collateral damage or think that the police can cope with it.
    c) Those that have considered it, but judge it to be a plus since the right-wing terrorism always benefits the left.

    At most, this article might budge a few people from (a) to (b).

    But there’s a deeper point here. Tech-consorship actually is necessary for the preservation of democracy because a democracy with an actual open marketplace of ideas inevitably degenerates into civil war. The only way to make democracy a stable system of government is to have an informal “cathedral” system that keeps the range of opinions held by 95% of the population within narrow bounds. It would be nice to have a cathedral that doesn’t always swim left, but there’s no evidence that’s even possible. At any rate, if you don’t like public opinion being controlled by informal cartels of information providers, then get a different system of government.

    • Shaeel says

      There are no democracies in existence. There are only elective dictatorships (at best) ranging down to honest to goodness dictatorships (at worst).

      Tech-censorship is necessary for the preservation of elective dictatorships because an elective dictatorship with an actual open marketplace of ideas cannot exercise its dictatorial powers to any useful effect.

  22. Though this essay raises some good questions, it fails to question its own assumptions. The main assumption is that “alt-right and neo-Nazis” flock to Gab after Twitter boots them. There is no definition of terms and no data to prove the point. It is simply asserted.

    Leaving aside whether Gab indeed has disproportionate numbers of global racists, Twitter, in point of fact, not fantasy, permits tons of anti-semitic attacks. Only recently was it forced, after a year of pressure, to finally remove Farrakhan’s vile “I’m not anti-semitic, I’m anti-termite” comment (particularly vile, not just because of his long history of very public racism but because ‘termites’ is what the Nazis referred to Jews as).

    To my mind, Twitter cares, not about what is being said, but about who is saying it, and about whom. As far as why, I think it’s complex. They tell themselves they care about the issues, but I think what they actually care about is their own power: political, ideological, and commercial. Political, in that they have a very cozy revolving door relationship with Washington, which benefits them personally and monetarily, and they want a dependable political business “partner” (which Trump is not); ideological in that if they retain control of the narrative they want (as the media largely used to do before Trump), then they will retain that power; and commercial in that they want to avoid controversy, but only controversy that doesn’t conflict with the first two.

    On top of that, they genuinely believe themselves to be morally righteous and those who disagree to be immortal, sometimes outright evil. This allows them to then justify attacks, under the principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ and “our cause is just.” Under this logic, Black people and Muslims who dare stray from their assigned ideas, become “porch monkeys” and “Uncle Toms” and worse. That’s totally ok on Twitter. I see it all the time.

    If the Tweet is penned by someone the ‘woke Left’ considers marginalized, or against someone the Left considers to be of the wrong political party (eg Ben Shapiro) it is almost always totally ok to be anti-semitic. Tons of Blue checks say vile Jew hating things, and the blue checks remain.

    From the ADL: “Using a proprietary, wide-ranging query, as well as statistical methods and expert analysis, COE analysts were able to determine that roughly 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets were posted and reposted on Twitter in the one-year period specified above. We estimate that the tweets were issued by approximately three million unique handles.”

    Another example from just the UK: “A survey of thousands of left-wing social media accounts by Hope Not Hate found that nearly a fifth promote or engage in antisemitism….”

    The author fails to argue his case and instead simply makes assertions that may well be true – I too think deplatforming doesn’t work – but are unproven, and also perhaps contain false assumptions about causes.

  23. Respek Wahmen says

    Holocaust denial is illegal in my country, and it does make me think there could be something fishy going on. It’s the kind of the thing nazis would do.

    “It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”

    It’s ironic, like antifa.

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