All posts tagged: free speech

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented. Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the …

Like the Campus Thought Police

Smith College police chief Daniel Hect was put on administrative leave after becoming an object of campus hate. Chief Hect’s crime was ‘liking’ (not writing) tweets that fall outside of academia’s ever shrinking zone of toleration. Behold the offending tweets: “Stay the course Pres. Trump” “BUILD THAT WALL!!” “The National Rifle Association wishes you and your family a very Merry Christmas!” The tweets express opinions that most Trump voters would likely support. And the chief stands accused not of originating these tweets, but of merely liking them on his own personal Twitter account. If you are not familiar with Twitter, know that liking doesn’t always imply support. The official reason given for Chief Hect’s suspension was, as Smith’s President wrote, because “members of our campus community have voiced a lack of trust” in him. Given the protests, “lack of trust” is quite the understatement. Interpreted in the most favorable light, the students might be worried about the chief’s views on immigration. Smith College is devoted to the spirit of the sanctuary campus movement within “the …

Cambridge University’s Shameful Treatment of Jordan Peterson

On Wednesday, March 20, the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge sent the following tweet: Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review. — Faculty of Divinity (@CamDivinity) March 20, 2019 The circumstances around this event bear careful examination. For they reveal not only a betrayal of the university’s fundamental purpose, but also the loss of something far more wide-reaching, something without which no higher civilization can survive: a shared understanding of ourselves. First, a little background. Jordan Peterson is an academic and clinical psychologist who has taught at two of North America’s most prestigious research universities (Harvard University and the University of Toronto), and whose academic work is prominent, widely-cited, and non-controversial in his field (see a list of his research publications here). His courageous and articulate defense of free speech, of our political, cultural and religious inheritance, of unpopular but incontestable truths of science—especially biology—and his radical opposition to identity politics of any kind, including that of …

Joe Rogan is the Walter Cronkite of Our Era

It is always tempting to believe that we live in historic times. It strokes the ego to think that decades from now, people will look back on current events as the starting point of some dramatic, epochal change. As a comedian, professionally cynical and distrustful of epic narratives, I usually dismiss such notions as the delusions of grandeur of an increasingly narcissistic generation. Yet as I sat glued to my computer last week, watching Joe Rogan and Tim Pool interrogate Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde (the company’s global lead for legal, policy, and trust and safety), I could not shake the feeling that I was witnessing a historic moment. It has long been an open secret that the mainstream media (MSM) is dying. Of all America’s major institutions and industries, only the U.S. Congress is trusted less by the public than the media. The MSM’s one saving grace was its ability to engage in high-end, investigative journalism by pouring millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours into complex, wide-ranging and secretive operations in …

How Radical Transparency Cures Web Censorship and Surveillance

The article that follows is the third instalment of “Who Controls the Platform?“—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. The internet is set for a renaissance-level transformation that will see users migrate to more open networks and corporate models. Popular web personalities are starting to discuss the need to give less of our time and money to entities that silence us. Comedy itself is experiencing an existential crisis. The founders of Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus—all bought by Facebook—have left their new corporate master in reaction to issues of privacy and censorship. It isn’t a coincidence that all of this is happening at the same time. This is about more than social networks. It’s about all forms of digital technology. What browser are you using right now? Get off Safari, Chrome and Edge. Get on Firefox, Tor and Brave. Technologies that we feed will grow. Technologies that we avoid will self-correct or wither. It’s already been proven through such examples as GNU/Linux, Wikipedia, …

Are Anti-BDS Laws an Assault on Free Speech?

Last month, Senator Marco Rubio introduced the “Combating BDS Act”—“S.1,” for short—which, if passed, would enshrine the right of state and local governments to boycott companies that boycott Israel. “The purpose of this law is to say…that we, Congress, are giving the states permission to do this,” David Bernstein told Vox, clarifying that under S.1 a state could forbid government contracting with such companies and not risk legal trouble because of it. (Since federal law supersedes state law, and Congress controls foreign policy, courts could theoretically argue local antiboycott laws violate the constitution because Congress has not officially sanctioned them. S.1 would change that.) The act came hot on the heels of a report by The Intercept that a Texas speech pathologist had lost her job after she refused to sign a pro-Israel “loyalty oath”—allegedly a condition of employment in 26 states, with similar laws pending in another 13. This, of course, was somewhat exaggerated. Though several states do restrict contractors, including sole proprietorships, from boycotting Israel, nowhere is support for BDS criminalized, much less …

There’s Nothing ‘Intersectional’ About Free Speech

The article that follows is the second instalment of “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series authored by social-media insiders. Our editors invite submissions to this series, which may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. Censorship is a tool of repression as old as civilization. And fighting it has always been dangerous: Socrates was sentenced to death in 399 B.C. largely because he refused to pander to a panel of moralizing censors. These days, the punishments tend to be less severe (in Western countries, at least). More commonly, the ancient menace of censorship now takes the form of social opprobrium imposed by online hordes supposedly representing the interests of oppressed minority groups—by which I mean hordes of people claiming, almost always without basis, to speak for these groups while promoting their own narrow political agendas. This censorship effort receives back-office ideological support from scholars promoting “intersectionality” and similar theories, which draw heavily from Marxist and post-Marxist thinking on economics and power relationships. It also encourages adherents to view the world through a lens of “oppression and the need …

Patreon Games

On December 6, crowdfunding service Patreon removed the account of popular YouTuber Carl Benjamin, who is better known by his YouTube moniker Sargon of Akkad. In a statement, Patreon explained that Benjamin was removed for exposing hate speech under its community guidelines, which prohibit: “serious attacks, or even negative generalizations, of people based on their race [and] sexual orientation.” The incident in question was an appearance on another YouTube channel where Benjamin used racial and homosexual slurs during an emotional outburst. (The outburst was transcribed and included for reference as part of Patreon’s statement.) Patreon’s reaction sparked immediate accusations of political bias from many centrists and conservatives, as Benjamin—who identifies as a classical liberal—is a frequent and outspoken critic of contemporary progressivism, receiving hundreds of thousands of views on many of his videos. The fact that Benjamin was removed from Patreon for an outburst on another YouTube channel almost a year ago, when he produces hours of content every week on his own channels and appears regularly on many others, suggested that this was a …

The New War on Comedy

Comedy has had a well-understood purpose: to entertain, to push boundaries and to keep us honest. Historically, the court jester was the one person allowed to publicly mock the all-powerful king perched upon the golden throne. It is for this reason that when a storyteller wants to illustrate a ruler’s descent into madness, we see him begin to turn his ire towards the lowly jester: It is worrying then that the ever more powerful social media guns of the Social Justice Left are being aimed squarely at comedians. In December, American comedian Nimesh Patel was pulled off stage by students for doing woke (and funny) jokes about race. A few days later, I made headlines when I refused to sign a “behavioral agreement” to perform at a student comedy gig which insisted that I not joke about religion, atheism and 10 other “isms,” as well as demanding that my jokes be “respectful and kind.” Given the public ridicule of the students and widespread support for the comedians in these cases, you’d be forgiven for thinking …