When hate speech is curbed online the responses from the perpetrators are invariably predictable. The irony of claiming you are being victimised while bullying others is pretty evident. Spewing hate speech on the internet should result in repercussions, in the same way we would be subject to them in the real world.
Ramping up this conversation was the banning from Twitter of one of the internet’s most insufferable characters – Graham Linehan. The writing was on the wall for the creator of The IT Crowd and Father Ted when he lost his verification tick, an action applied to Katie Hopkins hours before she was also permanently banned from the site. The de-platforming of Glinner came in response to what would be the last in a line of transphobic comments on the social media site.
A similar issue underpinned Reddit’s decision to finally update their content policy, subsequently resulting in some of their most noxious forums shutting down permanently, including ‘R/The_Donald’. The online subreddit dedicated to the president boasted over 700,000 members and actively encouraged harassment and hate speech whilst simultaneously providing a dangerous breeding ground for alt-right radicalisation.
Reddit says subreddits and users that promote hate based on “identity or vulnerability” will be banned. It’s initially banning about 2,000 subreddits, including “The_Donald,” where users often shared racist, misogynistic, homophobic and conspiracy content. https://t.co/W3RvXoesV5
— CNN International (@cnni) June 29, 2020
These changes in policy and more active approaches from platforms to curb hateful behaviour comes in part as a response to the current political climate. In the past week brands like Northface and Patagonia made the decision to pull their advertising from Facebook as part of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign.
This is part of a wider move to rein in the increasingly toxic online sphere in order to protect minorities that are being consistently targeted online. For the most part it has been welcomed with open arms.
Although, as with anything, there is a very vocal opposition to these regulatory moves. As a very basic response and first port of call to the contrarians, Twitter and Reddit are private companies. Both have their own terms and conditions that you agree to when you sign up and breaking those may result in being banned. It’s not rocket science. No one has a divine right to these platforms. Furthermore, if their owners want to prevent them from becoming a lawless wasteland then surely that can only be a good thing.
What’s more is that these pitiful grievances from the so-called proponents of free speech always seem to be in response to reasonable criticisms.
Is it really that outrageous that these companies want to protect people from hateful speech on their platforms? This shouldn’t be a debate.
However, those opposing these moves will say it’s a slippery slope and banning one type of expression will consequently lead to your own views being silenced in the future. Though what’s important to remember is that freedom of speech is the ability to express your opinions without fear of restrictions or censorship. You unfortunately have the right to express your love for pop-punk no matter how whiney and grating I think it is. Another different, but equally valid example is that as much as I abhor Leo Varadkar’s party and many of their policies, you also have a right to express agreement with them. What does not come under the umbrella of freedom of speech is publicly voicing hatred or encouraging violence towards a person based on their identity, whether that be their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Hate speech is not an opinion.
Halting hate speech is not curbing your freedom of expression, it is protecting people from unwarranted and often dangerous rhetoric.
As someone who Graham Linehan repeatedly abused, I am happy that today @twitter is a little bit safer for all trans people.
Transphobia is not an opinion, it is not ‘free speach’, it is violent, toxic and harmful. — Black Trans Lives Matter ✊ (@MunroeBergdorf) June 27, 2020
In light of this, it is clear that those complaining about the likes of Glinner being de-platformed are hiding their real agendas under the guise of protecting freedom of speech. It’s a sad state of affairs when freedom of expression, a cornerstone of any democratic society has become a euphemism for people campaigning for the right to offend. There’s a clear desire to want to be able to say abhorrent things to people without having to face any repercussions. What would happen in the work-place if you repeatedly deadnamed a colleague? You’d face disciplinary action. If you publicly heckled someone about their sexual orientation at a public function you would be escorted out. We have seen football fans permanently banned from attending games in recent years for crude, hurtful and inflammatory gestures so why should the internet be any different?
What’s more is that by weaponising the concept of free speech against vulnerable people they are effectively shutting down a nuanced discussion before it has even begun. Responding to valid criticism by slamming a door is a slap in the face of free speech and a thinly veiled attempt at silencing those on the receiving end of hate.
Glinner highlights everything that is wrong with this brand of free-speech activism. The statement “Men aren’t women tho” doesn’t fall under the category of opinion. It’s merely an abusive and inflammatory statement and it serves only to move the conversation away from a nuanced discussion on trans rights to a muddy and disingenuous free-speech debate.
Andrew Marantz made the comparison that while you can drive a car, the government can still regulate greenhouse emissions and cities can build sea walls to protect themselves from rising sea levels. Limiting the scope of the discussion to whether you can drive a car or not ends the more important conversation about climate change before it even started. By that same token moving the conversation from trans rights to a more black and white approach to your right to offend detracts from the real issue at hand.
In the case of Glinner, he’s a coal-powered dumpster truck polluting the air that’s thankfully been taken off the road.
If you have been affected by the issues in this piece you can visit https://www.teni.ie/ for guidance and support.
Image Source: Gender Desk