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Why Twitter’s Alt-Right Banning Campaign Will Become The Alt-Right’s Best Recruitment Tool

Why Twitter’s Alt-Right Banning Campaign Will Become The Alt-Right’s Best Recruitment Tool

from the control-alt-delete dept

If there are two points worth hammering home on matters of free speech, they are that defenders of free speech must be willing to defend speech they don’t like and that the solution to bad speech is more good speech. I would argue that Western democracy as a whole can be defined as a political version of the Socratic Method, by which the electorate engages in public debate, constantly questioning the other side, in order to produce the most optimal thoughts. For those that value this method of discourse, it’s instantly recognized that it only works if you have opposing views. To that end, it’s imperative that we not only allow, but feverishly welcome, different points of view.

But this kind of thinking is currently under assault in America, and from both sides. The latest example of this is Twitter’s recent decision to carpet-ban an entire slew of accounts linked to the so-called “alt-right” movement.

The social media platform has suspended accounts of several high-profile users associated with the alt-right movement, CBSNews.com reported Wednesday. These include Richard Spencer, Paul Town, Pax Dickinson, Ricky Vaughn and John Rivers.

Spencer, among those suspended this week, has been a leader in the alt-right movement since creating a website for it in 2010. He’s president of the National Policy Institute, which describes itself as “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States,” and has been described as a white supremacist.

Let’s get some caveats out of the way. First, Twitter is a private entity and can refuse participants in this manner if it likes. Nothing about this violates any kind of law. Second, many of the accounts in question did give voice to speech and ideas that are the most putrid form of racism and identity politics. This is not optimal thinking or speech. And, where accounts were used to actually harrass and abuse others, we can leave our outrage at the door.

But that isn’t the case with all of these accounts. Even Spencer, a leader of this racially-charged speech, has not been found to do any sort of harrassing. Yet his account and that of his website were banned as well. In other words, many of these bans appear to be motivated primarily, if not solely, by idealogy as opposed to any actionable abuse. And that’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it legitimizes one of the main claims of the alt-right movement: that it suffers censorship within the marketplace of ideas.

It’s precisely the perception of arbitrary and one-sided speech policing that drives so many young men toward radical, illiberal politics. On campus especially, but also in the corporate world—and now on social media—they perceive that wild and wacky things can be said by some people, but not by others. By useful comparison: On the very same day that Twitter suspended the accounts of some alt-right users, DePaul University forbade a scheduled appearance by the broadcaster and writer Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is not an alt-rightist; in fact, the Anti-Defamation League reported last month that Shapiro is Twitter’s single most frequently targeted victim of anti-Semitic abuse by alt-rightists. But Shapiro is a scathing polemicist and provocateur—an alumnus of the same Bannon-Breitbart empire that incubated Milo Yiannopoulos—and DePaul expressed worry that his appearance on campus might provoke violence.

The culture of offense-taking, platform-denying, and heckler-vetoing—now spreading ever outward from the campuses—lets loudmouths and thugs present themselves as heroes of free thought. They do not deserve this opportunity.

Bad ideas, if they are indeed bad, are susceptible to attack from good ideas. Unless we now think that American culture as a majority would line up with alt-right thinking, the only weapon needed against such thinking is a better alternative line of thinking. If we instead take Twitter’s lead and simply try to put a lid on speech we don’t like, it will only serve to solidify the feeling of victimization amongst those speakers, while leading others to seek them out to find out what all the fuss is about. Strangely, it might be Americans’ natural tendency to want to stick up for victims of injustice that lead some to join the ranks of those that would spread injustice to others. And this would be supercharged by companies like Twitter leaning on censorship, achieving the opposite result of its intention. That’s not a good strategy.

The other problem is that it’s difficult to cease going down this censorship road once you’ve begun. And if the arguments of small-“l” liberalism are so weak that they cannot combat ideas we think are bad, then our arguments are bad and we should think up new ones. But trying to silence others isn’t the answer. Look at every major step forward on matters of social justice, be it the end of slavery, economic progress, secularism or LBGT rights, and you will find they all have something in common: an opposition. It’s already been proven that good speech can defeat bad speech, and that good ideas can defeat bad ideas. That’s all we need. We don’t need to be coddled by our social media networks and we cannot win a fight we never are able to have.

 

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The further underground that such opinions are driven, the easier it is for a leader to use that to unify what would be otherwise arguing factions. We are being suppressed can be a powerful rallying call and reason for cooperation to defeat the common enemy.

—Anonymous Coward
made the First Word by Dark Helmet

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:12pm
    Part of the problem is that we have unrealistic expectations of these so-called social media platforms. They exist to surveil and make money from their users. Anything resembling a place for discourse is an illusion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:30pm
    I really wish that Twitter kept up the accounts for those banned and just prevented any future activity instead of effectively deleting the profiles.

    That way future hiring managers could know exactly who they are getting as an employee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:36pm
    “Bad speech” is vulnerable to “good speech”? Hmm… this reminds me of something else I read this week.

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20161113/00431436029/let-them-eat-facts-why-fact-checking-is- mostly-useless-convincing-voters.shtml

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon

    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:41pm

    Re:

    Did you manage to read the entire post, particularly the culminating paragraph? Because specifically, and correctly, pointed out that minds are changed through detailed and elongated conversation, as opposed to quick citation of facts. That I’m in this comment pointing out a fact may prove his point, should you be unable to recognize your error….

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon

    seedeevee (profile), Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:44pm

    The “C” Word

    It’s still not censorship. Right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:44pm

    The left could learn this lesson

    “But trying to silence others isn’t the answer” and “good ideas can defeat bad ideas”

    If the left would stop the name calling and labeling and come to the table ready to discuss policy and ideas, this country might get somewhere. It is the person who can’t defend their ideas who use these tactics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon

    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:45pm

    “the alt-right movement: … suffers censorship within the marketplace of ideas”

    Don’t the alt-righters believe in competition? Why does there only have to be one “marketplace of ideas”? Can’t they set up their own alt-marketplace? And if their alt-ideology is so superior, won’t the punters flock to it?

    I think their fear, and quite a justified one, is that they would end up talking to themselves. Any open, competitive communication channel, where a range of viewpoints gets represented, inevitably takes on what they label as a “liberal bias”.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:47pm
    The further underground that such opinions are driven, the easier it is for a leader to use that to unify what would be otherwise arguing factions. We are being suppressed can be a powerful rallying call and reason for cooperation to defeat the common enemy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon

    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:47pm

    Re: The left could learn this lesson

    I think you’re certainly right about this, but I don’t think it’s limited to a single party, or even to questions about policy or politics. There is an epidemic of identity association in this country right now, where assumptions are made strictly by perceived affiliations that get shouted all over the place. Not only is this counterproductive, it’s truly stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:49pm

    Let’s at least be clear about terminology

    “alt-right” is merely a modern synonym for Nazi.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon

    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:49pm

    Re: The left could learn this lesson

    I would broadly agree. Ad-hominems are the refuge of the lazy.

    On the other hand, the blame seems kind of curious; if views could so easily be refuted with a little bit of research and critical thinking, are the ones who hold them guilty of similar kinds of laziness for falling for them?

    Whose responsibility is it to be aware of the details of a matter in question?

    …which is an entirely unrelated issue, admittedly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon

    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Let’s at least be clear about terminology

    Even if that were true, Nazis too deserve their voice, and to be rebuffed by other voices, in our society. Better to have the argument in the open than to allow those voices to echo with one another, reverberating and growing….

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon

    Vaultnode (profile), Nov 17th, 2016 @ 12:57pm
    Good lord this media craze about the alt-Right is the epitome of stupid.

    Geigner – did you listen to the D.C. press conference Richard Spencer gave a few months ago after Hillary put a spotlight on the neckbeard neo-Nazis known as the alt-Right? If so – how can you possibly take them seriously? He spent almost an hour memeing off at a crowd of D.C. political staffers, military officials, balding reporters, and Think Tank members. He literally tried to explain to them how important “dank memes” are. He explained to them a trollish political interpretation of “don’t be a cuck”.

    He created a logo for the alt-Right that was a mix of KKK hoods, an Illuminati reference, and shitty retro wannabe cyberpunk style synthwave

    There is nothing about him that should be taken seriously. Nothing about the alt-right should be taken seriously by anyone.

    In fact, continuing to take them seriously will end up convincing them that their theatrically racist speech has actual political merit. That would be the worst conceivable outcome as it’d create actual bigots out of memeing trolls.

    —-

    For everyone calling the alt-Right the “alt-Reich” or Nazis – stop. It’s the equivalent of pillowtalk to them. They dozens of memes idolizing Hitler is the theatrically provocative manner common to imageboards.

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