With Facebook banning right-wing commentators and Israel Folau losing his contract, I think we need to talk about censorship.
If there was a book called “Propaganda for Dummies” it would comprise of statements like “All propaganda must not explore objectivity or relativity. It must not apply scientific theory or evidence. It must always present only the favourable side of the discussion. Slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea.” Sadly, such a book exists. It was first published as Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. You know the story, you don’t need me to go on. Except we do need to discuss the dangers of modern censorship, popular opinion and politically correct culture.
In today’s media, objectivity seems to be something we used to have. Stereotyped formulas are the algorithms of Facebook. And the term “hate speech” is being persistently repeated on every channel until we are fearful of every word we say.
Hate speech: the unquantifiable, subjective term used to silence alternate opinion. The term used to eradicate the tenet of free of speech. Hate speech is formally defined as “abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation.”
Hate speech is not applied according to its definition. It is applied according to how the offended feels. It also doesn’t require the alleged target group to feel offended, just a social justice warrior to feel like they may feel offended. Ironically, straight white males, conservatives and Christians need not apply. Hate speech can only be felt by minorities, apparently.
I will be the first to say that anyone who threatens or abuses an individual or a group of people in such a way that they are fearful of harm as a result of those statements or words, should not have a platform. When I say this, I think of situations where say, there is a platform which incites violence on another group. A platform where people gather with the intention of inciting vigilantes or mobs of people to harm or disrupt others. Acts of terrorism an obvious example.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, due to the overwhelming backlash to the live-streaming of the Christchurch shooting, he is asking for government assistance in policing the Internet. In a reactionary decision, Facebook announced a ban on white nationalism. Working with civil rights lawyers Facebook determined that white nationalism leads to white supremacy, which ultimately results in the persecution of certain people. Fair play. If that’s a real thing, then I get it. Most certainly, Facebook is a private company who can and do operate according to their own rules.
How though does that extend to right-wing commentators such as Ben Shapiro, Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopoulos et al in the recent Facebook takedown? And how dangerous a line is it to cross to remove people with dissenting opinion and who are political agitators, based on an entirely subjective belief that they are committing hate speech?
The censorship police believe that people should not be exposed to dangerous ideas. This assumption is grounded in the belief that society is both dumb and inherently violent.
I went to google to find Shapiro’s take on what happened. I typically find him insightful and he didn’t disappoint. I listened further afield to a panel discussion, not including him but a select group of those for and against the recent Facebook censorship. The “for” camp was limited to the opinion that there is a fear something might happen. Lucky for them they didn’t have Jordan Peterson to explain how damaging that is to their mental health. The against censorship camp raised valid concerns of groups who were once considered radical. The Civil Rights Movement; Black Lives Matter; feminism; abortion. What would happen if all these had been censored by today’s standards?
I read a lot of opinions I disagree with. In many cases, I seek it out so I can be better informed. In other cases, I go searching for the middle ground to see what one side or the other is missing. Usually, I form my own opinion. Sometimes I form no opinion at all. Occasionally, I might change sides altogether.
Several years ago I liked something that was published on Infowars. I thought I’d follow them for a while but I soon realised that conspiracy theorists and I were never going to be friends. On hearing the Sandy Hook theories of Alex Jones, I soon made up my mind that he was full of crap. Unfollow. It wasn’t a difficult exercise.
The censorship police believe that people should not be exposed to dangerous ideas. This assumption is grounded in the belief that society is both dumb and inherently violent. Again, Jordan Peterson would have this covered. A 5-year-old climbing a tree is a dangerous idea. Going to sea without a life vest is a dangerous idea. Travelling to certain countries may be a dangerous idea. But all of these so-called dangerous ideas can also lead to grand adventures, growth and development.
What though, if they are so dangerous, that they incite hatred. That’s their real point. I question the efficacy of reducing “hatred” by encouraging those you oppose to go underground. Surely that will bring the direct opposite of what you seek. Festering angry vigilantes who feel like they have no voice is not an appealing option. Any person involved in counter-terrorism or military intelligence would most likely agree.
The right-wing commentators in this latest take-down may be seen as tasteless, but to claim they are inciting hatred or violence is a step too far. They are not campaigning for gangs of thugs to attack. They are not inciting uprisings. They are giving political commentary which is contrary to the current political agendas.
Freedom of speech was not created in a safe space. It was created to allow agitation. It gave a voice to millions of otherwise unheard people and gave rise to great movements for change.
Political agitation is essential and it’s what our entire political system is based on. While two-party politics is losing its stronghold in Australia, all political parties agitate against the other. Opinion on Facebook is the same. Censoring creates a dictatorship. A one-sided argument. Only one view is allowed.
This brings me to religious censorship. The recent case of Israel Folau is potentially one of the most interesting censorship debates of our time. In a bid for diversity and inclusion, Rugby Australia is being accused of censoring religion. Folau’s biblical statement is unpopular because he’s a Christian. What if he were a Muslim? Strangely, these two religions have the same beliefs about homosexuality, fornicators, adulterers and the rest of us terrible sinners. Would there have been the same outrage if he were Muslim or would there be deafening silence? I think his statement was incredibly insensitive, but he should have the right to say it.
Whether that policy should ever have existed is the question. Article 19 of the Australian Human Rights Commission protects the freedom of expression in Australia. I have no doubt this forms part of the legal battleground of Folau and Rugby Australia.
Of course, the third unspoken of option is that we can just all toughen the hell up. I’m not religious so I don’t care if Folau thinks I will go to hell. If you’re gay the chances are you’re not religious either. Of course, as a self-proclaimed gay Christian, we will not hear from Milo on this.
Freedom of speech was not created in a safe space. It was created to allow agitation; to give alternate opinions. It is a fundamental principle of education to learn and be objective. It gave a voice to millions of otherwise unheard people and gave rise to great movements for change. Ironically it was free speech that forced out religious persecution such as was suffered by the Jewish people.
We must consider if censorship is really what we want because it will eventually extend to both sides of politics. What is more dangerous than the loss of freedom of expression and speech? The only thing we should be banning is censorship.