Twitter suspended my 10-year, 5,000 follower account, apparently for asking Wil Wheaton a rhetorical question.
I haven’t always been the best behaved on Twitter, but have been for some years now as the platform, and my relationship with it have evolved.
To be suspended for such a silly reason, which doesn’t even breach any of their terms of service, is a bit of a shock but I’m not the only one. Twitter is suspending many people from the platform in a ‘purge’ which is barring people from all across the political spectra from having access to it.
In a horrible irony, many of the people who have been calling for more censorship (and who probably helped cause this to happen) have flounced off Twitter this month. They are demanding that the platform censor Alex Jones (of Info Wars fame) because of his conspiracy theory nonsense and the harassment and problems it has led to – even if not directed by Jones himself. They’re demanding even more censorship.
I consider myself aware of the implications and issues of the online space, I was a (relatively) early adopter of various aspects of the Internet, I have been a critic and have offered analyses of Internet culture and technology, and yet I was still blindsided by just how much of an effect this has had.
Why this is Serious
Stop for a moment and consider how much you use your social media. The odds are that Facebook, Twitter – or perhaps your Google account – describe the primary method by which you interact with the Internet. You use these things to communicate with your friends and family, to serve up exciting content, to follow celebrities, topics and content you like. Moreso even more than you likely use search engines.
Social Media has also become a tool of convenience for logging into third-party sites, games, comment sections and applications of all kinds. Media interactions – participation in culture, art, news – are all driven by social media.
It is also an essential aspect of a business, cheap marketing, providing support, finding people to do contract work, calling for artists, writers and so forth.
It’s a route to fame, notoriety and success – by going viral.
It’s essential for crowd-funding, Kickstarters, raising money for charities or personal emergencies. To many people and businesses, if you’re not on Social Media, then you don’t exist.
The Internet itself was a transformative technology, social media has been a transformative use of that technology, but our culture, laws and social ‘rules’ are lagging far behind that technology, and this lies at the root of most of our problems when it comes to that technology. The public square is in private hands, but we fail to understand this.
A Little Internet History (Web Portals)
Does anyone remember web portals?
Back in the earlier history of the Internet, this was how the significant sites of the time, like Yahoo or AOL, tried to provide usability to new users and to make the Internet less ‘scary’ by serving up content and links as a ‘front page’ to the Internet.
It didn’t work, it wasn’t personalised, and most people wanted to move well beyond that walled garden of advertising and the stories of the day that they decided you should know. That older way of doing things died off fairly rapidly.
How were people connecting with content? Mostly via email. Friends and family would send you links to something they thought you might find interesting. Unfortunately, this would also, often, include chain-emails and bloated files full of ‘funny’ images that took ages to download on dial-up but even so, your friends formed an informal Internet curation service of trusted links and material.
When social media finally took off, those companies – especially Facebook – found a way to monetise our trusted networks of friends, as well as to personalise advertising and to insert it into that trusted stream, gaining from second-hand trustworthiness via context.
Social Media is now your ‘frontpage to the internet’ with a great many people only really interacting with the internet via a handful of sites, social media topping the bill.
A Little Internet Futurity
China’s a bit ahead of the curve than the rest of us when it comes to the likely future of social media. China’s government is bringing in a ‘social credit’ system to identify good citizens and more and more China is integrating anything and everything they can with social media. If you’re in China’s cities and don’t have Aliexpress or WeChat Pay you often can’t even buy anything.
China is using this system to throttle people’s Internet, restrict their travel and to enact numerous other modes of social control. With your neighbours and friends enforcing your compliant behaviour because – in part – their reputation in the systems is interdependent with yours.
This system sounds horrific and dystopian – and it is – but it is just a governmentally formalised version of what is already happening here in the west.
Not a day goes by where we don’t hear about someone being fired for a bad joke, perhaps even made years ago. Businesses are now in the habit of checking applicants’ social media before offering them a job. The line between your personal and professional life is eroding, and it often doesn’t matter if what you’ve done or are doing is legal, a company might still fire someone for exercising fundamental human rights that are supposedly guaranteed.
Single Point of Failure
Different sites have different rules. Some will value free expression, many were founded with that as a fundamental principle (Youtube, Twitter) but have been beaten into submission by commercial interests and threats to their bottom line. When it comes to Social Media sites, it seems that you can have principles, audience and commercial viability – but you can only pick two.
Alternative sites have begun to spring up, but there’s something that they can’t – yet – overcome.
Whatever a site’s stance, whether it embraces free speech, political liberty, sexuality or not it just cannot sidestep the payment services.
You would think your money would be yours, that you could spend it on anything (legal) you wanted to, without repercussions. This is not how money in the modern age works, however. It’s a service, not something you own. The banks and payment services sit in judgement, and it’s their rules – not the law – that allows them to block payments, deny payments, charge higher fees, lock accounts and even to steal your money if they judge you’re engaged in ‘high risk’ or ‘immoral’ transactions.
People working in adult industries get hit by this all the time, but it has been spreading to the blockading of other content as well. The most recent case being Mastercard threatening to withdraw services from crowdfunding site Patreon if they did not block certain political commentators and sites from being funded via their service.
Echo Chambers & Prisons Become Camps
A massive problem with the modern Internet, one made worse by social media and its content algorithms, is the phenomenon of the ‘echo chamber’. We surround ourselves with people we like and trust, people who agree with us. This self-insulating behaviour is only natural, nobody likes to be disagreed with or proven wrong, but it’s vital that different ideas mix and battle and at its best, social media has fostered that kind of discussion. Not so much any more, however.
Increased commercial pressure has increased the demand to serve up what we ‘want’ to see, rather than what we need to see. Political polarisation and social polarisation have fed each other, forming a dangerous positive feedback loop. How often have you seen people post on their social media platforms that if you ‘disagree on X’ then you should unfollow them?
There has also been a proliferation of blocking lists. People are even proud of the fact that they cut off tens of thousands of people on the opposite side of even the pettiest of issues. The effect of this is to force even the people who work hard to expose themselves to other points of view, into ‘echo-prisons’.
We’re now seeing the next stage of this process of dangerous division, the audiences which used to mingle and battle on shared social platforms, are now moving onto their ‘
?6yt;[p’own platforms, some for the ‘left’, some for the ‘right’, segregated and policed to one degree or another (or just by their nature) so that interaction and discussions become even less likely.
As bad as things are now, they’re going to get worse if this goes on.
I’m sorry to say that there are no real solutions. My eyes have been open to all these problems for years, and I’ve done what I can to avoid becoming too reliant on any single platform and not to exist in an echo chamber.
I failed, via a combination of sheer convenience and the adverse actions of others.
We can’t force anyone to do anything; we can’t make anyone do anything. All we can do is – in and of ourselves – to try and act how we wish others did. It’s a cultural change that’s needed, and we can’t legislate or bully that into existence, though many continue to try.
If we want this to change we need to make sure that we, as individuals…
- Respect the right to free expression of people, even those with whom we disagree.
- Separate personal and professional lives and stop punishing people professionally for what they do personally.
- Support people, financially and socially, who foster conversations that reach across the fractures in modern society.
- Seek out ideas, arguments and sources of news and information that disagree with us.
- Be forgiving.
- Take personal and individual responsibility for what media we consume and how we react to it. Control our own feeds, block, mute and unfollow, rather than asking for people to be silenced.
- Spread these ideas, and hold others to these standards.
Many tout so-called ‘Alternative Tech’ (unfortunate name) as a solution to this. They say that people should move to new social platforms that will respect their free expression and which have this as a founding value.
Twitter and Youtube had free expression as founding values. It’s only a matter of time until commercial pressures or a buy out compromise these new players – if they’re a success.
Another problem is that the first settlers of new media are most often those forcibly excluded from other forms of social media. Unfortunately, even if they were banned illegitimately, that does tend to mean that Alternative Media gets colonised by conspiracy theorists, crazy people and political extremists. Something which gets in the way of site growth by creating bad – undeserved – reputations.
Lastly, the monetisation problem often hits Alt-Tech sites hard, forcing them – almost immediately – to bend the knee to the demands of the payment processors or to move to crypto-currency. The problem there is that crypto is not user-friendly and is overrun with scammers, spammers and incompatibility issues.
Of the alternatives that are available, Minds.com appears to be the most viable for social/micro-blogging and Bitchute for video. There’s still a long way to go for there to be any challengers to the primacy of Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, but the only way to change that is to use the alternatives, even while they’re imperfect.
We let these things get this powerful and this important, and we didn’t work to guarantee our rights and to make these companies live up to their professed values and obligations at the same time. The only way to create change is to do it ourselves, and that’s hard. Even understanding these things as well as I do, being aware of these problems, I was drawn into it and still managed to be shocked when the rug was yanked out from under me.
Social Media might seem trivial; you might well be able to get by without it – for now – but if you work online, rely on the internet in any significant way it is now critical and is only going to get more so as technology relentlessly marches on.
We need to make a concerted effort to update our social contracts and our laws to match this technological reality, and letting companies off the hook because they’re ‘private enterprises’ cannot be a valid excuse.
Still, it all starts with us.
‘SJW’ has become a cartoonish stereotype. ‘Regressive Left’ is dying on the vine as a term, thanks to its overuse in certain quarters and the absolute refusal of much of what – at least – calls itself the left to pause for even a moment of self-reflection. Still, these terms – even if used in scare quotes – retain utility, even if they switch some people off from what you’re saying the moment they come up. They retain usefulness because they describe a genuine phenomenon, a recognisable stereotype, a particular group of people.
It can be hard to explain to people the problem, the feeling of absolute betrayal that many ‘old school’ lefties harbour towards this new group, Lector-like dressed up in our severed faces. Ironically they call themselves progressive, and that’s why ‘Regressive Left’ is accurate – and stings them.
There’s a particular case-in-point that I think serves as a particularly graspable instance of their behaviour and distorted thought processes. One that I think may help people to get a grasp on what the ‘Regressive Left’ really is, why it’s regressive, and why it’s a betrayal of the traditions and values of the left.
That case-in-point is sex.
The modern ‘Regressive Left’ has an attitude towards sex and sexuality more often found in the evangelical right in times past and has even allied with the repressive and authoritarian right in their mutual goal of mandating and controlling people’s sexuality.
Anti-porn campaigners take tea with Conservative Party leaders and help shape internet censorship legislation and ‘porn passes’. Something that evidence suggests will only profit a handful of porn companies and may make sexual harassment and even rape more common, not less.
SWERFs (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) inflate bogus stories about sex trafficking and encourage the adoption of the Nordic Model (criminalising clients) as a way of tackling sex work. This, like anti-drug legislation against the advice and erudite entreaty of experts, including actual sex workers who choose that way of life and all but beg for decriminalisation.
A Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, can – without a hint of self-awareness – simultaneously hail the Trump balloon (rightly) as a symbol of British commitment to free expression while banning pictures of a woman in a bikini from the London Underground. This while left, and right are, again, united in their determination to censor and control social media and to criminalise all manner of, harmless, online behaviour.
We have radical feminists trying to prevent trans participation in Pride, to the point of laying down in the road in protest and delaying the march. At the same time, we have others trying to control and mandate speech, neither camp being the kind of people who place personal liberty and choice at the top of their agenda.
In the world of kink, something I take no small amount of interest in, there are feminists trying to claim that BDSM is inherently misogynistic and patriarchal. This seems peculiar because BDSM includes femdom (something that some give a pass) and has explicit consent, something feminists often push, built-in, voluntarily. BDSM has been becoming ever more popular as unhappy housewives try to put their 50 Shades fantasies into practice and vanilla men, feeling unable to be masculine outside the kink scene, seek someplace they can be themselves.
That’s right. Conventional, entirely vanilla masculinity now – pretty much – qualifies as a fetish.
It didn’t used to be like this. The left used to be synonymous with libertine philosophy and allowing people to let their ‘freak flag fly’. It is for this reason that the left has long been seen as the ally of the LGBT(&c) community and why the liberal left has often been decried as ‘degenerate’ by the hard right. Now the hard left has their own term they give to excuse their censorship and authoritarianism; ‘Problematic’.
It was the left that brought about the NHS, greatly helping women throughout the UK with their sexual health. It was left wing campaigners that helped push the Conservative Government of 1961 to offer the contraceptive pill on the NHS, and it was Wilson’s Labour Government that legalised abortion in 1967. It was also a Labour Government that followed through with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
The sexual revolution, the idea of giving people choices and rights over what sex they had and with who, was firmly an ideal of the left, and one that won the arguments with the right. Sexual liberation was also women’s liberation, an end to dorms and chaperones and escorts, freedom from the threat of pregnancy and the tyranny of biology – a necessity to the full adoption of other rights and full equality. It was the left that understood and articulated that what people got up to, consensually, between one another was nobody’s business but theirs (so long as nobody got permanently hurt).
Now? Well, we’ve already been over it. Social conservatism, SWERF and TERF, and attitudes that wouldn’t be out of place in Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League. The way the left has become censorious and authoritarian has begun sticking its nose into peoples’ bedrooms the way the Christian Right used to is just one example of their betrayal of left-wing values. It’s just the one, I think, it might be most accessible for people to see.
Sometimes, to progress, you actually have to double-back.
In what is becoming something of a pattern, Buzzfeed goes after a leading atheist with various allegations, and people in the atheist/skeptic community are surprisingly unskeptical when it comes to certain claims. There’s a bit more meat on these bones though.
There’s yet another post about street harassment doing the rounds on Facebook. While, of course, this kind of thing is deplorable and upsetting I never stop at virtue signalling with a quick thumbs up or reblog. I can’t help but start thinking about the why’s and wherefores, the context in which this occurs. I can’t help but compare it to the situation men face and to ask myself whether the panic over this is justified and why things are so gendered around this stuff.
Let’s drop a few facts first to contextualise things then.
- A random street rape is the least likely scenario for women to be sexually assaulted. Most such attacks are by people the victim knows.
- Catcalls are unpleasant, but there’s plenty in life that’s unpleasant.
- Men are roughly twice as likely as women (3.8 vs 2.1%) to suffer violence of any kind (Crime Survey for England and Wales) and when it comes to random street violence are half-again as likely as women (150%) as likely to suffer random street violence.
- In those incidents, men are far more likely to end up dead or injured than women.
- Men also suffer street abuse, it just doesn’t tend to be sexual. Just more like ‘Wanker!’, road rage, random, nasty insults, challenges and attempts at violence.
In our society men suffer worse and more frequent random violence, yet this only concerns us in very general terms about the level of crime overall. We do not consider that a gendered issue, even though it far outweighs violence against women. We obsess and concern ourselves with ‘Hey beautiful!’ but not so much about fifty year old men given a fatal shoeing for challenging teenagers smoking pot in their driveway.
So me, being me – and believe me, this causes me more pain than it should and I don’t recommend it – I have to ask why? Why do we care more about women’s momentary discomfort than men’s deaths and injuries? Why is it that when you bring this up, seemingly because it involves men, it’s instantly dismissed and mocked?
I ask myself why women have what appears – from a male perspective – to be an irrational and phobic, disproportionate sense of fear and why men do not have that same fear. Should women be this afraid? Should men be more afraid? The statistics would seem to suggest at the very least that women should be less afraid (but then again, maybe their actions through fear are WHY there’s such a divide in incidence).
Are we really going to waste time and money criminalising people for saying ‘Hey baby!’ especially when this will end up being heavily concentrated in poor and ethnic communities where such actions are more common? Worse, are we going to let this spread to the internet with loose and poorly worded ‘anti-harassment’ regulations and even laws? That’s what people seem to want.
There is sexism here, but it’s in our disproportionately big and one-sided response to women’s problems, however trivial they are (or seem) and our minimal response to men’s issues, which after 50+ years of political concern over women’s issues have been left unaddressed and allowed to fester.
A particularly stark example of this dichotomy relates to another arena, with reference more directly to sexual violence. Men and women suffer almost the same amount of domestic violence (60% of victims are women, 40% are men – Parity, and other studies) yet while there’s thousands upon thousands of places of shelter and aid for women, there are less than 100, nationwide, for men and men’s charities dealing with male victims have been defunded (Mankind Initiative).
Our compulsion as a society and as individuals to help women is commendable. However, it also infantalises women, treats them as weak and incapable. It is a sexism of its own. The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ and it also hangs our society’s men out to dry.
Pointing this out, however calmly, however accurately, no matter the amount of data you present will only – ironically – get you abuse, wild, dismissing nonsense about ‘patriarchy’ conspiracy theories or the semantic atrocity that is the Orwellian misuse of the word ‘privilege’.
Unwanted attention is (or at least can be) bad, but if we have limited resources we have to practice some form of triage. What is more pressing, the much higher amount of violence and abuse that men face, or someone’s discomfort at being drunkenly asked for a blowjob?
Really. Honestly. Think. Put the same effort into thinking about this, contextually, as I have before you comment or answer.
I mean, seriously for once. What ABOUT the men?
In the wake of the recent Youtube demonetisation scandal – a surprise to some, not to others – abrupt in its revelation and unexpected in its extent, a lot of my fellow sceptics, atheists and members of that broader community have reacted on two poles. One group, much like me, treats this as another example of creeping online censorship of social media. Another group seems to brush this off and to claim is isn’t censorship, disturbingly echoing many SJW arguments as they do so.
While some people in the first group may be overreacting, people in the second group are just flat out wrong. Some of this is down to not understanding the principle of free expression or the meaning of censorship. Some of it seems to be ideological, where free market, economic libertarianism seems to come into conflict with the principles of individual rights and freedoms and they seem unable to negotiate the clash between the two.
In large part I tend to blame the dominance of the American First Amendment over these kinds of discussions. It turns these arguments into legalistic and governmental ones, when the right to free expression is a universal human right, enshrined in but not deriving from documents like the US constitution, the United Nations declaration on human rights and many, many others.
The discussion and argument is far, far bigger than American law.
What is Censorship?
The Oxford English Dictionary is about as definitive a guide to the meaning of the English language as you can get, and defines censorship thus:
The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.
In other words, anything that reduces or eliminates expression, on any basis – legitimate or otherwise – is censorship. Anything. The argument is usually not whether something is censorship, but whether said censorship is justified.
The ACLU has a noteworthy, modern understanding of censorship and describes it thus:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period.
Freedom of expression is, meanwhile, perhaps best expressed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
To reiterate. Your right to free expression is that to hold and impart opinions without interference, through any media, regardless of frontiers. Clearly a great deal interferes with that, some justified, some not, but that’s the ideal. Anything that does interfere with that is censorship. That censorship can come from government but also from private groups, companies, individuals and even from oneself, either through free personal choice or under pressure and duress (it can be hard to disentangle the two).
When the government bans and prosecutes child pornography it is justified on the grounds of protection of children. When the government bans pornography created by and for consenting adults it is, arguably, not justified.
When a pressure group, such as those operated by former campaigner Mary Whitehouse tries to shut down ‘lewdness’ and ‘immoral content’ on television they’re largely unjustified, but are engaged in attempted censorship. When a pressure group has indisputable evidence that certain content can harm the development of children they may justifiably argue for censorship or constriction. Pressure groups on campus no-platforming speakers are engaged in censorship. Again, anything that suppresses or prevents speech is censorship. The threats of violence from Islamic extremists against cartoonists, causing them to self-censor – again, censorship.
All of this is censorship.
The only good justifications for censorship are under the harm principle:
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” – JS Mill, On Liberty.
Can we, then, say that what is going on at Youtube is censorship?
That it is a private company makes no difference here. Censorship does not require government involvement to be censorship. Youtube does censor certain content, but this has been deemed reasonable by most of the community (nudity etc is disallowed). I would disagree there too, but that’s a different argument. Youtube has not outright banned any additional content, so it’s not outright censorship, it has ‘merely’ removed monetisation on the basis of some rather opaque and vague criteria.
This loss of monetisation, which is tied to ‘controversial topics’, politics, news and other forms of content may not be outright censorship but it is ‘suppression’, refer back to the definition. Content that can’t make creators money will become less common, the livelihoods of people who produce Youtube content full time will be threatened. Certain forms of commentary and news coverage will be affected as will support organisations, charities, fiction of certain types, tutorials and more. ‘Controversial topics’ is particularly contentious, I’ve had perfectly lucid, explanatory videos on ‘Gamergate’ demonetised.
That people the sceptic/atheist/anti-SJW community have beef with have also been censored doesn’t make the problem less of an issue, it just means it’s affecting more people. That they’ve had their demonetisation reversed (Laci Green) while others have not does lend some weight to this being a political bias, or at least fear on Youtube’s part of bad publicity from some quarters and not others.
Whatever the specifics, yes it’s censorship as it is suppressing certain forms of expression.
Is it Justified?
It’s censorship, but since anything that suppresses or bans speech is censorship the question is whether it’s justified or not. So where’s the harm being done?
Ostensibly this censorship is being made at the behest of the advertisers, but why?
Youtube only benefits from more people using and watching their platform. It costs them very little to host any particular person’s content and the more there is and the more variety the more people are likely to watch. The more creators and the more content they put out and promote, the more to watch. It’s in Youtube’s interest to have the least amount of restriction possible.
Users do not have their experience improved by the censorship, they are harmed by it (less content, less entertainment). Some may say they’re harmed by seeing expression they don’t like, but the solution is simply not to watch it.
Creators are harmed directly by the censorship. Some might say they want it – there was a push against ‘roasting’ and other response videos recently, but again the solution is simply not to watch it.
Advertisers are supposedly the ones asking for this as it is ‘advertiser friendliness’ that is the excuse given. How could an advertiser be harmed here? The kinds of content being targeted are clearly popular and draw a lot of eyes, which is what the advertiser is paying for. This is not sponsorship, there is no direct link between the product and the content and while seeing adverts for Barbie showing next to ‘Uncle Anaconda’s Underage Trouser Power Hour’ might be amusing, nobody except the basest moron would associate the one with the other unless there was sponsorship. Advertisers already advertise around news programmes, edgy comedy shows and more on television. What’s the difference here, if there is any? None.
Nobody appears to gain from this and everybody is harmed – even the advertisers who end up with less exposure.
There’s no justification for it that holds up under scrutiny.
Are we then, those who protest, justified in seeking to exercise control over a privately owned media platform?
Youtube is not like an art gallery. It has – essentially – unlimited space to host content. A gallery could justify turning you away based on limited space or lack of talent or not fitting their remit. The cost/benefit is in favour of them. On Youtube however it costs them virtually nothing (per individual case) to host content and they gain. There’s not much of a defence there on economic or practical grounds.
Moral grounds? This becomes more tricky. If they don’t want certain kinds of content then to an extent that’s their prerogative. However, we live in interesting times. The public square is privately owned and the hard won freedoms we have when it comes to things like free expression, that protect us from the government, do not protect us – at least not in law – from private companies. This becomes an issue in the case of social media giants like Youtube, Twitter and Facebook because they now own the public square and their censorship has a massively deleterious effect.
There’s precedent for the state (acting as the will of the people) stepping in to protect people’s rights form private entities. Some of these are obvious – regulation on dumping waste, not being allowed to make false claims in advertising and so on, others are less obvious or more contentious. Is it right that we step in to protect a homosexual couple’s access to services for their weddings, or should we allow private businesses to be conducted according to their own conscience? What if they want to turn away blacks, or women? Is that OK?
This appears to be the sticking point for many, especially the economic libertarians, anarcho capitalists and so on. The abuse of power that comes in a wholly free market appears to be inevitable and this kind of censorship is an example of that – albeit a mild one. This is especially a problem when the company in question – such as Youtube – has such a de-facto monopoly.
This is where our argument and discussion should be occurring. Where individual and business rights collide, how monopoly status and the cheapness of digital storage interfaces with that.
Some Practical Solutions
1. First I suggest that anyone who runs into advertising on Youtube make a note of who is advertising and then contact them later. Express – politely – the issue with demonetisation and that blame is being placed on the advertisers. Tell them you prefer Youtube as a free speech platform and you do not want to support a company that suppresses free speech. If enough people do this to enough companies (explaining that advertising and content is divorced) then there may be some traction and a shift.
2. Give advertisers the freedom to advertise on ‘edgy’ content if they wish. Flag content as ‘limited monetisation’ if you wish, but let the advertisers choose if they want their adverts to run there or not, rather than simply demonetising. Many advertisers probably don’t care. Many would probably like to advertise next to very popular, controversial and topical content as it may fit their product profile better. Advertisers that don’t want to do so wouldn’t have to, advertisers that did would benefit, creators and viewers would continue to benefit from monetisation.
3. Allow Youtube Red to apply to the content you’re limiting. This would allow ‘edgy’ content to get money as if advertising were present, coming from the Red subscription. It would also encourage creators to encourage their followers to support Youtube Red, with a knock-on benefit for Youtube itself.
It is censorship. It’s not justifiable under the harm principle. Holding Youtube (and similar companies) to uphold free expression is a controversial and arguable point – an interesting discussion to have – but there were other ways to deal with this problem, and better ways than springing it on people.
People need to understand that censorship is more than governmental. That free speech is not limited to the US constitution. That the media landscape has changed and that rights and legislation need to catch up.
Political comics aren’t just limited to newspapers. You also find them online, related to various issues. This one’s been doing the rounds lately and while all such political cartoons are simplistic, this one is particularly terrible. I don’t think I’ve seen one that misrepresented the issue of free speech so badly since the somewhat notorious XKCD one. That was a shame, as XKCD normally has something of a level head. This one, however, is just ludicrous.
It is, of course, alluding to various online spats from Gamergate to ‘Ghostbros’ to the regular Hugo Awards side show, but it utterly misrepresents.
Panel 1: Title – Ironically, it may well turn out to be accurate rather than sarcastic.
Panel 2: The idea that feminism attacks free speech is meant to be seen as ridiculous, but it does – indeed – happen. There are any number of examples from building moral panics about video games (now the idea is that they cause ‘sexism’ rather than ‘violence’) to collusion with government to ban forms of pornography (Gail Dines and the UK kink porn production ban) to No-Platforming and Safe Spaces. It’s not just limited to feminism, but it is found across a swathe of people who – ironically and laughably – consider themselves progressive even as they attack people’s free expression, sex lives and other fundamental human freedoms they should be fighting for.
Panel 3: Case in point. ‘Calling out sexism in video games’ doesn’t mean that there is sexism and ‘criticism’, coming from the likes of Anita Sarkeesian or Jonathan McIntosh is not ‘criticism’ in the sense most people would understand it. This is not “the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work,” or even “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.” This is claiming that these things do harm and should not exist. It is not presented as a matter of opinion or a disagreement that can be discussed, but something that ‘is’, and something that is ‘bad’. It is a bald assertion and any attempt to discuss, debunk or otherwise counter that claim is treated as confirmation of that claim and as a crime or violence in and of itself.
So ‘feminist criticism’ is, indeed, a threat to free expression because it’s not criticism, and it presents calls to action to change, remove and to force artistic works and other expression to change or be removed. If you think censorship is limited to governmental action, this kind of ‘criticism’ works there too, but even so, the ACLU has a fairly up to date definition which includes:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period. But these private censorship campaigns are best countered by groups and individuals speaking out and organizing in defense of the threatened expression.
This isn’t differences of opinion. They are presented as facts, beyond question and to reiterate – since its important – any rebuttal is treated as confirmation and as an ‘attack’ of its own.
It’s also important to note for later that these kinds of ‘critics’ seem genuinely incapable of telling the difference between thought and action. So they will see a cultural artefact that includes – say – violence against women as violence against women (and approving of and encouraging it). This also works in reverse as we saw in the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It allowed many people – even artists and writers – to refuse to commemorate and support Charlie Hebdo because they could not see a meaningful difference between Charlie Hebdo’s criticism of Islam and the ’emotional pain’ it caused, and the violent, actual, physical backlash they suffered.
Panel 4 & Panel 5: One of the great things about social media is that it empowers people to criticise, comment and debunk. This is, of course, not popular in some quarters which is why many sites of various kinds, but tending to have common ideological slants, have taken to removing comments sections or even up and down votes. This stifles the ability of people to point out problems in the assertions directly and such ‘fighting back’ is often conflated with the trolling etc that goes on, making a handy excuse to dismiss, deflect or drown out criticism. The irony here of course is in ‘critics’ lashing out at things people love and then recoiling in terror when they get the same kind of treatment in return. When their ideas are picked apart and tested – as they should be.
Panel 6: Here we see the conflation of criticism and trolls. Anyone and everyone who posts a controversial opinion of any sort online will get blowback and everyone gets trolled. Some people seem to advertise their soft-spots to trolls though, and yet still act surprised when they get attacked on it. A fat acceptance activist will be attacked for their weight, a feminist will receive trolling masquerading as misogyny, black people will receive trolling masquerading as racism. Trolls are not sincere, that’s the definition of a troll – someone who says something horrific or controversial simply to get a response. There are genuine crazies as well, of course, but – again – what happens is that all criticism and rebuttal gets lumped in with the trolls, and the trolls treated as sincere.
Panel 7-8: Nobody is being actively silenced here. They are deciding for themselves to stop speaking. All they have had is disagreement, sometimes strident, online from people they have insulted and tried to censor. The people coming at them have no ‘institutional power’ to do so, while in the reverse you will often find people going to authorities (see earlier) or abusing site rules, DMCA rules etc to silence people. In this instance there is no censorship going on. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone amongst the enemies of these ‘critics’ who advocates that they should not be allowed to speak or present their views. Rather they’re happy to have a free exchange of views, a ‘marketplace of ideas’. This is a very real and important difference. If they truly believed in their ‘criticisms’ they should be willing and able to stand by them, argue for them in the teeth of criticism. That instead they run, hide and attempt – again – to censor dissent suggests that their ideas are indefensible.
Panel 9: Indeed they did. They didn’t silence anyone, they stood up against people who attacked them and forced them to retreat. To any rational and reasonable onlooker who genuinely understands the terms and the differentiations, this is a victory for free expression – just couched in sarcastic terms by someone who knows nothing about it.
And mostly succeeded I think. Though I had to bite my tongue a few times. It is distressing to me that I can have this kind of reasonable discussion with someone whose politics I abhor and not with people ostensibly ‘on my side’ with whom I differ on far lesser points.
On Saturday I travelled up to London to participate in the first protest I’ve physically turned up to since the 90s. A reflection of how important I think the EU issue is. I was not the only person to ‘come out of retirement’ for this protest. A lot of my fellow, jaded Generation X compatriots also seem to have found their outrage and to have made the trip as well. A reflection – I think – of how important the Brexit deceit and stupidity has been and the threat it presents to so many people – not just in Britain.
It was a weird experience. By nature I’m just not a joiner and I intensely distrust emotion and groupthink. I am wary of the loss of individuality in a crowd – and I get claustrophobic in large groups. To be part of a crowd of 50,000 or more people marching on Parliament was, then, weird.
Being aware of it helped. Steadfastly refusing to go along with the chants, considering myself an observer as much as a participant all helped me keep a little bit aloof, which I think was a good thing.
Overall the protest was amazing. It was chilled out, hugely diverse in who was attending (in the proper meaning of diversity). There were old, young, wealthy hoorays in cravats and disillusioned punks. There were a lot of people who had travelled up, a lot of kids, a lot of international couples. There was a contingent of beautiful South Asian women in their finest saris. There were hipsters, kinksters, old hippies, young hippies, middle-aged mums, scientists, teachers and all points in between.
There were bad moments though. The classism I’ve talked about reared its ugly head in several discussions that people were having around me on the march. It’s disappointing to see people succumb to the same biases and prejudices they complain about in others but just as the accusations of racism and xenophobia towards Leave have a kernel of truth to them, so do the accusations of classism and arrogance levelled at Remain. Of course, there’s also classism in the Leave camp of the ‘Oh dear, poor Tarquin, mummy might not be able to leave you that cottage in France’ variety.
While many in the Leave camp seem to be doing their damnedest to convince me that they are – as a whole – racist, xenophobic, paranoid conspiracy theorists or worse I’m desperately trying not to succumb to the temptation to write them all off, just as I hope people in the Leave camp will resist the temptation to write off Remainers in such a way.
I am discovering – the disadvantage of a politics and history education and a lifelong interest in this stuff – that many of the more nuanced Leave arguments are rooted in ignorance. Ignorance of the EU political process, ignorance of the UK political process, overblown paranoia about esoterica like an EU army, Turkey joining, full federal state joining and so on. That’s even, perhaps, a bit more shocking to me than the more blatant lies about immigration and the NHS.
Still, on the march were also plenty of poorer people who understood that EU investment was the only thing standing between them and even nastier Tory-led austerity. While the fractures are as I’ve outlined in previous posts, they all blur at the edges. In conversation we also found another factor in that divide. Digital literacy and access against a lack thereof. Many of us who are or have been ‘switched on’, who conduct business and friendships on the internet beyond Facebook and people we used to know at school do not see national borders or policies – or even culture – in the same way less switched on people do. To us these borders are a meaningless annoyance. An obstacle. People meet, do business, fall in love across these national boundaries that mean so much to nationalists, but nothing – save frustration – to digital settlers and natives.
At any rate, it was good to meet like-minded people and not to feel alone and it reiterated to me my assertion that single-cause protests are so much better. There were people on this march I would not have agreed with about almost anything else. There were toffs from The City concerned about the future of banking and the markets, who I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire otherwise. There were stereotypical ‘Trigglypuff’ types – problem glasses and all – who are my natural enemy on many social and cultural matters, but we were all united on this one issue. The opposite of the mistake that destroyed Occupy.
Overall I’m glad I went. I still contend that protests, petitions and so on are largely pointless. We live in a world that makes the occasional pretence of democracy but really isn’t. Despite the closeness of the vote, despite the damage to our nation, to Europe and the world, despite the lies of the campaign rendering it undemocratic, despite all of this we’re unlikely to see a re-vote and there are no leaders in Parliament to do the right thing and vote it down. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that pressure will preserve at least some of the good aspects of EU membership – such as free movement.
It’s still worth protesting, writing and signing petitions on the hope of that. Perhaps a popular enough movement will encourage more of these spineless career politicians to take a gamble.
For my part, I think we desperately need to teach critical thinking and civics in schools, and we need legislation to prevent such blatant lying in political campaigns. Things that Advertising Standards would never allow for products.
Against all odds I got back a bit of defiant spirit last night and tried to think of how we can make any sort of progress or preserve some of the progress that had been made over the last forty years.
Sadly, thinking about it just made me more depressed.
Things look pretty bloody bleak for the near future and the people worst affected are going to be the poorest and most vulnerable. All that EU funding for deprived areas is going to vanish and if you think our (already vanished) savings from not contributing to the EU will be redirected that way I have a bridge to sell you.
The worst wing of the Tory party is likely to sail into power following Cameron’s resignation, very likely with Boris at the helm (barring the exit chickens coming home to roost rather quickly). That’s going to me super-double-turbo austerity and a rolling back of workers and human rights legislation.
Even if there’s a general election, the combination of gerrymandering, Brexit-fallout nationalism and Labour civil war (not to mention Liberal irrelevance) is likely to mean another Tory victory and likely a stronger one.
The NHS is under threat as never before. The economy is going to be uncertain – and fucked – for years.
It’s hard to see any silver lining.
All we can really hope to do is to fight to maintain the ground we currently have and in the current situation that stands little chance of success. It would take Poll Tax Riot era unrest to turn things around and that seems massively unlikely no matter how bad things get. The era of protest having an effect seems to have passed.
Perhaps we can’t hope to affect anything in the immediate future and part of the reason for that are the problems on the (broadest church) left.
While there has been racism and xenophobia on the Leave side and while a lot of people appear to have voted leave because of ignorance (in the non-pejorative sense, they just didn’t really know anything about the EU or the fallout) or because of false promises and lies (350m for the NHS, immigration control, ‘the EU isn’t democratic) I think the fault can be laid much more at the feet of the Regressive Left itself.
Many of the Leave side were not and are not racist or xenophobic. They have had legitimate concerns about their access to public services. They have legitimate concerns about Islamism, about work, about council housing, about access to the NHS. It isn’t racism so much as resentment, fear and hardship. The benefits of the EU membership were not made obvious to the people who benefited the most – as has become apparent as areas that strongly voted Leave now come begging for replacement money.
Much of the Remain camp – who tossed around insults rather than arguments have continued to do so in the wake of the referendum, as though carrying on doing the same thing would work. People have increasingly become pissed off – and even immune – to insults that portray their legitimate concerns as racist, sexist, xenophobia.
This Regressive Left bullshit has to end. This vote has made it obvious where the fractures and problems in society are and they lie in wealth, class and the uneven distribution of services and wellbeing. This is a legacy of Thatcher gutting social housing, the deliberate undermining of the NHS and all the other inequalities in our system. The smug remnants of the Middle Class are fighting on relatively petty issues that pale into insignificance compared to these massive cultural divisions and have alienated the base they need to activate to get these changes in the process. When you can’t get work or access to a doctor or dentist, when you’re relying on food banks to eat, these more esoteric concerns are meaningless.
A society can only be so liberal and tolerant as it can afford.
I’m much more frustrated with my own political ‘side’ than I am with the racist opportunists and even the softer right-wing that has re-channelled hardship into hatred and fear so they don’t have to deal with it. The sneering Guardianistas did a lot of damage looking down on people and with wealth disparity so high in this country you simply can’t afford to do that.
The left needs to cant back to dealing with the primary source of inequality – wealth.
- Basic income.
- Helping small businesses, start-ups, part-timers and micro-businesses.
- Wealth redistribution.
- Economic diversification
- Education and leadership rather than popularism.
- Commitments to science, pragmatism and modernity.
I can’t see it happening though. Maybe there’ll be a split in the Labour party, but for all Corbyn has acted with muted class this referendum it would be a split between the Regressive Left and ‘Blue Labour’ – the Blairites. Not the split we need.
We also need societal reform in the media and in education. That is also massively unlikely to occur.
We have to fix the left/liberal side of politics before we can even attempt to fix anything else.