De-Platforming is Not Really About Free Speech: Liner Notes

My latest column has posted at The Federalist: “Kicking People Off Online Platforms Is About Control, Not Free Speech” — the headline being a nice reminder to me that “de-platforming” is not (yet) a common term.

What got left out for space (or structure)? One subtext (or text in passing) here is that we might think of addressing the problem of radicalization of white nationalists and associated violence with the sort of methods being tried in the context of battling radical Islam. This was in fact my original idea for the column, but that frame led me to the column I actually wrote.

Why? Because one strategy used to fight radical Islam is to offer forums to address the grievances and loneliness of vulnerable populations before they become radicalized and violent. And one lesson of the past few years of our domestic politics is that the left is mostly of the mind that the “deplorables” are also irredeemable. They greatly prefer to directly attack or silence such people, which is part of how they wind up in subreddits, or at sites with “chan” in the title, or even worse. This is part of the classic argument for free speech, but as the left walks away from that principle, such arguments fail to persuade them.

The other thing that got left out was further examples of the sort of toxic speakers the establishment remains comfortable giving a platform. Those in the column were selected to provide a variety, so I had to cut some good, but similar examples.

At the end of the column, I anticipate the response that the argument is “whataboutism” (or its sibling, “bothsidesism”). I have addressed “whataboutism” here at the blog, and made clear that I think people should not point a finger to define standards down. But it is also the case that we should not avoid discussing what the standards are — if any. Increasingly, the charge of “whataboutism” gets invoked as a way of saying “I don’t want to admit that the standard I think is being violated has never really been observed, especially by ‘my side’ of the political aisle.” And this mindset, like de-platforming itself, social media mobs, and victimhood politics, are all directed to various degrees at avoiding debate.

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