Paul Joseph Watson is a popular political YouTuber who covers topics ranging from gay pride to women’s rights, BLM, and traditionalism. His views generally run counter to all libertarian values and instead stink of religious authoritarianism.
The one thing he presents which someone could see as anti-authoritarian is his position on free speech—or rather, “free speech”. In Watson’s Twitter bio, he references a magazine who dubbed him a “free speech extremist”. He does, of course, take this as a compliment and a badge of honor. But in reality, Watson is anything but a free speech extremist. His values fly in the face of not only free speech, but also the very reason we human beings have rights in the first place.
In a Twitter post earlier this week, Watson exclaimed “Modernity” alongside a video of around 60 women twerking in a dance class. Whether or not you agree with Watson’s implication that twerking is a symptom of lowliness, it garnered responses both positive and negative. One particularly eye-catching response was Anthony Fantano’s remark, “high levels of incel energy in these responses. good looks, paul!”. It’s not a matter of whether or not you or anyone else personally believed the “incel” label is applicable or not. Rather, it is Watson’s response to this that is relevant.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) September 13, 2019
high levels of incel energy in these responses. good looks, paul!
— Anthony “The Rock” Fantano (@theneedledrop) September 14, 2019
Paul Joseph Watson Responds
Watson said in reply, “Almost as much incel energy as that time when you celebrated me being banned in a pathetic effort to make yourself look less right wing.” Despite this unarguably being a misuse of the word incel, Watson alludes to a bigger free speech issue. In early 2019, Facebook banned Paul Joseph Watson and others from its platform, which unsurprisingly angered many of these individuals’ followers. The banned crowd, including Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and Louis Farrakhan, as well as Watson himself, held generally traditionalist but libertarian views. After the ban, however, most of them suddenly abandoned their former emphasis on liberty and personal freedom.
Almost as much incel energy as that time when you celebrated me being banned in a pathetic effort to make yourself look less right wing. ?
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) September 14, 2019
They argued that Facebook (among Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, etc.) despite being a private company that private individuals run, are public forums of discussion. Thus, they argue, free speech applies to social media; this undermines the very reason we have rights in the first place.
We know what our rights are because they are what we can do without the assistance, presence, or affectation of any other person. We have all of our rights unrestricted in places which no one owns, places people cannot own, and places we ourselves own. This, of course, is in the context of a natural state and not in the context of a government. In the latter context, state (diluted) free speech only applies in public spaces.
Free Speech and Property Rights
Total free speech applies to places like unowned forests, the ocean, and your own property (if you choose). On a state level, limited free speech applies to state-occupied spaces only. Both morally and legally, it’s incredibly wrong to force by violence or to coerce by the state (ultimately, still violence) someone to host anyone’s opinion.
I am, like most of these men and women were, a free speech absolutist. Free speech applies to all speech of any kind, including “endorsing violence” and including the all-too-familiar yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. But insisting that a private entity owes you the publishing of any thought, even if you want to count a private company as a “public forum”, places a human right in the hands of a now-centralized private company.
Rights are not just something we have innately; they are everything we have innately. Things like the right to life, the right to self-protection, the right to seek happiness, and yes, the right to free speech, are all only rights because they require nobody else’s aid or involvement. Paul Joseph Watson’s insistence that Facebook banned him, a word with a connotation of injustice, is intentionally inflammatory. It gives the impression that he was banned from half the internet, relegated to Twitter for eternity.
The internet is far more extensive than just social media. When a social media platform becomes too restrictive for its consumers, people will move to other platforms. This is already happening, as the growth of alternative sites like Gab and Parler shows.
Watson Ignites Debate
As parts of the internet live and die in the cycle of human interest, Paul Joseph Watson and company have sparked an important debate. The central question surrounds whether or not specific social media sites are publishers, rather than platforms.
The legal difference is important in one key way: slander and libel law holds publishers accountable. Legally, they have a far greater say in what appears on their site; thus, publishers should in theory care about the quality and accuracy of their content. For the law to consider a website a platform, the terms of service (what is allowed to appear on the site and what is not) are far broader than that of a publisher.
The state cannot hold platforms like Craigslist, Twitter (for now), and eBay accountable for any illegal activity users do on their site (though they are quick to crack down on black market platforms, such as Silk Road). This includes solicitation, drug sales, and important to the case of social media, slander and libel. The changing of Facebook and other social media to the status of a publisher would have strong effects on free speech. This is especially true for Watson and creators like him.
If the law begins to consider Facebook a publisher, they could be in hot water. Before the 2016 election, they reportedly allowed false and inflammatory news stories to publish. Without the protections that a platform has, anyone that this impacted could take Facebook to court on the basis of publishing falsehoods.
This could also impact Paul Joseph Watson and others like him. Surely, many users insult, jeer at, and lie about the man. Despite having no access to the site, if Facebook published a lie about Watson, he could take them to court. In fact, a consequence of Laura Loomer’s suit against her own Facebook ban may be that they are instead liable for lies they encourage or tell about her. But the important part to remember is that this legal battle is all hypothetical. As of now, Facebook is legally a restrictive platform.
Facebook Is Not the Internet
There is an insinuation with this (both the legal issues and Watson’s whining) that Facebook banned him from what amounts to the entire internet. Part of this argument is that companies like Facebook are platforms of open discussion like the commons in a city or a Parisian salon. But this is a misplaced metaphor. Individual social media platforms are not these forums; they exist throughout the internet itself. It’s a place where you cannot hinder anyone’s rights and is constantly expanding. A ban from Facebook does not prevent Paul Joseph Watson from speaking somewhere else online.
It is simply impossible to shut someone out of the internet like business owners can kick someone from their industry. Comparing the cruel action of social isolation to the banning of people from a group of companies who cannot logically have a monopoly on the internet is unreasonable at best.