Individuals from all corners of the political spectrum have been rilled up by the recent bannings of various figures from social media platforms including Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. Some have praised these bans for providing good restrictions on what they deem “fake news” or “hate speech”. Others have attacked these bans for being influenced by nefarious motives that are contra free speech. The debate regarding the extent to which social media sites may regulate speech has been going on for years now. Perhaps it is time for a reassessment.
In the wake of New Zealand’s mosque shooting, hearts are broken and people are angry. 49 people were murdered in the name of a vicious and poisonous ideology; we are right to be angry. But what the media seems to be running with is the memes the primary shooter shouted and the memes he engraved on his weapon. “Meme Culture” as the internet has dubbed it, has been associated with the right since its start as a sort of comedic underground. This fascination with memes is a modern mirroring of punk culture, which attracted neo-nazis in the 1970s-1990s. It is another example of “Comradery of the Accused”.
M. Buck | United States
There comes a point in political dissent where one might advocate for the erasure of someone else’s rights while relishing in their own. They might partition their speech as being worthy of liberal treatment. Meanwhile, they could see others as not deserving the same rights. If this sounds like a conundrum to you, you’re not alone.
To be specific about using social rights to try to erase those of others, take deplatforming on the Internet. One side uses the anonymity and liberality of the Internet to disenfranchise a group from their own (an Antifa member doxxing Nazis or vice versa, for example). One might conclude that the lack of consistency makes this unjust, but the notion is still worth looking at.
Free Speech and Violence
To start, we can analyze how deplatforming works and what it means. Antifa, a decentralized, militant organization of folks committed to ending fascism, understands how to doxx and deplatform effectively and rather stealthily. They infiltrate private groups of fascists and other far-right fringe groups, get them to reveal just enough personal information, and spread it online for all to see. They also engage in both offensive and defensive violence at rallies. Why are they doing this? What does it mean, and is it right?
The answer, as you’ll see, isn’t so clear-cut. Reading it plainly, you’ll see a double standard of who gets to talk and who doesn’t. This is expected, isn’t it? Really, any government will guarantee some compulsion in which citizens are forced to do something. It leads us to what underpins the entire argument of regulating free speech: is compulsion necessarily bad?
First of all, we could argue that compulsion is unjust because it goes against a natural sense of autonomy; the natural ability for someone to be free does not reconcile with force. Because of how natural autonomy is, it doesn’t make sense to coerce people into speaking “correctly”. After all, it will only lead to a damaged and unnatural state of mind. So, we let free speech exist absolutely.
But what about free speech existing for those who can monopolize it? For those who can use their free speech to occlude others from using theirs or do away with free speech entirely? Is seeking absolute free speech a good idea if it will end in recklessness sooner, rather than later?
Controlling Nazi Speech?
So, enters the argument for control. The people do not inherit goodness just naturally, they are molded that way. There is no natural state of autonomy because hierarchies exist naturally and we live under them. Thus, limiting free speech would create social cohesion so no group would have to question their existence in a state, thereby obstructing the government. (Note: this argument does rest on the assumption that certain people don’t know what’s good for them).
But what about eventual questionings of the state? How would governments liquidate rebel political movements from influencing public opinion? Both arguments have their pitfalls, and one must evaluate these questions not to find an answer, but just to reach another conclusion.
To move back to the real world application, two violent groups who vehemently oppose each other are playing out the argument. Sure, it’s polarization, but one must remember that it is not banal. It is violently separating one group from the community and taking their ideologies out, with a knife or a cyber attack. Is this for good reason?
It’s not this article’s place to judge that. However, one must understand the brevity of the circumstances we are in currently and make just decisions. I encourage every reader to think and see for yourself.