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Opinion: It is time to stop paying people to spread hate

Hit them where it hurts. When so-called ‘provocateur’ Milo Yiannopoulos overstepped the line, he lost his book deal and now he is reported to be heavily in debt, writes Kate O’Brien.

Kate O'Brien

WE NEED TO have a conversation about free speech and no-platforming.

No-platforming is the idea of denying a ‘platform’ to a speaker deemed harmful or dangerous.

That platform could be a spot in a university debate, a newspaper column, a radio show, or a Twitter account. 

In 2011 a society in Trinity College Dublin invited then-leader of the BNP to a debate, which resulted in student protest and that invite being rescinded.

The objections to such protests, tend to cite the value of free speech, critics argue that to deny a platform to a racist or a misogynist sets a dangerous precedent, that it is a slippery slope towards silencing those we disagree with.

Where is the line?

For many people, the question is where do we draw the line?

I would argue that there is a huge difference between topics that people merely disagree on and speech that causes material harm.

Harmful speakers include those that contribute to rape culture or transphobia and those who draw comparisons between migration and infestation.

These ideas are dehumanising and normalise violence, and they are also harmful in and of themselves.

We each have a personal idea of what constitutes right and wrong, who should be protected and who we should object to. So we each have to judge how much harm something does and where the line is. 

Protests happen when a lot of people decide together that certain ideas are so harmful, or certain words so cruel, that we must organise ourselves to protest against the speaker in order to lessen their harm.

Free speech includes the right to protest.

Since Trump’s campaign and election in 2016, there has been an increase in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic violence in the USA.

Many scholars and commentators have drawn a link between the normalisation of anti-immigrant rhetoric and these increases in targeted violence. 

The rise of the far right on YouTube and Twitter has been linked to the increasing radicalisation of white youth. So we have to critically examine that link between racist rhetoric and racist violence.

And we have to also look at the role of less overtly violent, but dehumanising, language feeding into this normalisation.

Does YouTube have a responsibility to de-platform users who promote racism?

Recently in New Zealand, a white supremacist killed 50 people in a mosque. He was reportedly radicalised online and he announced his plans for the attack on the site 8chan.

8chan provides a completely anonymous, uncensored, un-moderated platform for white supremacists to encourage the worst in each other without any accountability.

Thankfully common sense has prevailed and the authorities in  Australia and New Zealand are now moving to block white supremacist-linked sites including 4chan and 8chan. 

No platforming works

Every time no-platforming is suggested, the idea is rejected on the grounds that people are being silenced and that free speech is at risk, or that this is some kind of  ‘liberal fascism’.

But by giving certain people a platform, we are actually amplifying their views.

We are also creating a space in which irrational hatred becomes normal, acceptable even, not just online but on TV and the radio too.

And these ‘provocateurs’ know that the more terrible they are, the more famous they will become.

The more extreme things they say the more money they make – be it from YouTube ad revenue or book deals.

The more outrageous the speech, the more clicks on the article. The more attention the article gets, the more profit and publicity generated for the paper.

So there is a monetary incentive to be more cruel and to outlets who platform cruelty.

Currently, we are not just allowing hateful speech, but encouraging it.

No-platforming is an attempt to de-incentivise hatred and the good news is that no-platforming works.

Take the so-called ‘provocateur’, British contributor, Milo Yiannopoulos who created a successful career, including several book deals with his ‘controversial’ comments. 

Yiannopoulous is famously Islamaphobic and at one of his talks, he projected a photo of a feminist writer, when she was a teenager, with the word UNFUCKABLE superimposed on top.

But it was only when Yiannopoulos made comments justifying paedophilia that he was finally judged to have overstepped the boundaries of the acceptable levels of ‘controversial’.

He then lost his book deal and stopped being invited to speak at universities and now he is reported to be heavily in debt. 

De-commodifying hate

Some people argue that it is best to allow these ideas to be platformed so that they can be crushed in a debate by others using superior logic, the problem is that most of these harmful ideas are not new. 

For centuries people have sprouted racist theories a but despite the fact that science has utterly refuted these theories and rational debaters have tried to highlight the flaws the hate-filled commentators continue.

What could we possibly learn from listening to this?

No one has an automatic right to a platform for hate.  You have the right to speak, but no one else is required to engage you seriously. 

When a private company, an organisation or a national broadcaster, platforms someone whose speech we see as harmful, we have a right to protest that decision. 

Furthermore, no one is required to pay for harmful opinions and refusing to pay for something is not censorship.

No-platforming is the radical idea that we shouldn’t pay people to be terrible.

No-platforming is a method of de-commodifying hatred.

I think most of us can agree that at least some ideas are dangerous. By refusing to platform hatred we send a simple message – I won’t pay you for that.

Kate O’Brien is a disability rights activist with a master’s in Human Rights Law from Queen’s University Belfast.

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Kate O'Brien

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