A quick follow-up to a post from last week regarding Twitter’s “permanent suspension” of Milo Yiannopolous follows. If you’re so inclined, you can read my original thoughts before continuing. It’s cool, I’ll wait.
I was surprised at the reactions Milo’s ban received. Many people responded with “I’m glad he’s gone” and outlined the “horrible” ways this “monster” had treated people. Funny enough, most people couldn’t identify a single way Milo treated them horribly. It was all anecdotal stories they’d either read about or heard from other people. More tellingly, no one could justify Yiannopolous’s Twitter ban beyond the standard tropes involving the First Amendment, free speech, how Twitter was a “private company,” and so on. Evidence, or the lack of evidence, regarding the “Dangerous Faggot’s” alleged coordinated attack against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, didn’t matter one bit. It was all about the narrative.
That narrative ignored a basic understanding of what phrases like “targeted attack” means, as well as “hate speech (quick hint, there’s no legal definition of “hate speech” in America.).” It also indicated a bizarre line of reasoning that retweeting “racist” comments on line and “exposing” said thoughts for the world wasn’t the same thing as directing a targeted attack against another user’s account. Those who prattled such tripe in my direction seemed a touch blind to statements like “Get her” and “I’ll blow you up. If you tweet hateful things at me I’ll retweet it so all of my followers see it and come after your punk…” None of this surprises me, after the work I’ve done for a couple of months now. What did surprise me were the people who came rushing to the defense of censorship.
Those who spoke in favor of silencing Yiannopolous were arguably people who depend on free speech the most. There were performance artists, musicians, and stand up comedians all telling me “words can and do certainly hurt people” and that being pro free speech was only a good thing “during the days when you could beat a man within an inch of his life.” People whose very livelihoods depend on pushing the boundaries of what you can and can’t say in public flocked to the side of silence. The display absolutely confounded me, until I started to think about the deeper issues behind this pro-censor stance.
There’s an element of profit at stake, for starters. The only way you’re really guaranteed a steady income in the entertainment industry is if you display to the public your commitment to the “correct” way of thinking. Any question of authority, any attempts at dissidence will only cost the artist money. Even if the dissident position is one with which the artist actually agrees, they will deliberately silence themselves to make sure that extra paycheck is available while establishing a name and brand recognition for their work.
Worse still, there’s an implicit tone of rejection for those who dare express wrongthink as artists. All it takes is one incorrect statement that doesn’t jibe with the current buzzphrases of “diversity” and “inclusion” and you’re squarely in the crosshairs of the Internet Outrage Machine. Once you’re a target for the digital mobs ready to scream their offense, you’re done. Your career is finished, or you’re going to at least lose out on the possibility of millions in the process.
In that sense, you might be able to forgive the artist for choosing a life of self-censorship. The businesses that stand to benefit the most from an open, robust exchange of ideas are the ones that stand to lose out the most when the content creators actually express ideas outside the mainstream views of normalcy. It’s only good capitalism at work, then. Everyone likes to own nice things, and many artists have families to feed. The biggest issue with the “anti-Milo” stance, especially when it comes to the arts, is by limiting the “free speech extremist” you’ve officially shifted the Overton Window on your own work to a position with which you might not be entirely comfortable.
Love him or hate him, the “Dangerous Faggot” always stood on the side of free speech and free expression. His outlandish stunts on college campuses designed to poke fun of speech codes and grandstanding with people ranging from Christina Hoff Sommers to Dave Rubin all serve a point. If his ideas and speech aren’t acceptable at the most outlandish of times, then there’s a good chance your “moderate” or “nuanced” view won’t stand the test of time as the politically correct “regressive left” comes to shout down any opposing voice. Once the modern “Nero” is eliminated from the public’s discourse, then your more “principled” view might very well be next for elimination.
Worse still, eliminating Yiannopolous’s “hate speech” from the digital domain doesn’t make the web any “safer” than before. It just allows newer forms of hate to fill in the cracks, ones the mobs of “social justice [insert Dungeons and Dragons class of your choosing]” deem appropriate. Shortly after Twitter smacked Yiannopolous with the Banhammer, a post appeared on Medium, the Twitter owned “platisher’s” Daily Digest slamming Milo, calling him part of the “A-List con men” at the Republican National Convention. It didn’t serve any purpose than acting as the new official stance on what form of hate was acceptable for modern society: a hatred of those who stood for free speech.
The dangerous line we tread when eliminating people like Milo Yiannopolous from the public eye is choosing a life of hedonistic, intellectual comfort over a forced examination of the ideas and people with which we disagree. So many of us already engage in this practice daily with block buttons and lists. The creation of those echo chambers leads to the treacherous line of reason where we automatically assume we’re right, and those who express a different view are guilty of the sin dubbed Wrong On The Internet.
When self-inflicted, it does little harm to the rest of society. The public elimination of figures like Milo Yiannopolous through outside third parties with massive amounts of power, like Jack Dorsey and Twitter, is a more egregious sin as we’re told by those with the real technological power what to think, absent suffering penalties.