It was announced that some despicable people, the most popular being Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, have now been banned from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. This has been met with applause from many and screams of authoritarian censorship from the figures’ supporters. There is a simple reason why these bans aren’t exactly attacks on freedom of speech. However, I find the reason that is to be much more concerning.
Do I think people like Yiannopoulos and Jones should be banned from social media and prevented from speaking? No – I have spoken before about Yiannopoulos regarding his ban from Australia, which I felt was unnecessary. When views are publicly expressed, no matter how horrendous, it gives everyone (preferably in a civil and intelligent manner) a chance to call them out and shatter them with reality. But that is speaking at a public event – social media is different.
Social media is different solely because it is privately owned. Facebook, as a company, is able to do as it pleases on its website by setting community standards and terms and conditions. Hate speech, fake news, and provocative posts can all be deleted if reported, and the page or account that shared it can be banned temporarily or permanently.
This might seem all well and good when it is people you disagree with or hate getting the bans, but it is a dangerous precedent to set. Isaac Butterfield, for example (who, I have mentioned before, I am not the biggest fan of), has had posts taken down from Facebook and YouTube, and Jordan Shanks (better known as Friendlyjordies) I noticed had a video taken down from YouTube.
While Shanks’ video may be seen by some as ‘provocative’ because he talks down the relevance of identity politics (god forbid people talk about policy to achieve equality and equity rather than just talk about equality and equity as concepts), it was first and foremost a major criticism of the mainstream media. The topics he talks about – privatisation of prisons and healthcare, the casual takedown of the NBN, etc. – all have greater negative effects on the minorities the people who take issue with him claim they care about.
So when he comes out in defence of the Labor Party when they’re under fire for hating white people (Murdoch press), hating Asians (basically everyone in the NSW election), or being a ‘white boys club’ (the trash like Buzzfeed and Junkee) – all pretty contradictory positions – he seems to have been silenced. If you cared so much about what’s called identity politics, then you would recognise what he is saying – that is that the media intentionally commandeers those discussions, omits vital talking points, and shapes public opinion in a way that benefits their sponsors.
But no, genuine and logical criticism appears to have been shunned as well.
This is all leads back to a single point. We all have freedom of speech (at least in the American definition) in the sense that we cannot be censored or punished by the state. No such restrictions tether corporate power, which is the ultimate tyranny in this case. The privatisation of the internet, and in many modern cases the renting of it – think streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, no one has ownership of anything, just the temporary privilege of access so long as they keep paying – has been quite a troubling development.
The likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. control mind boggling amounts of data about users and what they do on their platforms, all the way up to blatant Orwellian measures like cameras and microphones that monitor our physical actions as well. This information is sold to countless other corporations for marketing and advertising purposes, has been collected by governments under unjustifiable pretexts, and has been used by various groups to try and interfere with elections across the globe.
Now, to the cheers of the masses, censorship at the discretion of said corporate powers has become the norm. Should people like Jones and Yiannopoulos be exempt from consequences? No – if they break laws relating to hate speech, defamation, incitement of violence, etc. then they should be charged for it. If they say moronic or factually incorrect statements, they should be rightfully called out and labelled as such.
Banning their speech entirely, particularly through means of private power, sets a precedent that should have anyone concerned with oppressive and authoritarian structures worried.
Liked this? Read my piece about Yiannopoulos HERE
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