Monday, September 3, 2018

De-Platforming Hate Speech is Not a Slippery Slope

In an article published in the Atlantic last year entitled "What Europe Can Teach America About Free Speech,” University of Virginia law professor Mila Versteeg, a descendent of both Nazis and Nazi resisters, makes an interesting case about free speech. 

She posits that Europe's post-World War II human rights framework is, in some ways, a more reliable inoculation against fascism and ethno-nationalism than the American model, because its prohibitions on hate speech don't rely on the "free marketplace of ideas" to root out those scourges. 

The rise of Nazism in Europe gave the lie to the idea that an unregulated marketplace of ideas--which is largely what America has today, with certain benefits--was a sufficient insurance policy against ethnic cleansing and genocide.

"In an unregulated marketplace of ideas," Versteeg writes, "private citizens need to take up the burden of holding the line against racist extremism."

That's where de-platforming comes in.

The thing about the First Amendment, which not everyone fully understands or appreciates, is that only government actors need to comply with it, because the Founding Fathers knew that it is our own government that has the ultimate power to oppress us. So for better or worse, here in America, it's up to private citizens to step in where the government won't or can’t; to decide that certain ideas are so toxic, so dangerous, and so detrimental to society that they simply should not be given a massive platform.

It's not a "slippery slope" problem. There is zero evidence that snuffing out white supremacy through de-platforming is going to herald the end of Free Speech as We Know It.™ There is, however, evidence that de-platforming is an effective tool against hate speech and ethno-nationalism.

And we’re fortunate enough in this country not to have learned this lesson the hard way. 


When powerful private media actors like the New Yorker, Twitter, and Facebook hand Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos a megaphone, they endorse the "both sides" canard that every crackpot bigot deserves an enormous private platform to espouse hate, and that people's lives and safety are a reasonable price to pay for engagement and clicks.

It's up to us as private citizens to push back and say they're not.

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