After Payton Gendron allegedly murdered 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store, Gov. Kathy Hochul called for a new push to censor extremist views on social media. That’s a grossly misguided answer.
The white supremacist ideology that informed Gendron’s crimes is despicable and dangerous indeed. But the government pressuring social media companies to crack down on harmful ideologies is exactly the wrong solution.
Freedom of expression is both intrinsically valuable and essential to social progress. Sacrificing them in order to fight right-wing extremism would be dangerous for society as a whole – and not even an effective strategy against the shooter’s ugly “substitute” ideas.
Hochul’s call for censorship
After Hochul described the shooting as a result of “hateful philosophies” spreading “like a virus” online, Hochul said she was “calling on the CEOs of all social media platforms to review their policies.” The governor added that she wants to make sure those CEOs “can look me in the eye and tell me that everything is being done to ensure that this information is not being disseminated … these theories that lead to the radicalization of a young person are sitting in.” your house.”
This isn’t just a call for social media platforms to ban direct incitement to violence – which all the big ones are already doing as a matter of course. It’s not even just a confirmation of existing guidelines ban of Expression of hatred towards “an individual, group or protected category”. It is a call to go much further and stop the expression of “theories” and “philosophies” associated with such hatred. That hits the heart of what the protection of free speech is supposed to protect.
It is one thing to stop the spread of a physical virus to protect everyone’s health, but trying to stop the supposedly virus-like spread more dangerously ideas in people’s minds is breathtakingly authoritarian. The right to expose one’s mind to contamination from any idea is essential to both individual liberty and collective democracy. They cannot simultaneously believe that ordinary people are capable of self-government and believe that for their own good they can only be subjected to a set of political ideas pre-selected by benevolent censors.
It should also be borne in mind that in any realistic scenario where sweeping new policies were issued against “dangerous” or “extreme” ideas, those policies would be written impartially and would target anything that authorities deem “extreme.” left as well as right.
Those on the left tempted to support such policies would be well advised to take a moment to consider that judgments about which ideas are too extreme or dangerous to allow should not be made by a committee would be taken that represents the interests of the Union working class, but by immensely profitable corporations whose interests are totally at odds with progressive politics.
There’s a reason previous generations of socialists, civil rights activists, anti-war activists, and other dissidents placed so much emphasis on freedom of speech. Movements for change always begin with representing the opinion of a minority of the population that must convince the unconverted. Powerful actors are usually deeply hostile to them. There just isn’t a path to victory that doesn’t include the hope that her Ideas spread “like a virus”.
Of course, free speech rules that allow unpopular good ideas to become popular also create the possibility for them to become unpopular Poorly Ideas will spread. But those on the left who saw freedom of expression as a core left value were confident her Ability to persuade ordinary people – a confidence that progressive technocrats are often conspicuously lacking.
Does it even count as censorship?
It is sometimes argued that censorship by private companies is not censorship at all – nor is it The daily beast has the right to decide which articles to publish, Twitter has the right to decide which philosophies are too hateful to allow. Those who agree with what politicians like Hochul are doing would likely argue that the governor and other elected officials are only gently encouraging private companies to do the right thing.
“Whether or not the censorship will actually have a positive effect is a very big if.”
As a socialist, the basis of my politics is the understanding that private economic power can be a source of oppression, but you don’t have to agree with me to see what’s wrong with the argument that there’s nothing to see here because Hochul is practicing “only” put pressure on the government to participate in censorship.
The McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist, for example, was in some ways the result of government pressure, but it was enforced by private companies. Wasn’t there a free speech issue here, too? Was it just government leaning on big business to be “more responsible” and curb “extremism”?
Comparisons between editorial decisions of outlets speech busy and censorship carried out by neutral platforms also misses the point by a wide margin. If FedEx or UPS were to stop shipping certain books and magazines because of their political content, it would be alarming—even more so if they were making that decision under pressure from powerful politicians.
Payton Gendron and the Great Replacement Theory
Even if you take the concerns I have raised seriously, you may be reluctant to take a stand against social media censorship.
The state of free speech in America is already pretty bad. This is a country where most people work in non-union workplaces where they can be fired if they express the wrong opinion. And even in the unlikely scenario that tighter censorship helps stop hate crimes like that in Buffalo, we need to think about what it means to weaken the depressingly few protections for free speech we still enjoy in this late-capitalist hellscape.
And whether or not the censorship will actually have a positive effect is a very big if.
It can be difficult to sort out cause and effect in mass shootings when the shooter’s anger has some sort of ideological dimension, if only because people unstable enough to commit them often have deeply incoherent views. Suspected New York City subway bomber Frank James, for example, both frequently expressed black nationalist sympathies and spoke about how black people killed by police made it come. “You play stupid games,” he wrote, “you win a stupid prize.”
The 180-page manifesto allegedly issued by Gendron ahead of the Buffalo shooting is at least as incoherent. In the same breath, he professes his allegiance to the extreme right, calling himself an “ethno-nationalist” and a “fascist” (particularly an “eco-fascist”). Next, he claims to be some kind of leftist (“I fall into the mild-to-moderate authoritarian leftist category”).
The word “authoritarian” is, in my experience, one that no normal or politically literate person would want to apply to themselves (no matter how well it suits their beliefs). A self-described “mild moderate” person who is at the same time an ethno-nationalist authoritarian fascist is someone with incoherent politics taken to extremes.
That said, one thing is clear to Gendron does believe that whites in the United States are victims of a conspiracy to “replace” them with non-whites. This is the main theme of the manifesto.
He writes that he chose the location of the shooting based on the number of black people who lived in that zip code. While typical “Great Replacement” theorists speak of the perceived “threat” posed by immigrants and refugees from abroad, Gendron argued that US-born blacks can also be counted as “replacers”.
That kind of ugly white supremacist nonsense, rather than Gendron’s bizarre attempt at labeling himself (or, for example, the rambling thoughts about Gold, crypto and fiat currency expressed in the manifesto) is what Hochul and other advocates of censorship have in mind. I agree it’s disgusting – but will social media censorship really stop its spread?
I doubt it. For one thing, “surrogate” paranoia is propagated by a number of mainstream politicians, as well as veteran media figures like the hugely popular Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. Several other Fox anchors and prominent figures in what is currently considered the mainstream of the right have also said disturbingly ersatz-like things. And now elected Republicans like Hochul’s New York colleague, Rep. Elise Stefanik, are also flirting with great substitute phrases and imagery.
Is Twitter or Facebook likely to censor one of the biggest cable channels in the United States, or even “just” one of the network’s most well-known on-air personalities? Please. Marginal conspiracy theorists and WWII reenactors who say the same thing in a cruder way might get the boot, but nobody censors Fox News. Far more outside of the circumstances unusual Censorship is for the little ones than yet another mass shooting in the United States.
Carlson’s defense attorneys have pointed out that his paranoia is that Native Americans of all races are being “replaced,” not just whites, which technically distinguishes his views from Gendron’s slightly more eccentric interpretation of the replacement narrative. They also point out that Gendron never specifically mentions Fox News or Carlson in his manifesto, but that he did say he hates “conservatism.”
Regardless of whether you blame Carlson and his fellow purveyors of bigoted nonsense for this particular horror, the premise that they have a real and damaging influence is undeniably true. However, further tightening of corporate media censorship will not stop the proliferation of ideas that other powerful corporations beam into millions of living rooms every day.
The only real solution is for a renewed and confident exit Loss this narrative in the greater political war.
The “surrogate” paranoia stems from the perception that the interests of the US-born working class are opposed to those of immigrants from poorer countries. That is a classic scapegoat technique used by people who don’t want local workers to realize that their real enemies are the corporate oligarchs who have spent the past few decades busting unions and fending off attempts to redistribute their wealth.
The solution is not to sacrifice the vital protections of free speech to prevent the scapegoats from speaking out. It’s up to the left to better put forward a more compelling narrative.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/censorship-wont-stop-racist-extremism-itll-hurt-the-left?source=articles&via=rss Censorship will not stop racist extremism, it will harm the left