The recent removal by Twitter of controversial figures such as Katie Hopkins and Graham Linehan has caused a wave of backlash against the company’s decision. This backlash can generally be divided into two separate camps on either side of the political spectrum, neither of which hold any water under scrutiny.
The first argument is more common on the right; the ‘free speech’ argument has been weaponized in recent years by right-wing internet personalities and this time is no different. This argument is built upon the idea that big companies, like Twitter, are silencing voices that they disagree with. Now, on the surface, I don’t have any problem with that statement. I think this is, in part, what’s happening here. However, I think it’s a huge simplification of something much larger to elicit a populist, emotional response from the average person, even those who don’t engage that much with politics or Twitter. The reason websites like Twitter have begun removing provocateurs like Katie Hopkins and transphobes like Graham Linehan is not because of some conspiratorial leftist coup, it’s simply the free market at work. These attitudes are viewed as harmful to business by many brands and advertisers which puts pressure on sites like Twitter to remove them, at the risk of losing revenue.
Now, far be it from me to defend free-market capitalism, but this argument of ‘censorship’ comes from people who will also argue for the system I’ve just described. This is the free market at work, and the invisible hand has deemed these opinions unprofitable. Also, from a purely moral perspective, the removal of people like Graham Linehan and his unscientific transphobic rants actively reduces the suicide risk in transgender youth. Graham had a strong following on sites like Mumsnet and had the platform to spread his anti-trans messages to parents. A 2012 report on the ‘Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth’ showed that strong parental support for trans children decreases the likelihood of a suicide attempt from 57% to just 4%. By removing the platform of someone like Linehan, whose fearmongering rhetoric is shared in popular parent communities, trans children have a chance at a more fostering and caring family environment that, in some cases, could save their lives.
The second argument that I’ve seen is less common and usually comes from the left. In summary, some leftists make a slippery slope argument. They posit that if we allow companies to de-platform transphobes and right-wing demagogues and the like, these companies will eventually target those on the radical left as well. This removal of leftist voices would be for the same supposed reasons why companies are currently removing figures like Graham Linehan and Katie Hopkins; having those opinions on your website is not attractive to advertisers. My argument against this is quite simple, when have companies ever needed an excuse to silence left-wing voices? Historically, businesses have always attempted to silence left-wing voices as they are usually directly opposed to the system which allows these businesses to be so profitable for a very small minority of people. These companies will silence left-wing voices without provocation. Therefore, it is within the interests of left-wingers to support the de-platforming of people like Graham Linehan, possibly saving lives, while companies are acting in a way which coincidently benefits both them.
To conclude, the arguments against the de-platforming of controversial figures don’t seem to stand up to scrutiny. De-platforming these people has been shown to be highly effective in silencing preachers of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other hateful rhetoric. Take the example of Milo Yiannopoulos, the far-right political commentator whose rapid slide into obscurity was a direct result of being de-platformed from Twitter in 2016. Do these people have the right to think what they think? Yes. Are companies like Twitter obliged to give them a platform to say it? Absolutely not.
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Last modified: 25th July 2020