Twitter’s Alt-Right Purge

David Frum writes: Politics remains welcome at Twitter, as its most famous user, the president-elect, can attest. What Twitter is saying is that some and only some speech will be policed, by standards that can only be guessed at in advance.

That’s socially undesirable for a lot of reasons, but consider just this one: It’s precisely the perception of arbitrary and one-sided speech policing that drives so many young men toward radical, illiberal politics. On campus especially, but also in the corporate world—and now on social media—they perceive that wild and wacky things can be said by some people, but not by others. By useful comparison: On the very same day that Twitter suspended the accounts of some alt-right users, DePaul University forbade a scheduled appearance by the broadcaster and writer Ben Shapiro. Shapiro is not an alt-rightist; in fact, the Anti-Defamation League reported last month that Shapiro is Twitter’s single most frequently targeted victim of anti-Semitic abuse by alt-rightists. But Shapiro is a scathing polemicist and provocateur—an alumnus of the same Bannon-Breitbart empire that incubated Milo Yiannopoulos—and DePaul expressed worry that his appearance on campus might provoke violence.

The culture of offense-taking, platform-denying, and heckler-vetoing—now spreading ever outward from the campuses—lets loudmouths and thugs present themselves as heroes of free thought. They do not deserve this opportunity.

It’s a crazy fact of American life that as of today, a neo-Nazi has more right to build an arsenal of weapons and drill a militia than to speak on Twitter. Maybe we should try it the other way around.

There’s not much American constituency for Richard Spencer’s vision of a United States subdivided into segregated countries for each racial group, or for debates about whether Jews and Italians should count as “white,” or for fantasies about overturning democracy and returning to rule by kings and lords. But there is a real constituency for debates about immigration, about crime and policing, and other racially charged issues.

Over the past two decades, Americans have constructed systems of intellectual silencing that stifle the range of debate among responsible and public-spirited people. They’ve resigned hugely important topics to the domain of cranks and haters. If the only people who’ll talk about the risks and costs of a more diverse society are fascists, then the fascists will gain an audience. So long as they refrain from incitement and harassment, the right way to deal with social media’s neo-Nazis is not by taking away their platforms, but by taking away their audiences, by welcoming a more open and more intelligent discussion of what Americans yearn most to hear about.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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