Professor Erik Nielson warns in a New York Times op-ed that the kind of censorship that saw Infowars banned from most major social media platforms this week will eventually backfire on the left.
In an article entitled If We Silence Hate Speech, Will We Silence Resistance?, Nielson, who is an associate professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, writes that “mounting pressure from the political left to censor hateful speech may have unintended consequences.”
Cautioning that leftists should be “wary” of applauding the likes of Apple, Facebook and YouTube banning Alex Jones, Nielson writes, “If we become overzealous in our efforts to limit so-called hate speech, we run the risk of setting a trap for the very people we’re trying to defend.”
The professor cites inflammatory rhetoric used by black leaders after the civil rights era which led to them being put under surveillance and subjected to harassment by the FBI under the justification of them being labeled “hate groups”.
He also cites the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which “federal lawmakers have increasingly tried to shut the movement down by accusing it of hate speech,” in addition to Black Lives Matter, which some have attempted to label a hate group by making the target of their anger, police officers, a protected class.
He also makes the point that the 2017 Women’s March was accused of engaging in “hate” because it had links to anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
“If we allowed these voices to be silenced on grounds that they promote hate, we’d find ourselves scrambling to defend the radical poets, musicians, filmmakers and other artists who have pushed the boundaries of expression into what could arguably amount to hate speech, but who have done so from the vanguard of social and political protest,” writes Nielson.
He also points to the hypocrisy of Spotify reversing its decision to “stop promoting artists who engage in hateful speech or conduct,” but then banning Alex Jones for that very reason.
“Within weeks, Spotify reversed course, noting that its policy was “vague.” But by silencing Mr. Jones on its platform, it’s not exactly clear where Spotify is drawing the line.
And that’s the inherent danger in attempting to limit something like hate. It can be so broadly defined that our efforts to counteract it will be broad, too.
If that happens, we risk silencing the voices and perspectives we can least afford to lose. That’s not a triumph over hate. That’s falling victim to it.”
Nielson’s argument will resonate with real liberals, but given that much of the left has abandoned liberal principles and aggressively supported censorship, so long as it’s directed against their political adversaries, don’t expect the blue check mark brigade on Twitter to embrace his position.
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