If you are big into Youtube content, or love a good dabble in the political sphere, you may be aware of the somewhat recent controversy surrounding demonetization of channels on the Youtube platform. It has all sparked from the recent demonetization of the ‘Louder with Crowder’ podcast. Steven Crowder, Canadian comedian, political commentator and host of ‘Louder with Crowder’ has been involved with the recent controversy with Carlos Maza, presenter and activist at left-wing publication, Vox. The accusations made, towards Crowder, were generally based around ‘hate speech’ which, in itself, has been a controversial topic of discussion in the political field. Crowder has been repeatedly condemned for making reference to Carlos Maza as the ‘lispy queer latino from Vox’. After having complained to Youtube, and successfully demonetized Crowders channel, Maza insists this kind of ‘hate speech’ is ‘bullying’ and is making members of the LGBTQ community ‘leave the platform’. Crowder insists what he says are harmless and jokes and that a lot of the clips have been taken out of context. Regardless of the outcome between the two giants of political commentary, it has sparked two huge debates within the socio-political sphere. The debate about the existence and viability of hate speech and whether this is a valid case for shutting down of prominent (particularly political) figureheads in the sphere.
Hate speech – what actually is it?
By definition, hate speech is the abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation. In the UK, hate speech and ‘incitement of hatred’ is punishable by law, primarily under the public order act of 1986 which prohibits all types of speech defined under ‘hate speech’. The debate in the united states, however, is very different. Both Democrats and Republicans, broadly speaking, view hate speech as detrimental to society but the differences are in the proposed solutions. The left are more likely to promote anti hate speech legislation as 40% of democrats think it should be banned. Republicans/conservatives are more likely to dismiss the need for limiting actions with regard to speech insisting it is an encroachment on their first amendment right, the right to free speech. Currently, in the United States of America, hate speech is not regulated or restricted, but is different in the corporate field. As a free speech, free enterprise nation, the US, along with other countries like singapore, allow free enterprise which allows companies to dictate company direction and rules themselves. When it comes to corporate censorship however on social media companies and content creation platforms, they technically can do what they want. Despite this, people argue that there is no clear definition of the rules, so what’s going on?
The main, high profile platforms involved in the issue have been Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. They have all come under fire for transparency issues when it comes to content as people are wondering what the rules actually are with regarding acceptable content. Crowder’s channel was, more or less, acquitted of any wrongdoing with regards to Youtube’s content policies but has been left demonetized nonetheless. But trends indicate that it is the right wing/conservative viewpoints that are being treated more harshly. With regards to large figurehead in the conservative sphere, Steven Crowder and Ben Shapiro were subject to demonetisation. Right-leaning and debatably controversial Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopolous were banned on Facebook and Twitter. Ex-leader of the EDL and current UKIP adviser, Tommy Robinson, has been banned and deplatformed on Social media. This begs the question, are the social media platforms specifically targeting conservative or right leaning figureheads? Facebook has been recently cracking down on leftist anti-semitism and anti-war pages that condemn American, Israeli and Saudi practices in the middle-east and pages of that nature but it was in response to ‘Russian propaganda’ claims and ‘fake news’. All of this is merely speculation but are they justified to be taking down these pages? And are opposing viewpoints a valid reason to be deplatforming?
In my personal opinion, the deplatforming of people with opposing viewpoints has been problematic. I am a big proprietor of free speech and open discourse so from the outset, removing people’s ability to speak and reach an audience with a different view is showing authoritarian tendencies that I fundamentally disagree with. In the high profile cases, it has typically been the left wing organisations campaigning against ‘oppressive’ and ‘Racist’ right wing organisations (generally speaking). With touchy subjects like that on the line, it would be a disaster for the PR teams of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to be associated with social taboo’s. It is easy to see why they are pandering to those complaining.
However, it fundamentally goes against the idea of being free speech platforms in my opinion. The counter argument has always been ‘they are private organisations and they can write their own rules’. And that argument holds a lot of weight, they can do whatever they want! However the problem has been on, transparency of the rules and their manipulation of ‘platform legislation’. When people are banned, there have been complaints of people not knowing what the rules are. Labelling yourself as a free speech platform i.e. Twitter and banning people on debatably viewpoints and offencive speech issues goes against the idea of the platform. However, this would be totally viable if the corporations made a public list key objective terms and conditions that go further than the basic code-of-conduct for the site.
The big issue for me is abusing the power of being a platform. Branding yourself as a platform allows you to avoid all of the difficulties of sifting through content to make sure it is non defamatory and compliant like a publisher would. When big platforms pander to a political wings demands (left or right) in my opinion, they lose their platform status and become a publisher as they are dictating the flow of content and prioritising different agendas over others. This is massive! Publishers are under a lot of constraints that revolve around defamation lawsuits and content restrictions. Hiding behind a ‘platform’ title is a slimy tactic and they should be held accountable for reaping the rewards of being a free speech platform whilst negating the possibility of libel lawsuits is something that is unethical.
This isn’t the only question that needs to be asked. Is our content getting ever more radical and actually warranting bans? Is the hate speech censorship a cover-up for corporations pushing political agendas? Let us know what you think.