Fuck your free speech: the normalisation of racism and why platforms should censure it

From a Reddit comment I wrote, on a thread about the continued prevalence of racist contributors on Reddit.

And what would be gained from their banning? Seriously though, I want to know. What use does refusing to give racists a platform serve? Is it to punish the racists or to make for a better, more inclusive browsing experience for everybody else?

Bit of both. Makes it clear to racists that hatred isn’t welcome, means ethnic minorities don’t have to wade through shit about them being untermensch. It also stops racism from being normalised and considered as just “a view” that needs to be countered through polite debate, and rather as the immoral bullshit aberration from decency that it is.

That’s the use. We’ve had almost a decade now of the acceptance of racism being ramped up in media, and I’m going to write this down in long form to back up my point:

  • Nick Griffin got invited onto Question Time in 2009 and all the nice liberal people started congratulating themselves on how soundly he was defeated, but what he actually got was a pulpit. The lefties who’d never have voted for him anyway felt vindicated but the people who might have been on the fence felt they had a voice in the BNP, who were otherwise excluded from political debate because they explicitly think non-white people are worth less than white people.
  • Gordon Brown called someone who was saying something blatantly bigoted on camera a bigot and was lambasted for it, making it so that politicians were unable to directly confront these opinions for what they are for fear of being lambasted themselves. Bigotry was now no longer bigotry; it could not be called what it was and these opinions, as fuckwitted as they are, are as equally entitled to the Prime Minister’s time as any other.
  • Ukip started rising, culminating in the 2015 debates and reaching a nadir with Farage’s comments about immigrants with HIV, which were as blatant and repulsive a dog-whistle as any other. The BBC and others have continually given them and him in particular airtime under the pretence of “having a debate” despite their lack of relevance and, in particular, Farage’s lack of relevance since he stepped down as leader. Despite Farage’s continued issuing of statements which should be repulsive in polite society (“I wouldn’t want to live next door to some Romanians… you know why” being a standout example) and coded support of political violence should the EU referendum not go the right way making it quite clear who and what he is, he continued to get airtime to promote his agenda. Ukip’s blatant dog-whistling was therefore legitimised, and has continued to be. Now all the nice liberals who themselves wouldn’t dream of being racist are talking about how these are “legitimate concerns” that need to be represented, when anyone can see them for what they really are, how forcefully it needs to be shut down and how these “concerns” (such as they are) have been fed by the normalisation and even acceptance of immigration and Islam being blamed for any and all problems.
  • Social media has grown and “democratised” political debate. I put this in inverted commas because what this supposed “democratisation” has actually done is given racists a space to spread hatred without fear of censure, and give them a platform where what they post can have as much currency and viewership as what’s posted by Marks and Spencer — just another option, just another opinion. By way of example, Britain First have over a million likes on Facebook, and their racist agitprop can be shared and seen by many many more people if those people then share it. This also normalises racism — now it’s just another post in the news feed, hit “don’t show” if you don’t like it just as if it was another of Aunt Flo’s pictures of cupcakes or cats.
  • Concurrent with the above, there has been the tendencies on sites like Reddit and Twitter for moderators to claim the enlightened high ground and say that they’re all for free speech even for those they dislike, which in reality simply gives very, very unpleasant people a platform. They don’t care about enlightenment values of free debate, and they will never be reasoned out of their position (because it’s not a position someone reasons themselves into) but they’re more than happy to use enlightenment rhetoric to demand a platform and space to spread hatred. The far right has seized upon this, with Stormfront openly gaming Reddit in order to “redpill” young, vulnerable men and /pol/ also openly brigading political forums like /r/ukpolitics (hence LocutusOfBorges forming /r/BritishPolitics because he saw what was happening for what it was). All to spread hatred, which becomes more and more normalised. It’s just another opinion. It’s just another view that needs to be debated and defeated.
  • Twitter in particular is a horrible case because that turns the problem from simply racists broadcasting a message which one can either receive or not, to them being able to harrass and abuse individual people for whatever reason. The response from the nice liberal people is that these people should just block the arseholes and move on, but it keeps on coming, and shifts the responsibility from the platform’s to prevent its users being abused onto the abused’s for using the platform.
  • Finally, we have agitation for “free speech in universities”, which typically involves removal of hate speech rules that prevent open racism and advocacy of hatred. According to this interpretation of what a university is, a university is a place where all views are indeed valid, and people should be forced to confront things they don’t like. The general contention is that this means that a view that black people or Muslims are subhuman is as equally valid as any other; that this normalisation of racism is the exact thing that racists want, to be considered part of mainstream discourse, is part of this by design. It’s not done because of any enlightenment principles, it’s being done to co-opt enlightenment principles and have the nice liberals who want to give every view an airing because of their principles defending racist hate speech as if it was as as banal an opinion as preferring a different flavour of ice cream. This also speaks to a growing right-wing victim culture; if these things are censured, it’s not a problem with the racists for being repulsive pieces of shit, it’s the university’s for seeking to “restrict ideas”.

So racist hate speech is being normalised in our society. Progressively, as a slow boil, we have gone from racial hatred being something not shown on television, not given an airing, not allowed any oxygen, to something that it has been decided that we should tolerate and accept and spend time debating and confronting if we want it to not spread. Notice that this again, as with Twitter, shifts the burden of effort from the racists to the non-racists — to continually fight against whatever dog-whistling, misinformation and general bullshit the racists spread wherever they feel like spreading it. Notice also that this reading of things also means that if the racists are winning mindshare, it’s the fault of non-racists for not opposing it vigorously enough or engaging enough with their bullshit concerns.

So it goes a bit beyond a subreddit, it’s yet another example of how we as a society have tolerated racism and xenophobia and allowed it to grow. It is also one where the mods have repeatedly ignored the efforts of very, very unpleasant individuals to use it as a soapbox for hate.

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