There’s a narrative going around certain parts of the internet lately that politically-conservative public figures are being targeted for censorship, and it’s really starting to take off. Actor Adam Baldwin recently left Twitter as a result, claiming that it goes against “free speech.” As reported by the IJ Review, Baldwin took time before leaving to call out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, prominent feminists including Anita Sarkeesian (the head of Twitter’s new Trust & Safety Council,) and others, specifically citing what he called “the Gamergate controversy.” And certainly, the idea that conservatives are being censored is a daily, if not hourly, subject of discussion on Gamergate’s primary subreddit.
Baldwin’s not alone. MediaPost recently published an article on the censorship of conservatives, also focusing on Sarkeesian and conservative blogger Robert Stacy McCain, who was recently suspended from Twitter, allegedly for “targeted harassment.” It also cited the case of Breitbart editor and conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos, who lost his “verified” status as the result of his posts. Mediaite published an article stating that Breitbart editor and conservative pundit Ben Shapiro was told that he was no longer welcome to give a speech at California State University Los Angeles.
Certainly, taken at face value, the evidence seems compelling. Conservative voices are being silenced across the internet and the developed world!
Except, not really.
Conservatives aren’t being silenced.
People who voice and espouse offensive opinions are being silenced, and there’s an important difference. Certainly, all of these people share a conservative political bias.
They are also male, own cars, and live in the developed world. Correlation is not causation.
It is unfortunate that, at a cursory glance, they seem to be being targeted for their political views, but there is a step missing from that equation: people who say things publicly that many in society deem intolerably offensive and hateful tend to also have conservative politics, and all of these people have a significant public platform for their views.
Several of the people involved are known to engage in targeted harassment, inciting “dogpiles” among their followers and making statements that might at best be considered seriously distasteful, as well as publishing the private, personal information of people whom they believe are deserving of punishment. These bans aren’t happening for no reason, and Twitter has already been losing share price steadily since the inception of Gamergate and the beginning of what some deem a tipping point where Twitter went from a microblogging platform to the next internet cesspool. Recent steps taken to stymie the voices of harassers on their platform represent Twitter’s attempts to salvage their failing company.
But what about free speech?
Free speech always gets brought up at this point; the (inaccurate) idea that everyone is allowed, by law, to say whatever they want, wherever they want, to whomever they want, without reprisal. It was practically the first thing Baldwin cited before leaving Twitter.
Free speech absolutism is, of course, ridiculous. If you’re American, the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of reprisal from the government. Other laws also do restrict what you can say and where. If you shout “bomb” in an airport, the free speech defense is not going to save you. But that’s an extreme example.
More to the point, another right that everyone shares is the right to control of their own private property. You have the right to say whatever you want on the sidewalk in front of my house. You may walk onto my property and knock on my door. But if I find you objectionable, I may tell you to leave and the law says that you must. If you sit on the road and play loud music focused at my house, this is also, in many cases, an invasion of privacy. Many of your rights end where my private property begins.
Social media services like Twitter are private property. They have the right to control what is said on their platform; a right that everyone agrees to when they sign up.
“We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, to suspend or terminate users, and to reclaim usernames without liability to you.”
If Twitter feels that anyone is contributing to a loss of face and/or revenue, it should come as no surprise that they will act to stop that.
Likewise, those colleges are also private property, and have a right to determine what is said – if they don’t like it, they have every right to show you the door.
If you’re wondering where the line is drawn; if you couldn’t say it on daytime television, you’re probably not welcome to say it to a room full of students, either, and if you’ve shown a willingness to be that offensive in the past, they may assume that you are likely to do so again.
You’re not being censored; you are free to post whatever you like on your own blog, your own website, your own front door, so long as you’re not violating any laws, like threatening another person. You’re just not being allowed to do it on someone else’s private property or service, which is fully within their rights.
Finally, yet another right that everyone has is the right not to be abused, including emotional and verbal abuse – and it’s another right that trumps free speech. Even if you are exercising your free speech rights, it is still illegal to abuse another person, to stalk another person, to invade their personal space and privacy, particularly when already knowing that doing so will upset them. It should go without saying that this goes doubly for threats, an entirely-too-common tactic of internet abusers.
So. Back to the point. The politically-conservative are not being censored. There are many fine conservative people who do not go about their day harassing people, causing offense or loudly proclaiming bigoted opinions. Likewise, there are many people who identify as politically liberal who harass, abuse and offend. Showing these people the door has nothing to do with their politics, and everything to with finding their words and actions objectionable enough not to want them in our spaces.
[Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for TNT]