Big Tech has been busy in the past two weeks kicking off a number of political commentators from their platforms. The reasons have been vague, if not unknown, but there seems to be a clear bias against right-wing individuals, which does not bode well for open discussion in politics. Although these acts are carried out by private institutions, many free speech advocates should still be wary of Big Tech’s constant hall monitoring of political discourse.
Of the most high profile, social media bannings was that of Canadian philosopher and commentator Stefan Molyneux.
Since 2006, Molyneux has established himself as one of the more controversial philosophers on YouTube. Molyneux started out running a company that specialized in environmental management information systems software which he eventually sold in 2002. Since then, he has used his YouTube platform to expound his beliefs, eventually turning into a full-time content creator.
One of the beauties of the entire process is that he didn’t need any credentials to talk about philosophy and establish himself as an authority on philosophical topics. Indeed, the Internet has broken down outdated institutions and allowed new entrants to challenge legacy actors who benefit from credentialism and perpetuate establishment narratives. Molyneux took advantage of YouTube’s dynamism at the time and grew his audience to solid levels. According to a report from the social media analytics website Social Blade, Molyneux had 928,000 subscribers and over 300 million views. As far as Twitter is concerned, Molyneux racked up nearly 460,000 followers.
Like many thinkers throughout their lives, Molyneux began to shift in his views and focus on more controversial topics such as mass migration, race and gender relations, and political correctness in recent years. His message was definitely not for all, but it marked a different stage in his life as a philosopher. No one is static after all.
Even with these changes in his career, Molyneux maintained a peaceful outlook and tried the best he could to promote debate—a breath of fresh air in a time when people are getting “canceled” left and right (though mostly right) for not submitting to establishment orthodoxy in political discussions.
Unfortunately, Molyneux became a victim of such culture when YouTube decided to put the clamps on his channel and a series of others. Tech sites like The Verge reported, “The channels repeatedly violated YouTube’s policies, a YouTube spokesperson said, by alleging that members of protected groups were inferior. These come alongside other violations that led to YouTube taking action.” But the thought-policing of Molyneux did not stop there.
Days after the YouTube ban, Twitter followed suit with a spokesperson telling CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy that Molyneux’s account “was suspended for spam and platform manipulation, specifically operating fake accounts.”
We may never find out what truly motivated the banning of Molyneux on both Twitter and YouTube, but we most certainly lost a strong dissident voice. Even if you disagreed with him, the best way to debate his ideas would be in a public forum. Like any other debate, we would discuss the merits of Molyneux’s arguments and decide for ourselves if they hold weight or not. Much to our lament, the Big Tech hall monitors deprived us of this opportunity.
The cultural implications of deplatforming cannot be overstated. In a culture that actually values freedom, there would be freedom of expression no matter how controversial the subject is.
Although there are differences in kind when dealing with how governments censor people and social media platforms remove users, the latter should still concern proponents of freedom. For example, platforms like Facebook have teamed up with the Atlantic Council — a think tank that has received funding from the U.S. government and other foreign governments to combat “foreign interference” during the 2018 election season.
Although Silicon Valley ostensibly had libertarian leanings as its influence grew during its early years, it has a long track record of teaming up with legacy institutions, such as those within the military-industrial complex.
Silicon Valley’s embrace of political correctness culture is indicative of a broader trend towards thought-policing that’s becoming pervasive in our culture. In his book, Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb argues that threats to free speech can come from non-state actors:
“Effectively, there is no democracy without such an unconditional symmetry in the rights to express yourself and the gravest threat is the slippery slope in the attempts to limit speech on grounds that some of it may hurt some people’s feelings. Such restrictions do not necessarily come from the state itself, rather from the forceful establishment of an intellectual monoculture by an overactive thought police in the media and cultural life.”
Given the nature of the managerial state, which has focused more on behavior modification while maintaining a semblance of respect for private control of the means of production, the lines have blurred between the private and the public. So, this makes handling the issue of social media deplatforming a thorny one for free market advocates.
There is, however, a cause for optimism. Similar to the rise of alternative media in the face of increased broadcast media consolidation, several social media competitors such as GAB. Bitchute and DLive have emerged in order to provide a safe haven for those who share controversial opinions.
Although it is reasonable to believe that these alternatives will likely not reach mainstream levels of recognition, their existence still serves as a fallback option. The very act of being deplatformed can basically deprive a creator of their livelihood. The presence of these alternatives demonstrates the power of market forces. As long as there’s a demand for alternative platforms, there will generally be entrepreneurs who are willing to build these services. Where there’s a problem, there will generally be a market solution waiting in the wings.
In the meantime, harnessing the alternative platforms available as they gain more traction is the best move for content creators out there who have controversial things to say about politics and the social landscape. That means we must continue to explain the value of free speech and open discourse and defend alternative platforms that promote controversial discourse.