Banning Racists From Social Media Is Just Helping Them By Reducing Transparency on Their Distasteful Views

Via Engadget

Twitter is continuing to act on its promise to fight hate speech, however imperfectly. The site has banned Wisconsin Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen after he posted a racist image that placed the face of Cheddar Man (a dark-skinned British ancestor) over actress and soon-to-be-royal Meghan Markle, who's mixed race. The company said it didn't normally comment on individual accounts, but said the permanent suspension was due to "repeated violations" of its terms of service.

Nehlen, who's hoping to unseat Paul Ryan in the 2018 mid-term elections, has a long history of overtly expressing his racist views. Twitter suspended him for a week in January over anti-Semitic comments, and he has regularly promoted white supremacist ideology. In private, he used direct message groups to coordinate harassment campaigns. Breitbart supported Nehlen's ultimately unsuccessful run against Ryan in 2016, but distanced itself from him in December 2017.

As the title of the post implies, I am torn on this.  On the one hand, there is an argument that removing a powerful communications tool from bad people makes it harder to spread their, um, badness.  On the other hand, I am not sure that driving these folks underground is the right approach.  Sure, Nehlen has likely rallied some people of a similar mind to his side, but the flip side is that he has advertised himself to  LOT of people as having distasteful views.  I know that from my point of view, my awareness that awful folks like this still exist on the peripheries of power has grown from social media, whereas without it I likely might have convinced myself this sort of stuff was a thing of the past.

It reminds me what I wrote a while back about putting the Confederate flag on license plates:

Which brings me back to license plates.  If a state is going to create a license plate program where people can make statements with their license plates, then people should be able to make the statement they want to make.  ... Let's assume for a moment that everyone who wants to display this symbol [the Confederate battle flag] on their car is a racist. Shouldn't we be thrilled if they want to do so?  Here would be a program where racists would voluntarily self-identify to all as a racist (they would even pay extra to do so!)  What would be a greater public service?

To take this to an extreme, think about the effort to de-platform certain college speakers.  I like to imagine who the most extreme example of such a controversial college speaker would be, and I come up with that old standby, Adolf Hitler.  So what if in 1938 Adolf Hitler came to the States for a college speaking tour in 1938.  Couldn't that have been a good thing?  Many of the mistakes made by the world in 1938-1945 was underestimating both Germany's appetite for expansion and its ruthlessness in its approach to the Jews.  Wouldn't it have been better to listen to a bad guy and potentially get some clues to this future?


  1. jdgalt:

    This is why I am on Gab, not Twitter, and recommend the same to you.

  2. pbft:

    To me, the more fundamental issue is that we're entrusting, empowering (or even encouraging) someone to decide what speech is too distasteful or dangerous to be allowed. We can nearly all agree that overt racism is awful, but how about skepticism about catastrophic climate change? Reproductive choices? Religion?

    I think we have to steel ourselves to the risk of being exposed to distasteful or disturbing things or else allow our own speech to be silenced by those who find our ideas unsettling.

    I choose freedom of speech, even if it's uncomfortable at times.

  3. Bistro:

    Pathetically the ones most interested in injuring other's right to speech are also the ones most interested in applying 'net neutrality' at all long as they don't have to pay.
    One of the treasures of the study of war is how often an attacking side is blindsided by some characteristic of the enemy and gets into battle, loses, and then claims they had no idea how strongly the winners felt about things. Odd that.

  4. kidmugsy:

    Plates are easy. Just ban all symbols other than the numbers and letters that do the job. No Confederate flag, no Union flag, no State flower, .... If people want to append something of their own, so be it.

    As for racism: hell, everyone is a racist within some meaning of that term. That's the nature of the human race. What is objectionable is trying to foment violence, and that's true whether the motive is "resistance", racism, ageism, sexism, classism, jihadism, Zionism, Roman Catholicism, socialism, nationalism, and many another ism. Or simple old greed, or lust, or lust for power.

  5. jimc5499:

    I'm in complete agreement.

  6. SamWah:

    Buuuutttttttttttttt, that would distress the easily distressed! The HORROR!! The horror...

  7. cc:

    The problem of course is who gets to define "hate speech". People have tried to get Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro banned on Youtube etc, 2 very sensible and clever people. A site, JihadWatch, that documents terror attacks around the world has been blocked on Facebook (as of today anyway). Apparently it is illegal to hate terrorists. A man in Germany who witnessed a terror attack from his balcony and was shouting at the terrorists was prosecuted for using hate speech (though to be fair Germany has more to be worried about than most from hate speech). Any criticism of feminism or BLM is reflexively called hate speech, yet fems and BLM can call for death to men or police, respectively, with no problem.

  8. Mercury:

    If Hitler came to the US in 1938 American academics and "Progressives" of all stripes would probably have blown him dry, unable to restrain themselves in the presence of such a dynamic authoritarian willing to confront society's ills with the strong arm of government initiative. "And those uniforms!" I mean, just look at the MSMs gushing over N. Korea this weekend at the Olympics.

    I don't think the Jewish issue would have raised many eyebrows beyond those of American Jews themselves - who have seen this movie before. First of all, Hitler would have downplayed that part of his agenda (the worst parts of which weren't even articulated by 1938), second, in the public imagination, someone has always been after the Jews over one thing or another, what's new? and third, almost no one grasped the horror of the Holocaust until it was too late or over because it was simply outside of what normal people thought was even possible (which is more or less what the definition of 'horror' means).

    It would have been hard to convince ordinary Americans that the whole gas chamber and oven thing was even on the table - ultimately the death camps weren't even built within Germany itself which may indicate that genocide wasn't a widely supported policy even among vengeance-seeking Germans.

    Rightly or wrongly the plight of European Jews didn't factor much (if at all) into America's decision to get involved in WW II and totalitarianism in general wasn't particularly unpopular.

    But yes, ironically, in some ways it probably has never been a better time to be a racist since the definition of "racism" keeps expanding while being more aggressively yet subjectively applied at the same time - which ends up confusing and pissing off a lot of people.

    Pre-social media, before neo-Marxism became social orthodoxy and before we all decided that there were crazy racists under every bed, actual American Nazis (for instance) kind of had to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They dressed up in uniforms, marched in straight lines, everyone knew they were crazy and they didn't really move the needle on anything. Simpler times.

  9. ErikTheRed:

    I strongly suspect that criminalizing speech with the goal of obliterating ideologies backfires horribly, and is largely responsible for the resurgence in Nazism. When a topic goes "off limits," people are deprived of the raw horror of the moral stances involved - it becomes an abstract concept rather than a concrete evil. Once that impact is diminished, a terribly stance like Nazism becomes a far more palatable form of tribal rebellion or protest. The thought process becomes:

    1) "I disapprove of the cultural and economic impact of our authoritarian progressive government importing voting livestock (my snarky term for policies that bring in foreigners and then traps them in a welfare state that forces them to vote for progressives)."
    2) "The opposing political tribes don't really do anything other than pay lip service to my views on this, but these Nazis (or other authoritarian nationalist groups) are all gung-ho against it. Due to the extreme and immediate urgency of the problem, I have no choice but to align myself with them. After all, the really bad stuff is all in the past..."

    And then the next thing you know they're wearing their bedding or participating in tiki torch parades or building walls or whatever.

    This process ignores several issues:

    1) The "conservative" political tribes haven't done jack shit to reign in entitlements. The GOP congress forced the slightest of pauses during the Clinton administration, and then got right back in the socialist bread line and massively increased them under King Bush II. They've given up on making any moral case for this, with the exception of excluding certain furrners. If a group wanted to paint themselves as morally bankrupt asshole racists to those outside their tribe (applying a different moral code/judgment to people based on accidents of birth), this is a pretty solid approach.
    2) There is a massive moral and practical case to be made against state-run welfare, and the libertarians are pretty much the only ones making it in the political sphere. Fiscal arguments matter little to most people, because the numbers involved are far beyond what they could conceivably relate to and it's not "their money" anyway (yes, this is stupid, but it is what it is). You can describe the callousness of trapping people in a politically-defined minimally-acceptable standard of living in order to harvest their votes without jumping into epistemological traps that scream "I'm a racist/nationalist."
    3) The kindest possible thing one could say about trying to fix a failed (at least by its ostensible goals) big government program like welfare with another set of massive government programs like Orwellian levels of border control, interior movement, and employment restrictions is that it's philosophically inconsistent. It ignores the amazingly predictable lack of success for massive government programs - after all, if they actually solve a problem it hurts their budgets and if they fail then it helps their budgets. Fighting socialism with socialism just makes for more socialism.

    There are plenty more, but I've got other stuff to do and it's unlikely that anyone read this far anyway :-)

  10. ErikTheRed:

    Absolutely. Hitler and Mussolini were both very well-regarded by the "intellectual" class until right before WWII.

  11. Heresiarch:

    People who are inclined that way are also motivated to find people who
    think similarly, and whether we're talking about the Dark Web or merely
    the shadier side alleys of the regular Internet, I think they'll find a way to connect. The main motivation I can see behind the impulse to ban them from mainstream social media is to serve the desire of some people who wish to believe in progress against those ideas not to be told or reminded that it hasn't happened. That has always struck me as narcissistic, foolish, head-in-the-sand behavior, but in the post-2016-election era it seems dangerous as well.

    There's also no evidence I can see that they convert anyone to their views who wasn't already leaning that way. The Klan members that Daryl Davis has persuaded away from the KKK, for example, were taught those views not by society but by their parents, and I think we can assume that taking away their parents' Twitter accounts, if it had existed back then, would have accomplished nothing but to further alienate and embitter the parents.

    It seems to me that what we should avoid at all costs is to damn them with bell, book and candle, as it were, and not leave any way out for them to change their minds. They're not going to stop being citizens and they're not going to stop being free, and there isn't anybody to watch most of them actively, even if they're not driven underground...all of which adds up to the conclusion that they can cause terrible damage if they think their opinions are actively being repressed. They could become terrorists and they could collaborate with a foreign power.

  12. slocum:

    No -- not by that point. For example, this is the 1938 Time Magazine 'Man of the Year' article about Hitler:,9171,760539,00.html

    It's not at all complimentary.

  13. marque2:

    I see all the points going one way here. An alternate view. A lot of these haters are attention seekers. The Klan wasn't marginalized because they could get their viewpoint out. They were marginalized because no-one except back channels would publish or broadcast their crap. Even their rallies were ignored, unless they could be used to disparage a Republican president. With the lack of attention their numbers dwindled. Now that they are getting attention again, because Trump, the numbers are growing. So yes "banning" these folks can have the effect of reducing their ideological hold.

    However - this technique is now being used on college campuses and the political arena to try to get legitimate - or at least fairly moderate views squelched - so ultimately, I don't think banning speech should be used, or at least we need to be very careful about such use.

  14. Chris Miles:

    We have move substantially outside the world of debating ideas, into a world of controlling which ideas are available to be debated as the means of setting up false dichotomies or xanatos gambit's for those pulling the upstream levers.

    Not many issues where the two sides are actually presented authentically by the standard information channels.

  15. GoneWithTheWind:

    Inferring racism based on things said or done is risky. My son was born in Mississippi but raised in the NorthWest his mom and I are not from the South I just happened to be there for work when he was born. When he was a teen looking for who he was or sommething and he put a Confederate battle flag in his bedroom window this was long ago when that flag was not so criticiized as it is today, he is 50 now. But it caused someone to give me a flat tire and shoot our dog with a pellet rifle. He wasn't/isn't racist and neither am I. But someone in the neighborhood was (i.e. committed violence in the name of race).

    Some months back someone accused me of being racist because of my nom de plume "GoneWithTheWind". Never even occurred to me that someone could think that was racist! I picked it because I like the line in the movie when Rhett told Scarlet that "it's gone, Scarlet, gone with the wind". Nothing racist about it.

    My concern is who decides what to censor? Who can be trusted with that kind of power? Will they censor all the anti-white racism too? Will it become a political tool for punishment?

  16. truth:

    That's pretty awful revisionist history. The folks cheerfully embracing killing your opponents and having the strong arm of government weed out the weak aren't usually found on the progressive left. Look towards your friends from the altright for cheerful Nazi support, please.

  17. truth:

    I suspect that being able to identify member of your tribe helps in the insurgence of extreme groups.

    That said, what the US really needs are simplified free speech laws. Slander and Libel are powerful tools to wield against it, and those are the ones that need addressing first, before fixing license plate regulation.

  18. StillAnOptimist:

    I am in total agreement - It would be far, far better to KNOW what someone thinks than to have that person do/write what they think in the "dark" - and if indeed I were to see something on someone's car that says "I am a racist" - then I will steer clear of that person/car. While allowing such people to "spread" their message (and they will find some followers) - overall, many many more will discover who that person is and that person will be shunned ... And yea, I imagine if Hitler had indeed travelled to the US and told the country what he thinks - the country may have had a clue about what he actually did.

  19. Peabody:

    "cheerfully embracing killing your opponents and having the strong arm of government weed out the weak"

    Oh, you mean eugenics, the brainchild of progressives before being commandeered by Hitler?

  20. CapitalistRoader:

    Hmmm...James T. Hodgkinson, the guy who tried to take out the House GOP leadership with a rifle. Bernie Bro, no?

  21. Mercury:

    You're right. I was being purposely a little glib to make a larger point but It's also easy to forget that American media was often of much higher quality than it is today I guess.

    American Media's record with sussing out the true dynamics of the USSR isn't very noble however, that's for damn sure. But then, they've always liked to maintain the conceit that Marxist totalitarianism is TOTALLY different from fascist totalitarianism. The rest of us, along with the hundreds of millions murdered might not be smart enough to figure that out though.

    BTW does that 1938 cover story read a little weird to you? Like, the tense is too firmly in that past or something? Not 100% sure "Person" Of The Year is the only retroactive edit.

  22. John Moore:

    The most important reason to let them rant is that the censorship will be weaponized. We are already seeing conservative voices being minimized (demonetized) or silenced (accounts canceled) by Twitter and YouTube. Nazi's are a trivial threat in comparison with censorship.

  23. Husker_Man:

    Really. What would your good buddy Comrade Stalin say about that, when he signed the Molotov-RIbbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany? What about the countless millions killed by this stalwart of the left?

  24. Dan Wendlick:

    In Ye Olde Days, like before 1960, the city of Boston was known for its willingness to censor or outright ban movies even after the passing of the Hayes Code, under which the studios "voluntarily" censored their own content. Movies that were trying to promote themselves as being somewhat naughty occasionally even used "Banned in Boston!" as part of their advertising, using it as bona fide proof of their salaciousness. My prediction is that "Banned by Twitter" is going to play in largely the same way - you haven't made your bones in some communities online until you've been banned.

  25. sean2829:

    Think about what just happened in Alabama with the senate election. Dirt on a candidate in another party was held in reserve until that candidate got the nomination. Then the flood gates opened up. That's how politics is played today. It's not about getting the best choices, it about winning any way possible. Reducing transparency of distasteful views or past transgression it a very good tool if you want to surreptitiously beat the dominant party.

  26. wreckinball:

    Problem is much of what's labeled "racist" today is not. Best not to censor.

  27. truth:

    No, I was referring to the dear folks joking about the second amendment people taking care of their opponents, or suggesting that not clapping for anything the supreme leader goes on about is treason.

    Incidentally, same folks who think that once a child is born, it's not deserving of healthcare until it can hold down a job clearing the minimum cost requirements that, thanks to a concerted effort to defund the system, are about to rise 30%+ year over year.

  28. truth:

    Funny that. Comrade Stalin was actually not taken very seriously in the party before his rise to power, because of his uneducated background and because he was anything but an intellectual. I have no idea why you'd call any fascist progressive, but that might just because that label is so ill defined.