It is virtually an axiom of intellectual discourse that voices considered too dangerous or disruptive to be allowed on television, radio, and in print tend to maintain a high demand for their material. The goal of removing the opposition entirely from mainstream platforms is to censor discourse and to close off avenues of debate or inquiry.
Another effect is that discourse will be siloed, relegated to echo chambers, and neither side of the division line will hear the views of the other. The progressive left has entirely forgotten that free speech is essential and foundational to any healthy democracy.
Gavin McInnes’ Censored TV and the emergence of the social media alternative, Parler, are two platforms created as a way to combat YouTube and Twitter. Their aim is to give a platform for voices that have been forced out of the mainstream for what the progressive left would consider to be insensitive, extreme, or just plain dangerous.
The YouTube star Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) has had to fend off controversy after controversy for making insensitive remarks on his channel in the past. Insider reported in late May that "Kjellberg raised eyebrows with his unfiltered commentary and trolling in videos. He went on to make rape jokes for which he later apologized on Tumblr, to joke about joining ISIS (a stunt that got him briefly removed from Twitter), to call female gamers 'stupid Twitch thots,' to use racial slurs, and to post several videos featuring anti-semitic rhetoric and Nazi imagery."
No reasonable person could honestly conclude, based on his videos, that Kjellberg planned to join ISIS or that he really believed that rape was a hilarious event. The term for this kind of behavior by Kjellberg is transgressive, which is a method of veering from the norm in an effort to challenge and perhaps violate one’s moral or ethical dispositions. In this way, Kjellberg is a genius. The outrage that has followed his over-the-top jokes fulfills the transgressive sentiment.
Those who have scoured Kjellberg’s videos to find any and every instance of offense want to be offended. They are not fans, but opponents of dissent and discourse.
Kjellberg has a staggering 105 million YouTube subscribers. It turns out that many of his followers enjoy—or at the very least don’t mind—Kjellberg’s potentially offensive humor. Kjellberg, however, apologized for the videos in question, which, in many ways, invalidates the legitimacy of transgressive humor and behavior. He did what so many others have done recently: bow and beg for mercy at the feet of the mob.
A different situation happened with Milo Yiannopoulous who has since migrated to Censored TV. He lost a book deal in 2017 and was effectively vanquished from the mainstream media because he made comments about his personal sexual relationship with an adult when he was still legally a minor. It is irrelevant whether what someone says is distasteful or tone deaf—someone’s freedom to say what they wish is within their First Amendment rights. Despite him merely using words to express an idea, his words were taken to be literal acts of violence.
The idea that words can be literal acts of violence is a nifty strategy developed by progressives—and has been spearheaded by its most loyal adherents within colleges and universities across the country, where young people are encouraged to be intolerant of opposing views.
Either progressive ideologues do not realize the double standard they have erected when it comes to free speech, or they just do not care. In almost every institution of higher learning in 21st America, progressive professors establish, uphold, and preach whole theories of criticism based around a number of French intellectuals. These are the same intellectuals who in 1977 signed a petition which asked for the decriminalization of all age of consent laws. This would have legalized the very relationship Yiannopolous came under fire for.
The names included on that list were some of the most notable French names of 20th century European discourse: Louis Aragon, Michel Foucault, Bernard Besret, Francis Ponge, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Ranciere, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Simone de Beauvoir, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Michel Leiris.
The bread and butter of postmodernist thought—a mid-to-late 20th century ideology taught in every gender studies, queer studies, and critical race theory class in America—was at least partially pioneered by the likes of Foucault, Althusser, Derrida, and Deleuze. The same group of people who refuse to hear what Yiannopoulos has to say are the very same people who admire and endorse the ideas put forth by these French libertines.
This is an indicator that it is not so much what is being said that progressives take issue with, but who is saying it. This is made clear not only by the example above, but with the recent debacle involving American comedian Nick Cannon.
CBS News recently reported that Cannon spoke on a podcast about how "Jews have stolen Black people’s identity as true Hebrews. Cannon also imply[ed] that those with light skin are inferior." The news outlet continued by saying that "Cannon referred to teachings from Louis Farrakhan, who is considered anti-Semitic by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a conspiracy theory about the Rothschild family deemed anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League."
The BBC reported would not fire Cannon from his host post on The Masked Singer, US. Mike Cernovich said "Nick Cannon brought up a belief millions of black Americans have. These views might offend you or outrage you or whatever, but censoring people isn’t the answer. Open debate and discussion are."
It is true that Cannon should not be canceled, but it begs the question of why Cannon was let off the hook while so many others have not been so fortunate.
NBA announcer Grant Napear, who reportedly lost his job for saying "All Lives Matter." All Lives Matter "is seen by many as mocking the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in 2013 as a campaign against systemic racism and violence toward black people." Napear basically lost his job for something significantly less harmful than Cannon’s words, but again, it depends on who is relaying a given message and not what the message actually is.
UCLA professor Gordon Klein was removed from his post after students criticized him for not postponing an exam amid the protests and riots that broke out in response to the death of George Floyd. Professors have authority over exam policies, yet Klein was demonized as being racially insensitive for not bending to the whims of his students.
The Federalist reported on Stan Wischnowski, the top editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, who was "forced to resign over a headline of an architecture column that read, 'Buildings Matter, Too,' which ran after scores of buildings in downtown Philly had been destroyed by rioters."
Parler has acted as a sort of bastion for free speech, drawing the likes of McInnes, Yiannopoulos, and Laura Loomer—all of whom have been permanently banned from Twitter and other platforms for their remarks. The recent additions to Parler's platform have been Katie Hopkins, Carpe Donktum, and Graham Linehan, who have all been booted from Twitter for saying the wrong thing. Parler gained half a million new users after Twitter decided to go after conservative voices, and it has been gaining traction ever since.
Free speech does not mean all speech much adhere to a given set of moral of ethical principles—that is what makes free speech, well, free. Our First Amendment protects people who say wrong things, offensive things, absurd things, and hurtful things. While there is no doubt that our right to freedom of speech is alive and well, it is unclear who gets to use it with impunity and who will be canceled or mobbed as a result.