The Perils of Authoritarian Censorship

Lately, there have been a lot of Twitter bannings and flagging of videos on YouTube which discuss why white nationalism is wrong. Sadly, this is something I was afraid would happen.

Since the election of Donald Trump, white supremacists and fascists of various stripes have felt far more comfortable spreading their ideas out in the open, and well-meaning liberals have been calling for digital platforms like Twitter and YouTube to censor fascist and white supremacist voices, an appeal to digital authorities to rein in hateful speech. This feels like a good approach. After all, these hatemongers are calling implicitly — sometimes even explicitly — for violence against large swaths of the population.

Unfortunately, rules and policies of authoritarian censorship will also be used against the left, and in my experience, they will be used far more ruthlessly and effectively by the right-wing. Liberals and leftists agree on a core principle that people should be free to speak their minds, but fascists don’t agree to those terms. While we have moral quandrays and in-group debates about whether it’s ethical to shut down hateful speech, the right is quietly organizing mass flagging campaigns against prominent voices on the left, and they are getting us deplatformed.

If we want an effective means of dealing with white supremacists, fascists, and the extreme right, we cannot rely on authoritarian tactics to accomplish them. Twitter and Google are corporations out to make money by exploiting wage labor and tricks of finance. They will always skew towards the radical center because the current status quo is working just fine for them. They will see problems in terms of “wrongs on both sides,” and their censorship polices will then be used far more effectively to silence voices on the left.

Effective decentralized resistance is going to require tactics that can’t be co-opted by the enemy. Doxxing and mass demonstration against speech that seeks to incite violence…those tactics immediately to mind, but we also need to be actively working in our communities to weaken authoritarian systems of power through mutual aid. The Democratic Socialists of America are doing great work with their free brake light replacement programs. The Black Panthers famously organized free breakfasts for children in their community. Every marginalized person that we build up through direct action has the potential to become someone who will mobilize and shutdown fascist ideologies. We can’t rely on the government, the corporations, the police, or anyone else to do this work for us. It must start through direct action — people helping people.