Banning a bully is not political censorship

Image credit: Star Tribune [www.startribune.com]
Image credit: Star Tribune [www.startribune.com]
A number of famous journalists are alumni of the University of York: Nicholas Wapshott, a Reuters columnist and biographer; Steve Richards, The Independent‘s chief political columnist; and Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist and author. But the most famous journalist on campus at York today seems to be someone who neither attended the university to study nor has set foot on campus.

Milo Yiannopoulos, Tech Editor for Breitbart, played a large role in the 2015 International Men’s Day debacle at the university, penning an article about a male student’s suicide at the time that the university cancelled its IMD celebration. Other members of Breitbart‘s team alleged that the University of York does not care about male suicide and featured an article on “crazy women’s officers” including a “gloriously silly” York Women’s Officer who “has a curious preoccupation with the Third Reich.” Yiannopoulos wrote about the same officer separately.

The UKIP Society’s inability to afford a room and security, described by Yiannopoulos as “Part of the progressive Left’s ongoing campaign to make [him] the most delicious forbidden fruit on campus,” prevented the Tech Editor from paying York a visit. But Yiannopoulos got something out of it, as he always does: plenty of publicity – specifically, a number of articles in the student press, independent and regulated, condemnation from the Socialist Society and even some planned protests.

Last week Yiannopoulos made headlines when his Twitter account was removed permanently as a result of his involvement in the online bullying of a star of the Ghostbusters remake, Leslie Jones. (Yiannopoulos’ review of Ghostbusters must be seen to be believed.) Yiannopoulos’ supporters have come out in force, many siding with the man himself in making the argument that this is another example of Twitter’s left-wing authoritarian censorship of conservative thinkers. Milo Yiannopoulos is an honest man trying to make a living, they say; provocateur, an entertainer misunderstood by a left-leaning organisation. He has never called for violence; Twitter, they declare, is the embodiment of an evil superstate with no respect for freedom of speech, especially the freedom of speech of conservatives.

There is also the counterargument that without free speech, we make it impossible for a malicious, vicious opinion to be engaged and defeated. It’s an argument that Yiannopoulos has made himself and, to his credit, it’s a very good one. If there are some ideas at university, or in society as a whole, that are locked away, for which there are punitive measures awaiting those who utter them aloud, the abilities to learn and develop our own understanding are severely hampered. Some would go so far as to say that a university education is thwarted if the freedom of ideas is nonexistent. There must be no limitations on what we can talk about and write about. Bad ideas should be available to investigate and dissect so that we can learn from their inaccuracies and take away any good parts. People should be allowed to say something outrageous so we have the opportunity to repel them.

But Twitter has not removed the account of a wise old philosopher; it has not fiendishly censored an intolerable conservative opinion that contradicts its wildly socialist ideology. Yiannopoulos spends his time deliberately being an unpleasant wind-up merchant, riling people with insensitivity and lewdness. Shortly before being dimissed from Twitter, he was found to be reproducing fabricated Tweets in Leslie Jones’ name. It is right that we let extreme ideas be heard in order to counter them, but plain old deceit and mischief don’t advance anything other than hostility.

If Milo Yiannopoulos were booted from Twitter for being a conservative or voicing conservative opinions, Twitter would rightly be regarded as a free-speech-less site and a “no-go zone for conservatives,” as the Tech Editor put it. But he wasn’t; Yiannopoulos was kicked for smugly poking and baiting a very upset and frail person, a habit he has developed into a full career. Defending him on the grounds of freedom of speech is akin to saying that the school bully shouldn’t be put into detention because punching the class nerd in the face was his way of expressing himself.

Newspaper editors know that not all content sent their way is suitable for publication. To reject someone’s work as unsuitable is not a violation of their freedom of expression. Yiannopoulos engages in very serious discussions – criticism of modern feminism, LGBTQ rights activism, American politics, critiquing Islam – in the most immature of ways, on purpose, angering an awful lot of people along the way. It’s hard to defend someone’s freedom of speech if he exercises his freedom by willfully being a nuisance and a brute.

Though Breitbart records that he derided it, Yiannopoulos knows that his Twitter suspension will only bring him more attention. At least it’s one less Twitter provocateur out there.

Written in response to ‘By banning Milo Yiannopoulos, Twitter aids the racism it condemns’ by Robert Tibke, originally written for Nouse and published on 24 July 2016. You can read Tibke’s article here.

 

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Jack Harvey

Alumni & Public Relations Officer at The Yorker
Comment and Politics Editor 2015/2016, Editor 2016/2017, Alumni & Public Relations Officer 2017/2018 and acting, 2018/2019. Waiting to graduate with MA in Philosophy at University of York in 2019.