Ah, “no-platforming”… a somewhat controversial tactic attributed mostly to the snake people generation. And for those with that particular browser extension installed, I actually did write “snake people” there.
It goes something like this.
Step 1: Person [A], while on a book tour, or speaking tour or generally milling about trying to justify their inexplicable life, says something monumentally awful. Like, I dunno, “trans-women are just men pretending to be women and grotesque” or “slavery was the best thing to happen to blacks” or “let’s stone the gays because God says so”. That kind of thing.
Step 2: A student union rep (it’s often an SU, you know, those major bastions of establishment power…) says “that’s bad” and follows the condemnation with some action, namely “I don’t want to debate you, and I don’t want to pay your travel expenses to host you any more”.
And that’s it. Literally, that’s it.
I don’t really want to condone the practice, exactly. To me, it’s a little petulant and often a case of SU officers trying to pretend that they wield actual power and responsibility – ha, as if! And it suffers from the occasional misfire that will see an under-represented voice quashed.
But, despite all that, it’s not exactly a major thing.
Say, you cancel a speaking or debate gig with Person [A], then Person [B] – someone who otherwise never had the chance to speak – takes their place. Indeed, inviting [A] to speak effectively oppresses [B]’s exposure by default. There’s only so many hours in the day, and only so many pounds in the grant account to pay for train fares, someone is going to lose out at some point.
And, to be fair, no-platforming isn’t entirely unique to the world of supposedly molly-coddled students. If I call someone up and demand to use their living room to scream abuse at them, and then demand they pay me my travel expenses for the privilege and also give me free use of their megaphone to scream that personal abuse at them, they’ll almost certainly say “no”. And most people would agree that, in doing so, they would be within their rights. While not a perfect analogy, no-platforming isn’t a million miles away from that. “Oh, you want to take our money to come to us and speak? Sorry, we’ve seen the previews and we’re not interested, thanks.” Gee, that is something to definitely lose sleep over.
So, that’s it, nothing to it… oh, wait, sorry. I forgot. There’s a third step. Whoops, silly me, scatterbrain!
Step 3: Person [A] immediately goes total fucking apeshit everywhere. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, the news, newspapers, magazines, interviews, radio, TV… all to complain about the terrible oppression of their free speech!
So, there’s that, too.
And as much as I have a mixed-to-meh “well, it’s kinda naughty but not a big deal” attitude towards no-platforming, make no mistake – I think people engaging in Step 3 are the fucking worst.
Let’s take a look at it from a few different angles. If your only recourse to no-plaforming is to be interviewed in newspapers and magazines, and have your voice broadcast to millions of people, then your freedom of speech isn’t under threat.
This isn’t even a case of defining “freedom of speech” as “only the government can’t stop you saying it”; your freedom to speak literally has not been threatened at all. You just simply haven’t been invited to a small, insignificant corner of the world – congratulations, you’re now no different to the countless millions, nay, billions, that don’t get such privilege. You’re now invited to speak your mind at the exact same number of University of Fuck-Nowhere events as I am. However will you cope with such menacing injustice?
The oppression and censorship you claim literally isn’t happening to you. You have not been stopped from saying whatever you want.
This isn’t to say that if your only outlet really was that one-in-a-million shot at speaking in front of some students for 15 minutes, and you were no-platformed by some vindictive arsehole for no reason, that you don’t have a legitimate complaint. But 1) by-and-large, that isn’t what happens, and 2) I’m not addressing this to you. Please make your non-ironic stink and we’ll talk it over like grown adults in due course.
There’s an irony to how these people claim oppression by a simple act of a single person, or one, lone, insignificant organisation, not wanting to put up with their shit for an evening or two. Yet, often, the views being “censored” are very much of a kind that endorses (Warning: Social Justice Jargon Ahead) systematic oppression.
“Oh, you hate migrants, gays, transgender men and women…? Good for you, Skippy, but we’re not interested. We’re going to put your talk on the back-burner and invite someone with a more positive message, instead.” That’s it. That’s all that’s involved in this process. Yes, I’m sure it is a little tragic that we exclude people from certain aspects of one conversation happening in one place in the country at one time, but in the grand scheme of things I can’t help but shrug.
After all, if their speech was genuinely under threat, then how could we possibly know what they had to say in advance?
The answer: it’s 2016, we have the internet, and odds are they’ve been doing the speaking circuit for decades. We know what’s coming. I don’t need someone to come to me to say their piece – it’s out there, because speech in a western democracy is pretty free. We’ve read it. We were unconvinced by it. And those opinions are probably pretty mainstream, too.
I get it, I do. If you’re used to barging around getting your way, getting unrestricted attention and praise, and have people fawn over you saying “oh, aren’t you so brave saying these perfectly mainstream things in a safe environment!”, when someone comes along and slaps a boundary on you it will feel bad. But if your only opportunity to express how bad it really feels is in your nationally syndicated newspaper column read by millions, in a special magazine report with you taking centre-stage, in blogs shared by thousands, and on prime-time television and radio shows… just fuck off and get over yourself already because I’m sick of your bullshit.