You may not know it, but there’s a political purge underway, right here in the United States.
Its victims are free speech martyrs; men and, well, mostly men actually, who bravely stand up to the tyrannical power of Silicon Valley and fight for the right to say that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened, that date rape doesn’t exist, and that “race realism” is a thing.
I’m talking of course about the online purge of the far-right.
Ever since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August, tech companies have been under increasing pressure to ban outspoken far-right and white nationalist accounts, the argument being their inaction allows for hate speech to spread with ease. The calls have only been amplified after the mass shooting at Parkland, Florida, where the teenage survivors were subject to a far-right conspiracy theory claiming that they were “crisis actors” paid to advocate for gun control. Online, survivors were treated to vicious trolling, with some having to leave Facebook because of “graphic death threats”.
In response, tech companies have cracked down. Alex Jones’ Infowars, which was at the center of claims that the Parkland survivors were crisis actors, is now reportedly one strike away from being permanently banned from YouTube. The video hosting platform has also permanently banned Infowars’ conspiracy theorist-friendly correspondent Jerome Corsi, far-right troll Baked Alaska and white nationalist sympathizer Carl Benjamin, otherwise known as “Sargon of Akkad”. YouTube also gave a strike to popular far-right broadcaster Mike Cernovich.
GOOGLE/YouTube JUST TERMINATED MY YouTube channel ( jrlcorsi ) without NOTICE or EXPLANATION — Stole my FEB EARNINGS — gone — CENSORSHIP now COMPOUNDED BY THEFT @realDonaldTrump @POTUS @AjitPaiFCC So, @ericschmidt is now a HARD-LEFT THIEF, in addition to a CENSOR – outrageous pic.twitter.com/ZHuxUwzxda
— Jerome Corsi (@jerome_corsi) March 1, 2018
But the far-right purging isn’t just limited to YouTube. Last Wednesday, online publishing platform Medium suspended the accounts of Cernovich, along with Pizzagate advocate Jack Posobiec, and fellow conspiracy theorist Laura Loomer. “We have all seen an increase and evolution of online hate, abuse, harassment and disinformation,” Medium said in a February 7 blog post. “To continue to be good citizens of the internet…we have strengthened our policies around this type of behavior.” The online chat service Discord has also joined in on the purge, shutting down several white nationalist chatrooms, including one belonging to Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group responsible for five murders.
Naturally, far-right pundits are furious about this. “We need some kind of constitutional amendment or mass movement…in order to re-assert the supremacy of free expression,” Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson told Breitbart. “This speaks to the wider phenomenon of how society has become so coddled and infantalized that stridently challenging the views of public figures is now being treated as ‘bullying’ and ‘harassment’.”
To be fair to those on the far-right, Big Tech hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in its ability to regulate the social networks in helped create. Over the past year, companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have lurched from policy to policy, trying to combat harassment but often creating collateral damage.
In December for instance, female comedians said that they had been repeatedly banned from Facebook for posting comments like “all men are scum“, which violated the platform’s hate speech policies. On Wednesday, YouTube admitted that it had removed some right-wing videos from its platform by mistake, angering conservatives further. Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey, meanwhile, admitted on Thursday that his platform still doesn’t have a coherent policy for tackling hate speech.
We’ve focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. This is the approach we now need.
— jack (@jack) March 1, 2018
But here’s the thing — for years the far-right has been able to traffic in hate and harassment online, with social media platforms doing very little to combat it. Provocateurs, conspiracy theorists, and trolls like Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich have seized upon this, increasing their own fame and exposure and allowing far-right ideas to infect mainstream political discourse.
Now, under the looming threat of government regulation, tech companies have finally started to take action against the loopholes and apathy which initially allowed the far-right to flourish online. That, more than any talk of censoring political ideals, is what makes them angry.