Conservative groups have launched a new attack on the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), this time for reportedly assisting YouTube in tracking hateful content in videos posted to its site. A “source with knowledge” told The Daily Caller that the SPLC is one of YouTube’s “Trusted Flaggers” for tracking extremist content, including hate speech and terrorist recruiting videos.
According to The Daily Caller, this relationship “is likely to cause consternation among conservatives who worry that they may not be treated fairly,” because it’s a “left-wing group” that has designated “pedestrian conservative organizations” as hate groups. The Heritage Foundation confirmed this suspicion in a follow-up article objecting to the way the SPLC is supposedly “very loose about how it defines hate, and often recklessly lumps mainstream conservative organizations in with Nazis and other extremist groups.”
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson also jumped on the bandwagon this week, calling the SPLC itself “a hate group” that is “thoroughly discredited.” The Washington Examiner’s Becket Adams wrote Wednesday that “YouTube couldn’t have chosen a worse or less trustworthy partner.” And the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins once again blamed the SPLC for two different shootings, a baseless allegation.
According to The Daily Caller’s reporting, YouTube maintains a confidentiality agreement with its “Trusted Flaggers,” and the SPLC has not publicly confirmed it serves as such a partner.
The SPLC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The criticism is the latest spike in an ongoing campaign by conservatives to attempt to delegitimize the SPLC. Last summer, a coalition of anti-LGBTQ and Islamophobic groups penned an open letter to news organizations begging them not to rely upon data from the SPLC.
However, the attacks rarely address any of the data SPLC reports, instead targeting its trustworthiness overall, despite the fact that much of the center’s research is well sourced and easily verified.
Heritage, for example, critiques the SPLC’s latest report on male supremacy, which highlights groups and individuals that promote the idea that women are “genetically inferior, manipulative, and stupid” and that they owe men sexual intercourse. One of the people mentioned in that report, the American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers, has rejected her inclusion. “They’re blacklisting in place of engaging with arguments,” she told The Weekly Standard. “They blacklist you, rather than try to refute you.”
Ironically, Sommers doesn’t engage with SPLC’s arguments, which claim Sommers has provided a “mainstream and respectable face” to the concerns of so-called “men’s rights activists” (MRAs). Sommers has in the past echoed MRA arguments that feminists lie about the rates at which they experience rape and domestic violence, declaring in one 2014 speech, “I believe that the rape culture movement is fueled by exaggerated claims of intimacy and a lot of paranoia about men.” Her 2000 book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men warned that boys are being taught that their “very masculinity turns out to be politically incorrect” and that all the support to help girls succeed was somehow hurting boys’ academic success.
Rather than addressing those points, Sommers summarily dismisses the SPLC, claiming that its legitimate concerns are an effort to smear her reputation.
Similarly, the groups and individuals who signed the open letter last summer never addressed the well-documented anti-LGBTQ and Islamophobic records that SPLC used to justify its “hate group” labels. The Alliance Defending Freedom, for instance, has refused to confront its support for laws criminalizing homosexuality; Center for Security Policy founder and known conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney has demonized Islam by accusing people of promoting Shariah law without any evidence. Both have rejected that their hateful views are, in fact, hateful and claim that SPLC must have an agenda to label them as such.
Instead, many of the groups use phrases like “mainstream” or “pedestrian conservative” to define themselves, and couch their prejudices as being part of “conventional, Judeo-Christian values.” They hoping to steer the conversation away from the hateful values they espouse by painting themselves as innocent victims and the SPLC as a boogeyman.
The groups’ attacks on YouTube for supporting the SPLC, then, are part of a wider effort to ensure bigoted ideas can reach and influence others while maintaining that facade. Heritage calls YouTube’s partnership with the SPLC “a worrying trend in the high-tech industry to tip the political scales away from conservatives.” The Daily Caller likewise cited libertarian Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle, who warned last year, “Given the increasing tendency of powerful tech companies to flex their muscle against hate groups, we may see more and more institutions unwittingly turned into critics or censors, not just of Nazi propaganda, but also of fairly mainstream ideas.”
Such claims depend on agreement that intolerant views about LGBTQ people, Muslims, women, and other groups are “fairly mainstream” and worthy of consideration.
UPDATE: The SPLC has confirmed to ThinkProgress that it is, as reported, a member of YouTube’s “Trusted Flagger” program.
Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said in a statement: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is greatly concerned about the spread of white supremacist propaganda online and believe that tech companies should enforce their own terms and service agreements.”