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Jonathan Revusky, Linh Dinh, and Yours Truly on Internet Censorship

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FFWN recently reported on:

NYT devotes top of front page to propagandizing for YouTube censorship

First half hour: Jonathan Revusky takes a nuanced and ambivalent view. He suggests that defamatory big lies reported by various racist/nationalist types (like the supposed “Muslim rape army,” the alleged Cologne mass sexual assaults, “no-go zones,” and so on) are so bad that maybe we shouldn’t be too outraged if the purveyors get deplatformed.

Second half hour: Linh Dinh generally agrees with yours truly that anything that remotely qualifies as non-criminal political speech is protected by the First Amendment, that internet platforms are today’s digital town square and must obey the Constitution—and that the internet should basically be a free speech zone even for countries without a First Amendment. Free speech is a basic human right!

Note: If the internet censorship gets much worse, I may have to give up alternative journalism and go into the T-shirt business.


8 Thoughts to “Jonathan Revusky, Linh Dinh, and Yours Truly on Internet Censorship”

  1. Amin Abdullah

    I am muslim and I support everybody’s right to hate me if they wish, for whatever reason they deem justifiable.

    If they put their hands on me, then that’s another story

    1. Well, as far as that goes, I suppose you’re right that people can hate you (however ignorantly) for being a Muslim. However, I’m pretty certain that the basic idea that you’re expressing is wrong. Your idea (as best I understand it, anyway) is that you can draw such a clear line between physical and psychological violence.

      And that requires you to sort of gloss over the problem that the psychological violence is all too frequently a precursor to physical violence. When they start this stuff screaming that “all these Muslims are raping our white women”, it is, to all intents and purposes an incitement to real physical violence.

      So, more concretely, your position is that something like this is okay:

      Why? It’s free speech. This is okay as well:

      Why? It’s free speech. However, this is not okay:

      And this is not okay:

      The last two are not okay because they are actual physical violence, right? But the problem is that this whole stance requires you to blithely pretend that you see ZERO connection between the first things and the latter things. You see my point?

      I assume you’re a Muslim living in the West and the idea you are espousing is that you and others like you must just put up with all this hate speech, since that is “free speech” but what is not okay is actual physical violence. And then you ignore the fact that the hate speech, the psychological violence and the real physical violence are just different parts of the elephant.

      Now, I’m not saying there is an easy answer to all of this. One has to think things through carefully. But, what is a complete dead end, I am sure, is this stance Kevin was taking in the conversation, this naive “free speech uber alles” sort of stance. Look, a serious discussion of something must start with an understanding of what that something is. So, if you’re going to talk about “free speech”, you have to know what free speech is. I am quite certain that screaming that there is a rape epidemic in Europe when there simply isn’t, that’s not free speech anyway, not any more than shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater. So, I really believe that a serious discussion of these issues has to start with a recognition that there really is disgusting shit out there and it’s to be expected that responsible actors in society will want to do something about it.

      So, in the conversation, which I have not had a chance to listen to yet, I was at least trying to set up some framework to have a serious discussion, except Kevin kept trying to push his framework, which I am satisfied, is simply wrong. (I’ve tried to outline in this comment why it is wrong.) And, by the same token, that you, as a Muslim, can say that all this hate speech against your people is not a problem, only outright physical violence is — this is also a result of extremely weak, half-baked thinking. It just is.

      1. Hi Jon,

        That is a good reply.

        So as I understand it, your position is that if it is an incitement to real physical violence, it can and ought to be censored. I agree completely, and so do the courts. Incitement to (illegal) physical violence is not protected speech under the First Amendment. One can be arrested and convicted for it.

        But hate speech that is NOT incitement (or legally slanderous, libelous, pornographic, etc.) IS protected under the First Amendment. There is no “hate speech” exception to the Constitution.

        Deciding what does or does not constitute incitement to physical violence is presumably a job for law enforcement and the courts. It is not a job for Mark Zuckerberg or Alphabet Inc., except perhaps in the most flagrant and inarguable emergency cases. Why not? Because social media are the digital town square. They are de facto public utilities and must obey the First Amendment, just as those in charge of other public spaces, like physical town squares, must obey the First Amendment. That means they are required to leave it up to law enforcement and the courts to decide what does and does not constitute incitement to physical violence. (Or libel, pornography, or other categories of non-protected speech.)

        If Zuck or Alphabet Inc. violates the First Amendment by engaging in censorship of anything the courts are likely to rule is protected by the First Amendment, Zuck or Alphabet are committing treason, and the responsible parties ought to be tried, convicted, and executed.*

        *Note that this statement could be construed as incitement to violence—arresting an oligarch, dragging him shackled between prison and courtroom, and executing him after conviction and sentencing—would certainly be violent! But since calling for law enforcement and the courts to practice legitimate violence under the rule of law is banal and often virtually obligatory, such “incitement” is protected speech. Likewise, calling for immigration authorities to shoot people sneaking across borders if that is the only way to stop them, and to otherwise use violence to get them out of the space they are illegally inhabiting, would also be protected.

        1. So as I understand it, your position is that if it is an incitement to real physical violence, it can and ought to be censored.

          Well… no… the above is not really a correct characterization of what I was saying. Now, obviously, material that is an incitement to real physical violence is a problem, yes, but it is just one example finally. Suppose somebody put up a children’s cartoon, clearly directed at a very young audience, extolling the benefits of crack cocaine. In your world, would YouTube have the right to take down a video like that?

          Or there is the question of pornography. I’m sure any of these mainstream sites have a stated policy that pornographic material is unacceptable,right? Do you have a problem with that?

          You see, the real overarching problem here, Kevin, is that if you don’t very seriously think through what your position on these things is, you’re going to fall into some horrific traps. Traps that may well be deliberately set for you. For example, the Charlie Hebdo synthetic narrative had this great big trap, where a public intellectual is supposed to tacitly take the position that these cartoons portraying the prophet Muhammad buggering little boys are just “free speech”. So, in the synthetic narrative, the “terrorists” are attacking “free speech” by attacking these dirtbag provocateur cartoonists. I don’t think any of this really happened, but the point is that the narrative being put out creates these traps for people to fall into.

          You really don’t want to fall into the trap of backing yourself into a position where you’re defending even pornographers and drug pushers and the worst scummy people because…. free speech… liberty….

          Frankly, that’s a mug’s game, and I (unlike some people) am too smart to fall for it. (Well, I could fall for anything on a bad day maybe, but I’d like to think I am smart enough…)

          As for the “public square” analogy, there are established rules of conduct, millenary rules that people just all follow without even thinking about it much. You can’t go around in the public square with your dick hanging out, much less engage in sex acts in the public square. But, hey, I thought we lived in a free country, so why can’t we do it in the road?

          Well, I correspond with all sorts of people, but I don’t think that even the most extreme self-styled libertarians are that silly. (Though let’s face it. They are pretty silly.)

          Finally, in any sane world, there would be the basic notion that you have some “community standards” and certain material is simply unacceptable. Now, I understand full well that there is the problem that that the mechanisms to get rid of shit that should be got rid of will inevitably be used to censor legitimate dissident material. And that should be the starting point of a real conversation on this. NOT this idea that everything is basically okay and that it is so shocking that these corporations would want to remove material people put up. Because that’s really a dead end, Kevin.

          But hate speech that is NOT incitement (or legally slanderous, libelous, pornographic, etc.) IS protected under the First Amendment. There is no “hate speech” exception to the Constitution.

          Well, look, first of all, there is no precise legal definition of what is “pornographic”. There never could be, because it would vary greatly across different cultures. The last word, as best I can figure, in the U.S. context, was Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court, saying, over a half century ago, “I know it when I see it.” In other words, a man who presumably knew far more about the law than either of us was saying that he could not define what was pornography and what wasn’t. Similarly, there is not going to be a precise definition of “hate speech” and it will fall back on “I know it when I see it.” And then the question becomes whose call this is.

          As for the U.S. Constitution, the Worldwide Web is… worldwide. The extreme position that you can say whatever you want is not subscribed to by much of the world. You’re talking, unfortunately, like an American exceptionalist, who thinks that the U.S. is the world. Regardless, I don’t think that the U.S. Constitution really says that people like Paul Joseph Watson and Tommy Robinson have some unalienable constitutional right to put up Islamophobic videos on Youtube or Facebook. I’m not a lawyer but I am pretty sure of that. Besides, both of those “gentlemen” (using the term loosely) are Limeys anyway and the U.K. does have laws that disallow “hate speech”.

          In any case, the idea that everybody has the right to put up whatever material on these corporate owned websites unless some court (presumably in the appropriate jurisdiction?) says they don’t is not a feasible idea. For example, on the Unz Review, the decision of which comments get trashed are made by Ron Unz or maybe whatever individual he has delegated the task to. Now, I happen to think that far far more comments should be trashed there than are. However, the idea that Unz can only trash a comment if some court actually agrees with him on it… that’s obviously not a feasible idea.

          I mean, Kevin, the idea that the U.S. Constitution says that everybody has the right to put up whatever material they want on Youtube and the like is pretty dubious. And, as a practical matter, like… good luck with that

  2. Amin Abdullah

    I never said nor pretended that there was “ZERO connection” between babling hateful speech and concocting lies against an individual/group, and the potential for it to become the spark that ignites physical violence. There is that potential and strongly so.

    Still, I am not one of those who advocate suppressing and stifling what people feel like getting off their chest, no matter how negative it might appear. If their rambling and babling lead someone to turn physically violent and farther away from the path of wisdom, then they would have misled those who deserve only to be misled.

    Playing the spiritual police by shutting off what some negative people feel like screaming on rooftops, will NOT turn bad stupid people into good people, nor will it turn good people into bad people.

    Similarly, driving a car from point A to point B, might cause one to suffer a road accident and become paralyzed for life. Because of that potential, should we just stop driving cars so that nobody gets hurt ?.

    Engaging in hateful speech is “psychological violence”, ONLY if one decides to perceive it that way, ie : ONLY if the source of that negativity is held in high esteem and the recipient of it is thirsty for love and recognition from that source. You are walking on the street, some guy bumps into you and follows it by throwing insults at you. What does it say about you ?. NOTHING. The only thing it says, is that that guy’s heart is so polluted, the pollution is overflowing through his mouth, as the bible rightfully states :

     “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Bible(NIV), Luke [06:45]

    Being genuinely spiritual and being open to receiving Divine Guidance, is the prerequisite for peace, justice and stability in a society. Not the whims of bureaucrats, their courts, their concocted “rules” and “laws”.

    Pathogenic bacteria can not establish home on a healthy tissue, the terrain does not lend itself to being conquered.

    By the same token, having a TRULY free-speech and a TRULY diverse market of ideas in the society is more likely to be the terrain that raises people’s awareness and expell the parasites from it for good, than likely be the terrain that might cause some innocent people to get hurt. The potential good far outweighs the potential bad.

    1. Amin, we are not acquainted and therefore, forgive me if I make generalizations that do not (or you feel they don’t) apply to you. But here goes…

      Over the past while, I have become very surprised (though maybe it shouldn’t surprise me) at just how passive the Muslim community (or communities in the plural) in Western countries are in terms of standing up to this kind of relentless Islamophobic hate campaign. Their attitude seems to be something like one’s attitude towards mosquitoes on a camping trip. Like, this is just something we have to put up with sort of thing.

      Unlike you, I am not a Muslim, but taking a step back from all of this, is it not rather strange I am more enraged about this sort of garbage than you seem to be. In general, it seems that educated Muslims in the West are very very loath to express righteous anger about all of this. I can only speculate about why, but here is my own theory. Basically, the educated Muslim, frequently with a strong secular education in science, engineering, medicine, whatever, finds himself (or herself maybe) in a very delicate situation. If you vociferously protest all this Islamophobic propaganda, you understand that maybe you’re falling into a trap because they can then say: “Look how these Muslims do not respect our core Western values like free speech”.

      These are the parameters of the game being played — I mean, believing or affecting to believe that all this Islamophobic dirtbaggery constitutes “free speech”. But, in the end, you get this rather perverse result (that is what I would call it) where the educated Muslim, rather than expressing righteous anger about all of these calumnies, actually turns around and starts expressing his adherence to so-called “Western values” like so-called “free speech”. (It’s reminiscent of the Palestinian activists who literally spend more time denouncing “antisemitism” than expressing anger at the plight of their own people.)

      And then, ironically, somebody like myself, quite clearly not a Muslim, is the one who expresses that righteous anger.

      Now, I have no idea if you are being 100% sincere when you try to say that this stuff doesn’t bother you that much and the important thing is “free speech”. But I would make this point: as an individual, yes, it is your right not to feel so bothered by this kind of endless Islamophobic campaign, “Muslims are terrorists”, “Muslims are rapists” etcetera etcetera, but you can only speak for yourself, not for the other billion (or maybe closer to 2 billion, hardly matters…) Muslims.

      My position would be that it doesn’t matter very much if you can personally manage to convince yourself that all this endless shit being thrown in your direction doesn’t bother you that much. Because, frankly, your personal feelings as an individual are not really that important. (Nor are mine either…) The problem is that no demographic group should be subjected to this kind of garbage. If Buddhists, say, were being subjected to this kind of hate campaign, my stance would be the same, and if some guy were to argue with me saying that he is himself a Buddhist and it doesn’t bother him all that much, my response would be the same.

      Frankly, I find a lot of the stances that Kevin has taken to be principled and admirable but frankly, he’s making me cringe in this discussion.

      To say that people just have to put up with this kind of disgusting scumbaggery in the name of this wonderful abstraction called “free speech” is finally something that I reject. I think this kind of thing stems from a certain sort of wooly-mindedness.

      Now, there is another general point about all this that needs to be made which I’ll write separately, since this is getting too long. I would just make another point and it may offend you, but…. when you say this…

      Similarly, driving a car from point A to point B, might cause one to suffer a road accident and become paralyzed for life.

      I’m sorry, Amin. This is the result of horridly sloppy thinking. The car accident you describe is simply a random accident. Yes, somebody gets hurt, but unintentionally. These orchestrated vilification campaigns against Muslims are deliberate attempts to hurt people. If, by luck, it does not directly cause physical violence, it is still a deliberate attempt to defame people. The analogy with a car accident simply does not work.

      So, I really feel I have to say that if you do want to continue a dialogue with me, you have to raise your game somewhat. I’m not here to participate in some sort of intellectual special Olympics.

  3. Amin Abdullah

    “…Their attitude seems to be something like one’s attitude towards mosquitoes on a camping trip.”

    Maybe some of those muslims have finally understood the spirit of The Quran : ie, what truly matters is one’s standing with Allah, not what some mortals say to you, whether good or bad, whether individually or as a group.

    It is said that beloved prophet ‘Muhammad’ once used to have a jewish neighbor who daily used to dump trash at the doorstep of the prophet (to express his dislike I presume). When for 3 consecutive days, no trash was dumped, the prophet ‘Muhammad’ went to inquire about the trash-dumping neighbor to make sure he is ok.

    It is called “Flying High”. Islam is very liberating, I highly recommend it !!.

    As for the orchestrated vilification campaigns you are talking about, according to my humble observation, tbey are very childish and very impotent. They leave much to be desired (lol).

    While muslims are just people and therefore have their flaws and shortcomings, to my amazement, most non-muslim people I come across, say nothing but good things about muslims (and even Islam), are indifferent to the subject of muslim/islam, have muslim friends/acquaintences at work/at school, their favorite dish is at the local very affordable muslim restaurant…etc.

    As a matter of fact, just yesterday night, I engaged a non-muslim homeless man (of europeen descent, Brooklyn accent) and he started telling me how some muslim groups who bring food for the homeless every Friday & Saturday night are nice, have good food…etc, he knew their names, which particular mosque each group is from…etc. Or that black non-muslim man who was put in jail for 11 years because he dared defend himself against an armed robber, he wished usa had islamic law so he wouldn’t be wronged the way he was…etc. No need to go through the so many examples of how the anti-muslim propaganda doesn’t seem to reach a large segment of the population.

    The anti-muslim propaganda has effect only on the scared, bitter and stupid folks. They need an outlet for the fear and pollution brewing inside them. This is nothing new in human history. In other words, go ahead, hate and spew poison as much as you want. You will only end up chocking on it, if you refuse to come to your senses. (general “You”)

    I do acknowledge that some of what I am talking about above, might seem very remote intellectually to those who are immersed in the materialistic world, up to their eye-balls.

    To finish. If some muslims want to be offended and play the victims because somebody called them “terrorists” or “sand-niggers”, they don’t have my support nor my sympathy. They ought to be offended and make noise about real issues, issues that will – with the Help and Permission of Allah – make this planet a better place. Putting scotch tape on stupid people’s mouth, so that nobody calls them “terrorist”, will NOT turn this planet into a better place and raise people’s potential for spirituality (ie : the key ingredient for a better earthly experience).

    ” So, I really feel I have to say that if you do want to continue a dialogue with me, you have to raise your game somewhat.”

    Ok, next time I’ll try to make an appointment. My mother-in-law always say that I have to have extra brain cells implant and/or be cool and go back to school.

    1. Maybe some of those muslims have finally understood the spirit of The Quran : ie, what truly matters is one’s standing with Allah, not what some mortals say to you, whether good or bad, whether individually or as a group.

      I’m sorry, Amin. This has reached a point where I would have to decline to continue the conversation. The notion that Muslims in the West tend to be so passive in the face of these propaganda campaigns because they have reached some sort of “higher spiritual level” seems completely preposterous to me. It is very hard for me to believe that you are so foolish as to take that idea seriously. In any case, if you are that foolish, there is no point in continuing the conversation and if you are only pretending to be that foolish, then there is still no point. So either way…

      The anti-muslim propaganda has effect only on the scared, bitter and stupid folks.

      Well, I think that’s just wishful thinking. I continually find myself amazed at how helpless most people are against crude propaganda. An awful lot of run-of-the-mill Americans just believe all these horrid stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims generally.

      If some muslims want to be offended and play the victims because somebody called them “terrorists” or “sand-niggers”, they don’t have my support nor my sympathy.

      (Sigh.) Well, you’re just a fool. Regardless, I’m not continuing the conversation.

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