Writer Paul Mason, known for his bestselling book “Postcapitalism,” is no fan of Donald Trump or the so-called “alt-right” that helped heave him to victory in 2016. But in a recent column for the New Statesman, Mason argues that the key to defeating the alt-right ideology is not in coming up with better arguments, finding more charismatic politicians, or even out-meme-ing them on social media. No, the only way forward is to outright ban them from their public spaces.
And he knows just where to start: YouTube.
From the column:
Some students of the alt-right argue that, by censoring them, we feed their narrative of paranoia. That is a danger. But YouTube is not a civil society in miniature: it is a business, and has business ethics and a reputation to maintain. It has already kicked the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones off the platform; it would be very easy to remove not just the open fascists but any of the useful idiot brigade who knowingly platform them and drive customers to their books and lectures.
To do this would require a mixture of redesigned algorithms and prudent human judgement, challenging the fiction that YouTube and other social networks are “platforms not publishers”. It would mean YouTube’s executives having to take an overt business decision that they do not want their platform to be the primary means of spreading far-right ideologies such as “race science” or anti-vaccination mythology.
Throughout his column, Mason takes at least as much exception to the people he calls alt-right “enablers” as he does the purveyors of the ideology themselves. In doing so, he also exposes the real problem with this kind of approach. Even if we were to sharply define “alt-right” as solely belonging to blatant white nationalists – which you cannot do – it still leaves a wide swath of new, anti-leftist thinkers who have shown a willingness to adopt many of the right’s arguments when it comes to modern day liberalism. Will YouTube ban Sam Harris, an avowed liberal and a frequent critic of Trump, because he had Charles Murray on his podcast? Will they ban Jordan Petersen or Brett Weinstein, both of them left-of-center intellectuals who are urging the West to resist the left’s worst modern impulses? Where does it end?
Well, that’s really not a difficult question to answer. YouTube – and all other major social media platforms – should always, always, always err on the side of free speech. Boom, problem solved. And if the rise of the alt-right or any other ideology that Paul Mason finds abhorrent is a problem in and of itself, that problem can be solved with better arguments, better videos, and better use of the platforms themselves. YouTube (and Twitter, and Facebook) should be an open playground of ideas. Banning people and ideas we don’t like is not just ineffective, it’s un-American.