In light of a string of events at the University of California, Berkley, and on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, I feel that it is important to talk about how individual liberty, freedom of expression and the first amendment are all actively under attack from multiple sources.
Whether it be provocative speakers on college campus tours being shut down and physically threatened with violence if they choose to speak, or even something as simple as social media accounts posting content which may easily offend someone, the ability to express opinions, no matter how controversial, should not be limited in any way, shape or form within reason.
For example, UC Berkeley has struggled recently in allowing conservative figures to come on campus, meeting them with open hostility and violence for wanting to share their beliefs and have interaction with students who may even disagree with them for the purpose of advancing understanding and education.
Conservative speakers like Milo Yiannopolous, Ben Shapiro, Ann Coulter and Steven Crowder have all been threatened with personal harm simply for having the wrong opinions, to the point where Coulter had to cancel her event at Berkley in April due to rising concerns over violent protests. Similar results happened to Yiannopolous when he attempted to gather a “Free Speech Week” demonstration on Berkley’s campus in September but was shut down quickly by students who showed up at his first event and shouted down the speaker, which made it impossible for anyone in attendance to hear him.
Campus security continued to worsen the situation by requesting tickets from students to enter even though the event was a non-ticketed event, forcing hundreds of students to be stuck outside. In addition, the College Republicans at Berkeley claimed that the university stonewalled their plans to get more speakers on campus, stating that Berkeley was not responsive to the group’s efforts to work with the university and, on top of everything, set unrealistic due dates and fees with which the College Republicans could not comply in the time frame given to them.
At the University of Washington last January, Yiannopolous came to Seattle during his college campus speaking tour where he was scheduled to speak about online internet culture and what he viewed as the flaws of the fringe groups within the body acceptance movement. I had planned on attending this event however when I saw that riot police had been mobilized before Yiannopolous had even arrived, protestors had made homemade weapons, groups like Anti-fa and Black bloc showed up en masse, and that students outside the event were being pepper sprayed and attacked simply for wanting to see someone speak I decided against going.
Many of my friends who both agree and completely disagree with Yiannopolous were robbed of the opportunity to hear him speak and make up their own mind about his ideas. Rather, angry protestors took it into their own hands to decide for us that it was not something we had the right to hear or even criticize in an open forum. This kind of behavior from groups who wish to shut down speech is fascistic in nature, no matter what their reason may be for doing so, and measures need to be taken in order to ensure that freedom of speech does not become another victim of oversensitivity.
Groups like Anti-fa use misinformation and slander tactics in order to either silence their opposition or provide a reason for themselves to use force against people that they deem to be Nazis or white supremacists. They have labeled Yiannopolous, a gay immigrant who just got married to his African American partner, a white supremacist for his edgy choice in humor and very inflammatory criticism of groups like Black Lives Matter. Shapiro, a Jewish writer who, according to the Anti-Defamation League, was the number one journalistic target of anti-Semitic attacks in 2016, and was labeled a Nazi for his conservative message which caused his event at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be disrupted by protestors who shouted him down throughout the event.
Even in instances as small as campus activism, students who disagree with another’s point of view have been taught that if they are offended, cry racism or homophobia even if none is present, they can get opposition censored by the college and free speech limited to zones.
Social media and other entertainment programs are also not immune from having to deal with a massive influx of oversensitivity and censorship of users, as seen in the rapid changes that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are taking in order to police content. An example of this is YouTube heroes, a campaign started by YouTube which allows portions of the community to police others via mass reporting videos for content that they deem to be either offensive, dangerous or what they think is unsuitable for others to view.
As a result, some of the most popular content creators on YouTube such as Pewdiepie, Jon Tron and Idubbbz have seen numerous videos be deleted or placed in the age-restricted category regardless of the actual content.
Facebook and Twitter suffer the same issues with users either having their posts or accounts banned for reasons as simple as criticizing others and giving an opinion on sensitive subjects. Paul Joseph Watson, a writer and personality on the often criticized “Info Wars” news website, is a constant target for having account’s posts banned for the content of his videos, though that same standard is not held to other pages who post similar content with a different alignment. The group “FCKH8,” a group on the opposite political fringe than Watson who constantly uses swearing and slander to get their points across, have managed to remain on Facebook.
However, this issue has evolved past being an issue of Democrats and Republicans, rather it is now an issue of liberty for all citizens of the United States because when the freedoms and rights of one group are infringed upon it should be the responsibility of everyone to fight for them.
It is important to remember that disagreeing with someone fundamentally is not a reason to use violence against them Nor is it a reason to prevent them from speaking their mind simply because it may make someone uncomfortable. Rather, it’s a reason to have a discussion and to enhance the understanding of everyone involved.
When only one point of view is allowed to be expressed and people aren’t allowed to speak their mind or hear things which they may disagree with, no one wins. By preventing discussions from happening we are also preventing learning from taking place; no idea should be free from criticism the same way every idea should have the ability to be shared so that it can be criticized.
Richard Spencer and his band of tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists would have one less reason to come out en masse like they are now in Virginia and Florida if they were allowed to speak without a threat of violence and were instead peacefully protested so that discussion can happen.
Sound ideas have more power than any bullet, can cripple an authoritarian easier than any baton, and have done more damage to Nazis than any vigilante punk on the streets.