Freedom of expression. That unalienable right we folk in the Western world hold so dear to our hearts. For Americans it is the First Amendment, inscribed into their Constitution as the maiden principle of American life and one, it seems, that is held almost as close as their cherished Second Amendment right – buying a gun to shoot children. For us in Britain we have our Article 10 right courtesy of the European Convention on Human Rights. Thanks to this, we can express whatever we damn well like without being incarcerated. Or can we?
It appears not. This week, Youtuber ‘Count Dankula’ was found guilty of a ‘hate crime’ for teaching his dog to salute like a Nazi. Pardon? That is not a crime, it is simply an offensive joke. Yes, the Nazis are not something to gag about – their existence is an atrocious stain on humanity – but this is not illegal. Anyone who believes this is unlawful has a microscopic grasp of what freedom of expression truly means.
‘It is offensive’, they will say, but who decides what constitutes offence in a democratic society? It seems as if social discussion has shifted from reasoned debate to psychological warfare. Our technology may be expanding faster than the Universe, but we as humans appear to have reverted to cavemen times. Can people no longer get along?
It appears not, and this is in part thanks to the ‘no-platform’ brigade’s crusade against conversation. Ah, no-platforming. The new phenomenon of not allowing someone the time or place to speak their mind, simply because their opinions are ‘offensive’, which has swept through universities faster than David Cameron departed Downing Street after Brexit.
In no period other than today have we experienced a band of wishy-washy social justice warriors, people who will do anything to block out individuals who don’t share the same thoughts as themselves. Vote Brexit? You’re a racist. Share ‘right-wing’ sentiments and want to speak at my university? Away with you, you bloody fascist. The issue with this, indubitably, is that it silences healthy debate.
If there is any example of why platforming works we should look at what happened with Nick Griffin, leader of defunct British National Party, when he was granted a platform on BBC Question Time in 2009. He and his backwards points of view were exposed as faulted before an entire nation, and his pseudo-racist political party collapsed into slow decline. It wasn’t until those anti-immigrant sentiments were again pushed out of society that Brexit came around and showed why healthy discussion is necessary for democratic discourse.
‘No-platforming’ leads to cult-like beliefs gaining an unmediated prevalence in society, only reinforcing rather than stunting the views it tries to suppress. Having an opinion, especially one that is ‘socially unacceptable’, is not illegal, but the only way to remove those toxic thoughts is to prove them wrong through debate. However, as cherished author George Orwell would probably stress, the ‘Thought Police’ have arrived, and it looks like they’re here to stay.