You can’t defeat racism with censorship

Calls for social-media censorship in the wake of Wiley’s anti-Semitic rant are dangerous and wrong.

Fraser Myers
Topics Free Speech UK

Afer his unhinged and seemingly interminable anti-Semitic rant, the rapper Wiley has been dropped by his management and is being investigated by the police. As if that weren’t enough, his tweets have provoked renewed calls for tighter regulation of speech on social media.

Home secretary Priti Patel has demanded an explanation from Twitter and Instagram as to why they took so long to remove Wiley’s posts. ‘Social-media companies must act faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms’, she said. For Labour’s shadow culture secretary, Jo Stevens, Twitter and Instagram’s ‘failure to tackle these high-profile examples of hate speech’ apparently ‘shows why we so desperately need proper legislation to force the social-media companies to keep people safe online’.

There is now a clear cross-party consensus in favour of state censorship of the internet. Labour’s main criticism of the Conservatives in this regard is that the government has been too slow to implement its proposed ‘online harms’ legislation. These new rules represent the most draconian crackdown on the internet in any Western democracy – something ministers seem oddly proud of.

It seems there is almost no social issue in the world today which cannot be answered with controls on social media. Racism? Regulate social media. People voting for populist causes? Regulate social media. People dying in a pandemic? Regulate social media.

But there are many reasons why we should oppose any and every attempt to stifle free expression – even if that means defending the rights of rappers to rant about the Jews (or some other ethnic group of their choice).

First, it is simply a myth to say that social media is a haven for free speech (which for many would-be censors is synomymous with bigoted speech). Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and PayPal have all banned users who they consider to be spreading ‘hate speech’ – a definition which extends from conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and racist motormouth Katie Hopkins to left-wing feminists like Meghan Murphy and some Antifa organisations.

As well as overseeing their own opaque and unaccountable regimes of censorship, the social-media firms are already subject to the laws of the lands in which they operate. In the UK, where hate-speech laws, online-communications laws and public-order laws already conspire to undermine the right to free speech, nine people are arrested every single day for what they post on social media. Only last month, British police arrested a 12-year-old child for sending racist messages to a footballer. (And even when there are no legal restrictions on the average tweeter, such as in the United States, the phenomenon of cancel culture means that a few badly phrased or unorthodox posts could cost you your job or your reputation.)

When countries have tried to introduce social-media regulation on top of this, it has backfired spectacularly. It is clear why. For instance, by the time the whole internet had seen them, it might well have been obvious that Wiley’s tweets were racist and should therefore have been censored. But in order to censor content before it is seen by thousands, social-media companies have to act quickly. That tends to mean censoring first, asking questions later.

The NetzDG law in Germany, which threatens enormous fines of up to €50million on social-media firms if they fail to remove ‘hate speech’, ‘fake news’ and other illegal content within 24 hours, has forced social-media companies to take this approach. It means that all kinds of innocent people get dragged through the net of censorship and plenty of non-racist babies are thrown out with the racist bathwater. One such person whose old posts were removed was government minister Heiko Maas, who as justice minister was the very politician charged with drawing up the law. In France, new laws against fake news led Twitter to ban a campaign encouraging voter-registration which was produced and paid for by the French government.

If even government ministers and campaigns end up being censored, who could possibly know how many innocent civilians are also being silenced at the behest of some algorithm. Satirists are particularly vulnerable to being unfairly censored as even human censors are sometimes too obtuse to recognise their intent.

But more important than any of that is the fact that censorship does not and cannot defeat bigotry. It has become something of a cliché to say we need social-media regulation or hate-speech laws to prevent rising racism or even a second coming of fascism.

Leaving aside the histrionics of such predictions, they ignore the historical truth. In Weimar Germany, the Nazis and their ideas were censored – regularly, in fact. Leading Nazis including Joseph Goebbels, Theodor Fritsch and Julius Streicher were all prosecuted for hate speech before they rose to power – and Streicher was imprisoned twice. The Nazi publication Der Stürmer was regularly confiscated and its editors were taken to court on at least 36 occasions. Anti-Semitic speech was explicitly prohibited by law, leading to more than 200 prosecutions in the 15 years before Hitler came to power. ‘As subsequent history so painfully testifies’, writes civil-liberties campaigner Alan Borovoy in When Freedoms Collide, ‘this type of legislation proved ineffectual on the one occasion when there was a real argument for it’.

In contrast, the civil-rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s were intimately connected to the struggle for free speech. As historian Kevil Yuill explained recently on spiked, it is ‘always the powerless who gain the most from the freedom to speak out against their condition’ – and it is only the powerful who can establish the legal and regulatory limits to what can and cannot be said. Rules and laws around hate speech may be proposed in the name of protecting the weak, but ultimately it will be the powerful – in this case, governments or Silicon Valley tech giants – who will decide how those rules should operate.

Anyone who is serious about standing up to bigotry should go ahead and do just that. We should be winning the arguments in favour of equality and against racism, instead of demanding the false comfort of censorship.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: YouTube.

Let’s cancel cancel culture

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Colin Broughton

31st July 2020 at 5:09 pm

Racial feeling will never be ‘rooted out’. It can only be suppressed, at least in its more blatant And destructive manifestations.

Humans are visual animals and the appearance of someone is of prime importance when we go looking (thus) for a mate. There are exceptions of course, but generally speaking we tend to find sexually attractive and to mate with, persons who are visually similar to ourselves ie are of the same race and within that, fit persons who approximate to ourselves in the hierarchy of ‘looks’, intelligence and health.

Racial feeling and the tendencies which follow from it aren’t ‘bigotry’. They are evolutionarily adaptive behaviours which ensure that as many of our own genes as possible are transmitted to our offspring.

The idea that ‘racism’ can be ‘rooted out’ is yet another aspect of the environmentalism which ignores the fact that human beings are also animals, the product of millions of years of evolution. We certainly are not ‘blank slates’.

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 1:45 am

Indeed. One of the reasons I would never sleep with your father is his physical appearance, of course.

But there is no right for me to call your dad an “ugly old sack of ****” on Radio 4. Women deal with this censorship, mostly without complaint.

The Spiked team fetishise free speech so that if you set up a social media platform they’d be upset if you or your mum banned me after I create an account and start posting stupid messages about your dad.

My attitude is more grown up – I calmly accept that the social media platform business you create is your baby and I have no right to use it to mock your dad whenever I fancy it, even taking into account evolution theory and the fact I’m part of the animal kingdom.

Sean Lydon

29th July 2020 at 1:07 am

**You can’t defeat racism with censorship**

What does “defeating racism” actualy mean? In effect it denies Aristotle’s premise that man is the “political animal”. Zoologically man is a predatory pack animal. We can’t but see each other as rivals. All such animals vie for group status, organising themselves into “dominance hierarchies”.

Man alone represents such an arrangement back to himself symbolically as a system of relationships. Only man discourses politically. Once wolf pack dominance is established other members fall into line. Only man deliberately kills for dominance. Only man perpetually vies for status.

According to Marxist theory such laws are *ideology* masking economic dominance. Once economic development advances sufficiently such rivalries will dissolve. But all the evidence points in the opposite direction, that increased wealth only brings greater rivalry and resentment. Hence caste systems, keeping people apart, as a prophyalctic against rivalry. It’s notable how crime and discontent has rocketed since “civil rights”, i.e dissolution of US caste system.

Race understood as shared physical characteristics couldn’t but be a potent source of group identity. Hence Powell’s argument was always premised on numbers and concentration not race in and of itself.

If we didn’t automatically see others as rivals, both at group and individual level, even where we share the same racial appearance, we shouldn’t need laws and states to enforce them in the first place. There never has been, and therefore it’s safe to say never could be peaceful coexistence among such divergent groups. Certainly not in such numbers and in such proximity.

There are two realistic means of “defeating racism” which both amount to the abolition of the problem. 1. Separation, eg Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa which appears to be popular with many though never acted on. 2 Napoleon’s idea of forced inter-marriage. Otherwise racial strife is bound to proliferate.

We know that wherever the most violent and antagonistic group preponderate, whose identity is invested in their appearance to a degree out of all proportion to others, lawlessness and violence follow. There are no exceptions.

Race understood

ubik ubik

28th July 2020 at 11:08 pm

Wiley has every right to be a rabid anti-semite and Twitter has every right to set its terms of service.
This is what happens when you try to eradicate “hate” (ideas the majority doesn’t approve of).
“Hate speech” = free speech = protected speech

Zammo McTrotsky

28th July 2020 at 10:24 pm

Amazing! Fraser Myers has desisted from fatuous woke-baiting, straw-manning, well-poisoning rhetoric to write a basically excellent article, properly defending free-speech that doesn’t concede anything to the bigotry of the worst part of Spiked’s readership! This is the sort of thing that might actually persuade people who disagree with him (F*cking unreasonably, in this case) to actually think. Shame they won’t read it. If there was more of this from Spiked bigmouths, they might actually be doing the world a service.

Ian Murray

28th July 2020 at 7:58 pm

Spiked has rules about what can be posted.

Puddy Cat

28th July 2020 at 5:36 pm

We should ignore it. A bad past (especially when not experienced first hand) is a determination for the future. Ambition rather than envy.

Linda Payne

28th July 2020 at 5:36 pm

One thing that could be tempting is that those who don’t tick the diversity groups could end up playing the same game, ie racism against whites which is already happening and could be classed as hate speech, defend freedom of speech no ifs or buts

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 3:08 am

Plenty of ifs and buts. You should maybe compile a list of when you and your family freely choose to keep quiet about something.

When was the last time you self-censored in a public space?

When did your mum last keep an opinion to herself?

Korina Wood

28th July 2020 at 1:42 pm

The loss of Free Speech and Hate Speech Law sits squarely on the shoulders of the the Lazy Electorate. They cannot be bothered, and leave it up to someone else to do something. They elect the Clowns that created this law, or Clowns that failed to remove the Laws. Until people get up off their bum and tell their MP very clearly that they will not vote for them unless they Sign a document stating that they will repeal any Law that infringes on Free Speech nothing will change, in fact it will get worse.

Those 650 Snouts are not innocent either, and removing Free Speech it protects them and their corrupt dealings.

Who are the Muppets ?

mowin mowin

28th July 2020 at 12:03 pm

hello a great post

ubik ubik

28th July 2020 at 11:35 am

Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
-SCJ Samuel Alito (Matal vs. Tam, 2017)

God Bless the First Amendment.

Michel Houllebeq

28th July 2020 at 10:46 am

The double standards are off the charts though. Tommy Robinson got a lifetime ban on all his social media accounts and jail (twice) lets not forget (for reporting on muslim paedophiles targetting white children) even more insidious this all happened within days of Labour politicians asking for him to be banned in writing to facebook, youtube, twitter etc.

Jim Lawrie

28th July 2020 at 1:28 pm

Neither Tommy nor the woodentop above will be invited on here to have their views challenged. That would be taking free speech too far.

Gerry Mander

28th July 2020 at 9:49 am

“Racism” would not exist if other races did not come here.

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 1:39 am

If you ran the world you could prevent different races moving around and bring in legislation so that children didn’t get to hear American accents.

Gareth Hart

28th July 2020 at 8:53 am

Free speech is being replaced with safe speech as Government and society moves away from liberty and freedom toward health and safety.

Kevin Turner

28th July 2020 at 12:22 pm

That’s a good way of looking at this: the state acting as Über Mutter coddling and protecting her fragile and infantile progeny from the evils of the world – feelings replace facts; offence replaces dialogue.

Let’s face it, we don’t have free speech in this country (UK), we have licenced speech. And it’s not a great leap from licenced speech to compelled speech (à la Canada).

We need to ditch all this paternalistic and censorious legislation and remind people that they do not have a right to not be offended; that offence is both warranted and necessary in a liberal democracy; and that people do, in fact, have a duty to offend.

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 3:02 am

If you hate Jews, for example, or Leos, or Nurses or skinny women you have more opportunities to share that hatred with others than you would have had in the 1970s.

People love to moan and whinge and this “pity party”’ mentality can often blind people to exactly how good they have it.

You’ve got so much free speech.

Michael Stringer

28th July 2020 at 8:18 am

In the seventh paragraph it is stated that nine people are arrested every day, in the UK, for what they post on social media.

Where does that figure come from, please?

Mor Vir

28th July 2020 at 10:44 am

The Times did a FOI request in 2017. Figures are likely to be much higher as only 29 police forces responded, 13 refused and 2 provided inadequate information.

Michael Stringer

28th July 2020 at 12:50 pm

Thanks. Good to know.

Dominic Straiton

28th July 2020 at 3:39 pm

Arrests for saying things on twatter runs almost five times more here than in Putins Russia.

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 1:37 am

which is a meaningless factoid for two reasons, then

1. We don’t have a clue what Putin’s Russia isn’t arresting people for or what Moscow’s motives around that are. For all we know, Putin urgently needs replacing with competent people who will arrest more people.

2. We don’t know why X in England or Wales, for example, has been arrested.

Put it this way: the Welsh maybe arrests more female pensioners than Malta. That statistic alone doesn’t tell us anything about either system.

The phrase “comparing apples and oranges” is used when people try to make a comparison between two totally different systems or things.

ropey wyla

28th July 2020 at 8:04 am

I am totally down with freedom of speech and would defend it to the death, however if you are writing something down you are not speaking and it becomes a legal matter hence the quite justified and morally correct arrest of those who spread racial hatred online. The answer is if you want to say controversial stuff, say it to your friends and let them police you. Don’t use these pathetic platforms, talk to real people about your views and take the consequences of your beliefs. As far as I’m concerned, fake book and twatter are mainly for sad little people desperately seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

Mor Vir

28th July 2020 at 10:53 am

Any society can restrict public speech that is contrary to its ‘values’, be it Iran, Saudi, China or UK. Any society can say that its values are ‘special’, exceptional and need protecting, there is no difference between them on that count. A society either respects free speech or it does not.

UK does not value and protect free speech. It is an exercise in how to impose the values and objectives of the state while maintaining a pretence of freedom and democracy. UK is not a free country any more than the others and the pretence needs to end.

Dominic Straiton

28th July 2020 at 7:46 am

I couldnt give a crap what anyone says about anything.

Angela Towers

1st August 2020 at 2:59 am

There could be various reasons for that. We don’t know you so we would need you to elaborate.

As an example: a woman goes online to tell people that she couldn’t care less if children die of starvation in England. Only after much research and quizzing is it discovered that she has a deep dislike of humans and a total lack of empathy due to childhood trauma suffered at the hands of her cruel mother.

A man can brag that he never gets jealous – right up to the day he falls in love with a married woman who sleeps with him three times but then tells him it’s over. From that day on, he’ll know jealousy.

tracen valentin

28th July 2020 at 7:20 am


Michael Thompson

28th July 2020 at 5:44 am

Even if censorship could end bigotry it is not worth it. Free speech is much more important than protecting someone from being offended. Free speech is a fundamental human right. Being protected from offence is not so.

‘Hate speech’ is the most manipulative phrase used in society today. What is hate speech other then someone expressing an opinion about someone else? If you break it down it is always just a matter of opinion which you agree with or disagree with. If you disagree then you should either ignore the person expressing the opinion or present counter arguments to refute them.

Just because you express opinions about Jews or black people or transgender people (or any other group who cry ‘hate speech’ whenever someone slights them) does not negate the responsibility of the listener to either ignore or refute the one expressing the opinion. All opinions should be responded to this way. Calling some opinions hate speech is just a way of trying to avoid the responsibility to ignore or refute.

The term ‘hate speech’ is unnecessary since all opinions should be dealt with in the same way. Any element of hate is irrelevant to the reasonableness or not of the opinion expressed. Protecting certain groups from hate speech is protecting them from the responsibility that everyone else has to either ignore or refute the opinions with which they disagree. Such protection is very undemocratic and you cannot claim to be in favour of ‘equality’ when you allow such favouritism for certain groups.

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