On the 7th of June YouTube demonetized conservative commentator and comedian Steven Crowder, after Carlos Maza—a self-described ‘Marxist pig’ journalist from Vox—pressured the Silicon Valley giant with incessant tweets, calling for the removal of the channel for what he perceived as ‘racist and homophobic’ jokes directed at him.
Yet to anyone who watched the video it was clear from the start that the reason for criticizing and mocking Maza had little to do with his sexual orientation, but everything to do with his radical views. Steven Crowder—in-betweens setting up debates with students on college campuses and defending conservatism in a playful manner—is an independent creator who spends a big portion of his time making fun and exposing left-wing outlets such as Vice, Buzzfeed, CNN, and indeed Vox, for their political bias and deceitful rhetoric. It just happens to be that Maza, being an employee from Vox and an outspoken advocate of far-left groups like Antifa, is often the target of rebuttals by the comedian.
At first, having reviewed his criticism of the Vox activist’s anti-Fox News’ routine, YouTube established that Crowder violated none of their policies guidelines, and that no reasonable grounds were present for taking any sort of action against him. “While we found language that was clearly hurtful, the content doesn’t violate our policies”, said the platform’s Twitter account.
(2/4) Our teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the flagged to us, and while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the as posted don’t violate our policies. We’ve included more info below to explain this decision:
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
Despite that, after mob-like pressure from the LGBTQ’s Twitter community and the constant ones from Maza directed at their account, the tech giant took disciplinary action against Crowder anyway. In the span of 48 hours, his entire channel was demonetized by YouTube, causing widespread negative reactions among the platform’s independent creators (who feared another #adpocalypse), and the conservative side of the spectrum. But most importantly, aside for exposing Maza as a narcissist and a coward, the move reminded everyone that in the era of political correctness, even if none of the rules have been broken, you still have to pay a price as long as someone with the ‘right identity’ feels offended. After all, Crowder might not have been guilty of breaking any of their rules, but in today’s cultural lens, being a straight white man—as opposed to gay and Latino—can be enough to be seen on the wrong side of a dispute and therefore someone not in the position of criticizing an individual like Maza.
But the unprecedented strike against the independent conservative creator still wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Despite Crowder’s channel (with over 3 million subscribers) was prohibited to ever make another cent, Maza continued to maintain that justice could only be achieved by the complete ban of the channel. Once again, the basis for his demands didn’t amount to much more than the claim of feeling ‘threatened’ by Crowder’s words. Many, taking defenses of Crowder, pointed out his hypocrisy in pushing the victim narrative. One of his most recent online outbursts, where he incited his side of the political spectrum to engage in outright violence against anyone who disagrees with him, was often highlighted. “Milkshake them all. Humiliate them at every turn. Make them dread public organizing”, read one of Maza’s tweets. The latter shed light on one of today’s many double standards where, for example—while an independent creator like Crowder is held accountable for making jokes—someone like Maza is allowed to literally instigate physical violence through a mainstream outlet like Vox, simply because of his perceived status as ‘marginalized minority’.
— Carlos Maza 🌹 (@gaywonk) May 21, 2019
In this mad and regressive mentality of the progressive left what’s even more frightening is that the technological establishment is giving up its neutrality in favor of identity-politics. This is, in fact, just the latest of a long list of episodes that proved that when it comes to enforcing their rules and take action, Social Media are completely biased to one side of the political spectrum. The list of evidence that political correctness has poisoned the Silicon Valley Giants’ judgment, has continued to pile up over the years. Since the firing of James Demore in July 2017 (the Google engineer found guilty by the Diversity Department for writing a memo that questioned preferential sex hiring and affirmative action policies), other controversial bannings from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube of prominent right-wing figures have often made international news and caused storms of online protests. Moderate liberal-centrist, conservatives, and libertarians, all fear the rise of an Orwellian technocracy; a dystopian future where corporations have the immense and unelected power to control the direction of the public discussion.
Twitter‘s CEO Jack Dorsey was one of the ones urged to defend his company’s reputation from the numerous complaints. In March, he agreed to be questioned (along with his trust and safety lawyer) for three and a half hours on the Joe Rogan Experience by journalist and youtuber Tim Pool. In what surely was an historic moment for podcasting and a significant turning point in modern journalism, the ex-Vice reporter—with the help of Rogan—exposed Twitter for their many politically one-sided policies, and repeatedly accused them of having a left-wing bias, creating an ideological echo chamber, and posing a threat to freedom of speech. Many controversial decisions by his team were brought up. But, when questioned about the various paradoxical decisions by his employes (all very similar to the feud who was then-yet-to-happen between Maza and Crowder), the duo in charge repeatedly failed do give a plausible and consistent justification. Pool continually pointed out, for example, the absurdity of rules such as the ones that allow accounts managed by Antifa to cheer for violence and call for the death of people (even after being reported on) while independent citizens like Meghan Murphy gets permanently censored simply for tweetings things like “men aren’t women”.
As of today, companies like Google (who owns YouTube), Facebook and Twitter, continue to be officially listed as ‘private businesses’ (just like a newspaper editorial). According to US laws, they are not obliged to obey the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. But at the same time, Social Media do insist on being non-partisan public platforms that promote open dialogue. This, conveniently, is what allows them to keep meeting the required criteria to be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In other words, all Social Media platforms can enjoy the legal benefits of being a private business, have complete control over the content that appears on their site (just like a publisher such as, let’s say, the New York Times), and at the same time all the legal protection of being a public platform (therefore rendering themselves immune from liability just like an operating system such as Windows or Macintosh). This obviously contradictory legal standard lays out a terrifying scenario. After all, in 2019, Big Tech’s opinion of the Trump administration doesn’t allow him to team up with Silicon Valley giants to circumvent the 1st Amendment. But, what happens if companies like Google or Facebook (with billions of users each month engaged in dialogue) will support a candidate in the future? Then they could—under current laws—ban anyone who criticizes him or his ideology, and effectively interfere in the electoral process putting American’s, and not only, democracy at risk.
Whether one believes Silicon Valley’s intent is a genuine attempt to create a healthy space for public discourse, or a simple PR self-serving marketing tool to look good in the public eye, the truth is that the lack of accountability for their actions generate a far greater danger than the one they claim to want to deal with. No reasonable person would ever question the existence of a line between inappropriate or appropriate language; no one doubts there’s a point where Steven Crowder’s jokes could cross boundaries and become ‘socially unacceptable’; but at the same time, no reasonable person would ever give anyone the power to draw that line in the first place. Hate speech is not, nor will it ever be a scientific and an objective category. That is the oldest and most effective argument often used by free-speech absolutists in defense of the 1st Amendment, and now, against Silicon Valley.
As John Stuart Mill said in his famous essay On Liberty: “If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this, is to assume our own infallibility.” The moment Silicon Valley decided to take matter into their own hands, going past and ignoring the already regulated and illegal forms of speech in the US (such as actual incitement to violence), they not only declared to be ethically responsible for the content of billions of users by deciding what language is acceptable and-what-not, but they also presumed to possess an infallible judgment when it comes to deciding what constitutes ‘acceptable’ in the first place. If we know one thing, is that in this era of political turmoil—where we seem to be far away from common sense consensus about what the difference between a comedian’s joke and an act of violence is—the grand debate should not be about how to regulate the obvious existence of hateful speech, but about who should get to define the concept of ‘hate’ in the first place. And if we can learn anything from all this unfortunate set of events, is that the last thing we need, is for corporations like YouTube to make those decisions for us.
by: Mark Granza
Click here to read the Italian version.