Censorship probably does work

I saw this article about the alleged futility of censorship They’re Just Going to Start a New Hate Site, Obviously

I think Freddie is coming across as blasé or out of touch. It’s the trendy intellectual thing to believe that ‘individuals cannot make a difference’ or that ‘powerful people don’t know what they are doing’. There is also a sort of cognitive dissonance or contradiction in which we must oppose the left’s censorship on the grounds of preserving free speech yet believe that censorship is not effective? If truth or free speech always will prevail, why do we care what the left does?

Censorship does work in the sense that it imposes a potentially hefty cost on the target, which is asymmetric: consider that it may take years or months to build an active Twitter or Facebook following, but seconds for it to be removed for violating some arbitrary TOS or ‘hate speech’ guidelines.

How can this not be effective when the power is so lopsided? It is effective…as discussed yesterday, in the span of just 4-5 years Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, and YouTube have driven off anyone to the right of Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson from those platforms. Making matters worse, being banned from one platform exponentially increases the odds of being banned from most or all of the remaining ones, including even small platforms. In other words, a sort of implicit collusion by otherwise ostensibly competing firms, which is what happened with Alex Jones. On August 6th, 2018, Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify all banned Alex Jones at once, and then Twitter a few weeks later also capitulated. Same for Stefan Molyneux, who was initially banned from YouTube on June 29th, 2020, and then a week later by Twitter. One of the last holdouts was Nick Fuentes, who finally banned in July 2021 after the SPLC and ADL teamed up to force Twitter to ban him. How this not a win? To say otherwise is a willful denial of reality.

Such individuals were thus forced to alt-tech platforms, which tend to be inferior due to less virality, less traffic. Indeed when Elon Musk in early April announced he had bought Twitter (which of course we know he hadn’t) and would reinstate previously banned accounts (which he couldn’t), all of these previously banned right-wingers flocked to Twitter to make new accounts, and all were promptly banned. If alt tech is so effective or if censorship doesn’t work, why would they all come back to Twitter so quickly when the opportunity arose? Because nothing comes close. Same for those imageboards/chans and tiny streaming sites, which are still inferior compared to YouTube or Twitter.

You’re not going to get the virality of Twitter on a much smaller or closed platform like Gab. Telegram by design, unlike Twitter, has no virality. Trump is on Telegram…after being banned from Twitter he explored legal options to get back on the site. Same for Roger Stone, who was also banned; both went nowhere. As someone in the comments correctly notes, censorship is about denying the censored individual an audience, not about the platform itself or the ability to communicate per say:

I will also repeat the point that despite the best efforts of the most powerful establishment governments in the world, drug cartels and terrorist groups effortlessly communicate via the internet.

History shows otherwise. The American mafia has virtually no presence in New York City and was completely banished from Las Vegas, because huge prison sentences, informants, and coordinated crackdowns by powerful governments do work. It’s about imposing a cost…make it high enough and people will quit. The oft-maligned war on drugs failed in the sense that drug use will always persist, but it succeeded by making organized drug crime in the US less profitable or too risky.

However there are limits to censorship in that overdoing it carries the risk of backlash or losing the narrative or pretense of impartiality, which is why Twitter cannot ban more conservatives like Ben Shapiro, just those outside of a certain range of viewpoints. Big tech companies have to juggle between profits vs. speech. It’s not so much that tech companies always want to censor but that they are compelled to, like the ADL forcing Twitter to ban Nick Fuentes. Hate/extremist blacklists compiled by groups such as the SPLC and ADL act as way to ‘pass the buck’ on censorship, which is bullshit because it’s not like the ADL can legally make Twitter or any company do anything.

Some individuals survive censorship better than others. David Shor, a respectable , accomplished individual who was terminated merely for citing a statistic which went against the BLM narrative, bounced back and his career made new highs. Professors who get cancelled (I am conflating censorship with cancellation, but I think they are similar in that they are both attempts at suppressing some sort of viewpoint) have good success with platforms and revenue sources such as podcasts, Substack, Patreon, etc. because they have brands, connections (such as other academics), and are still respectable, but censorship is most effective against individuals who have none of those attributes: no brands, no connections, no careers or respectability. There is no Substack fallback plan if you’re a nobody whose employer doesn’t take kindly to your criticism of BLM or Covid guidelines.

The left, correctly, knows that although censorship cannot eliminate an idea, quarantining bad ideas or imposing a heavy cost for expressing said ideas (like being fired) or having your websites perpetually taken offline (Daily Stormer), is still better than nothing. For all intents and purposes, is there any meaningful difference between an idea being killed off, vs the idea being suppressed to such an extent that for all practical purposes it is dead? This sort of high-mindedness or head-in-sand notion that ‘censorship doesn’t work’ goes against the reality that it does.

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