Facebook was right to ban Milo & company

Facebook was right to ban Milo & company

This is a conversation I have had many times with many people, and one thing I’ve observed is that there never seems to be one answer. That isn’t surprising because both core arguments make compelling cases.

Basically, it comes down to whether you believe we should live in a society where individuals are allowed to say whatever they think or a society where community standards restrict what can be said.

Here in Australia, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) makes it illegal to deliberately offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate others on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. It stipulates:

(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

Has section 18C stopped hate speech in Australia? Not at all. In fact, just recently my wife was verbally abused for being an immigrant and having an accent.

Violating section 18C isn’t a criminal offence — damages may be paid, an apology might be ordered, but no jail time can be handed out. A quick browse of social media comment sections also shows it doesn’t really act as a deterrent at the lower level. Free speech, as obnoxious and misguided as it can be, is alive and well in Australia.

Now, section 18C is a reasonable level of government intervention in free speech because it requires victims and the judiciary to respond rather than impose blanket restrictions. Anything beyond that would be an infringement on our democratic rights. For example, if the Australian Government attempted to ban material produced by Milo Yiannopolous and company, I would be staunchly against it. My reasons are:

  • banning unfavourable content sets a bad precedent;
  • suppressing content that promotes hateful ideologies only drives subscribers underground; and
  • censoring out the ugly parts of humanity allows people to claim they don’t exist.

Having said that, I totally support Facebook banning Milo Yiannopolous, Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan. When people sign up with Facebook, they agree to the terms and conditions and the community guidelines as well as the consequences of breaking those rules. No one is forced to join Facebook, and Facebook has no obligation to provide a platform.

Why Facebook feels the need to have community guidelines and whether they are good or not is another discussion, but I often hear people complaining that free speech doesn’t exist anymore because of companies like Facebook taking strong stances on social issues. The truth is people have more freedom to speak their minds now than at any other point in history. The difference is, we are now being asked to take responsibility for what we say. If you cannot back up your opinion, that isn’t anyone else’s problem but yours.

In the cases of those subjected to the fresh Facebook ban, they simply can’t back up what they say. It isn’t that they have unpopular opinions — an unpopular opinion is saying pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza.

The problem is that some people make unfounded claims that cause genuine pain, such as Alex Jones saying the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax — a mass shooting that killed 20 students aged six and seven years old.

Facebook is within its rights as a company to take stand against bullshit.