In light of Glasgow University’s recent rector nominations, Donald Marshall and Chris Charnley debate no-platforming. View the against argument here.
The Glasgow University Rector election of the last academic year saw a petition of over 3,000 signatures call for the removal of two controversial candidates from the ballot: Milo Yiannopoulos and Professor Jordan Peterson. Only weeks before, the Queen Margaret Union prevented Yiannopoulos from engaging in a Q&A session via live stream, a direct result of statements made by the former Breitbart editor that violated the Union’s Equality and Diversity Policy.
Understandably, these actions can be construed as attempts to shut down debate over important topics, such as freedom of speech and expression. But this misses the point of no-platforming: it isn’t about preventing free speech; it’s about preventing the normalisation of hate speech.
No-platforming – the act of preventing certain speakers from using a public forum – has been a literal battleground between left-wing and right-wing groups at various points in history, most notably in 1936, when a unified effort of anti-fascist groups prevented the British Union of Fascists (BUF) from marching through the Jewish-dominant East End of London.
The repression of the BUF stifled the growth of fascism in Britain, but today it would be considered an interference in the right to peacefully protest. Similarly, the no-platforming of people like Milo Yiannopoulos – who has openly denied the existence of rape culture at universities in spite of evidence to the contrary, as well as exhibited transphobia and misogyny – is essential to inhibiting the normalisation of these views.
By refusing to grant speakers such as Yiannopoulos a platform, the spread of hate speech is checked by refusing them legitimacy as speakers. This makes it difficult for hate speech to be normalised on university campuses, and limits it to a specific online existence. Is this intolerant? Absolutely. Should misogyny, transphobia and denial of facts be tolerated? Absolutely not.
Those against no-platforming will likely say that by shutting down debate students are not made open to new ideas, making campuses into little more than echo chambers for left-wing debate. However, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of no-platforming: it is a method of denying hatred a voice.
Has it been misused on some occasions? Of course, there’s no denying that. That doesn’t mean that it is universally a bad means of resisting those who would hide behind the defence of free speech in order to spew vitriol and hatred without recourse. The Human Rights Act does not grant free speech as an inviolable right. There are limits to it, bigotry included.
With Donald Trump in the Oval Office, a man who has spoken and tweeted racist, misogynistic, and Islamophobic statements, the prevention of likeminded individuals from gaining any form of legitimacy is more important than ever. The normalisation of hatred based on race, gender identity; religion, disability, and sexual orientation has already taken hold in America, evidenced by the recent events in Charlottesville. The non-partisan Southern Poverty Law Center also recorded over 200 hate crimes in the day following Trump’s election, many of them in schools and universities – places that are intended to foster learning, not breed bigotry and hateful rhetoric.
Worse still, in an event not seen since the days of the Second Ku Klux Klan, a mix of white nationalists, Fascists, and neo-Nazis marched openly in the streets of Charlottesville at torchlight on the weekend of 12 August 2017. Swastikas were unfurled alongside Confederate flags. Chants of popular Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” sprang up. Numerous people were injured, and one person was killed when a car ploughed into counter-protesters. The alt-right had a legal permit to protest.
This is the result of giving a platform, and a figurehead, to hatred.