Dec. 21st, 2014

This has come up recently. But apparently it needs saying again.

"Not giving someone a platform" is not the same as censoring them. Censoring someone involves shutting them up. Giving someone a platform - by inviting them to write an article or make a speech, say - is encouraging them to speak. Not giving them a platform doesn't shut them up, it just doesn't encourage them to speak in a particular environment.

Many organisations or collective entities offer platforms to speak. They might be literal, like a chance to speak at a conference. Or they could be virtual, like this site I'm writing on right now. This one is not a very big platform, because the only people who observe it are people who who watch my writings and people who follow other people's "loves" and comments. Another site with more traffic directed to this article would be a bigger platform. A column near the front of a national newspaper would be a pretty big platform.

No-one is obliged to offer their platform to anyone else. A collective entity doesn't have to allow anyone a speech. A newspaper doesn't have to print your letter rebutting their article the week before. I can delete any comments you might leave. That's not the same as censorship. You aren't being denied every platform in the world. You just aren't being allowed access to the one in question.

The owner of the platform can lay down acceptable content rules. This site has rules. Sometimes these rules will be entirely to do with the rules the owners operate under. They need to obey the law where they are based. They might need to obey certain rules to gain funding for their platform.

Sometimes the owner of a platform will lay down politically-motivated content rules. For example, an internet-based queer community is not likely to want their community filled with threads about how heterosexuality is the only way to live. As such, they will probably take steps to remove such threads and the user profiles used to post them. Similarly, if Friends of the Earth are having some kind of conference, they are not likely to invite a spokesperson from BP to give a speech.

Note that in these examples, nothing stops BP or the proselytising heterosexuals from speaking. BP can afford to have their own conference with speeches. They have a website where they can publish what they like. They can create posters and flyers expounding on whatever the subject is. They can buy advertising space. They can, in short, buy an incredible amount of platform space with their incredibly large stacks of cash. The proselytising heterosexuals are probably less well backed, but nobody is stopping them from having their say. They could get a website. Or a blog on some free website. They can form a local group and have long chats about it in person. They could probably afford to print out some flyers and flyer some part of a busy street, if they think this message so important.

Whereas, if they were being censored, the police would track them down, arrest them, and throw them in prison. I expect readers can observe a difference between those two outcomes.

So when, for example, a journalist who has a platform in a national newspaper, and a platform on the internet, and could publish a book if they felt like it because they know people in the publishing business and are a recognised name, finds themselves being no-platformed on ethical grounds by groups who disagree with the things said journalist says and stands for... well then, said journalist should just get over it. If people aren't inviting you to speak because they don't like what you'll say, then clearly you shouldn't be going to their events.

For those wondering, the specific trigger for this writing is Julie Bindel. But it applies to quite a few people, and the frequent cries of "freedom of speech".



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