Words have meaning. Someone conflating words that have different meanings is doing so because of confusion or deliberate misinterpretation. The former is likely due to a lack of linguistic comprehension, the latter is distinctly Orwellian. In this case, deplatforming means to suppress or prohibit someone from using a platform, while censorship means to suppress or prohibit expression itself. Both involve suppression or prohibition, however that is where the similarities end.
Censorship exists within the public sphere, where legal protections for freedom of expression operate, if such protections exist at all. No such protections exist in the private sphere except where guaranteed by contract. This is because for such a law to be imposed would require a positive obligation on private individuals to provide a service, in this case a platform, which would be a violation of another fundamental liberty, specifically the freedom to associate or disassociate. News flash: There is no such thing as unchosen positive obligations.1
Deplatforming exists within the private sphere, where legal protections for freedom of expression do not operate. To deplatform is to exercise one’s freedom to disassociate from other individuals. The reason for the disassociation is inconsequential. An argument has been made that certain private services which cater to a large group of individuals are no longer private because of this largeness and therefore legal protections for freedom of expression should apply. This is specious. Private does not suddenly become public just because the number of people involved crosses some arbitrary figure. It is also beside the point. Deplatforming is concerned with the right to include or exclude, not the right to speak freely.
If someone does not like what another person says, writes, draws, etcetera, they are not obligated to listen, read, look, etcetera. If a guest in someone’s home starts saying things they disagree with, they can ask them to leave. It is their house, they make the rules. Same goes for a business, which is just a group of individuals. The principle does not change simply because of the number of people involved, if it did change it would no longer be a principle. Additionally, to make the claim that guests on someone else’s property are entitled to or owed a platform on which to express themselves is to make the claim that they own a percentage of that property, and by extension they own the part of the life of the individual who created or acquired it. A positivist formulation of rights can only lead to slavery.2
The principle applies to the internet as well. As an analogy, a social media website is akin to a private conference centre, with each channel or profile the digital version of a room or hall, the analogue equivalent. Users are the individuals who essentially rent a channel/room from the website/conference centre. They can also navigate to other channels/rooms. They can setup their room the way they want provided they follow the rules, however have no control over how others setup their rooms. When a user leaves a comment on another user’s channel, that comment can be deleted and the user blocked precisely because the user has the freedom to disassociate. When a user does not follow the rules, they can be kicked out, because the business has the freedom to disassociate.
So called “free speech activists” seek to end all that. They will either go the route of turning private into public and thus subject it to ever increasing government regulation, resulting in individuals been forced against their own volition to associate with one another by the guns of the state because certain “free speech activists” want to say whatever they feel like without consequences, or they will build their own platforms that prohibit the freedom to disassociate in the name of “free speech”. One could say they are a mirror image of the “social justice warriors” they fight against. Both want to force people together with inclusivity because “free speech” or “diversity” or tear them apart with exclusivity because “illegal immigration” or “safe spaces”.
What is clear is that the primary target of “free speech activists” is to destroy freedom of association just as the primary target of “social justice warriors” is to destroy freedom of expression. Both agendas must be opposed.
When censorship is conflated with deplatforming by people seeking to change the political landscape, whether intentional or not, the result is the same: Less freedom.
- See: Liberty as a lack of unchosen positive obligations and a lack of a guarantee of survival and flourishing
- See: Government control of immigration is a violation of individual liberty
Make use of the following additional resources to expand knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.
The entire unit, including all additional resources, can also be downloaded as a workbook to be used offline.