Speech Or Silence: Platformer Runs Away
Substack Apparently Is Not Sufficiently Censorious For Casey Newton To Feel "Safe" Here
Once again, we must acknowledge an important fundamental truth: Free Speech is a moral imperative.
After having done his level best to attackand drag the platform through the mud, is tucking tail and running away from the mess he helped create. I have spoken out before against his campaign for censorship on Substack, and I speak out against his complaint that Substack won’t censor (or won’t censor “enough”) now that he is exiting, stage left.
We should take a moment to read Casey’s own words, and understand his reflexive opposition to (indeed, hatred of) Free Speech.
And so, after reading the open letter from 247 writers on the platform calling for clarity on the issue, I waited for a response.
The response, from Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie, arrived on December 21. It stated that Substack would remove accounts if they made credible threats of violence but otherwise would not intervene. “We don't think that censorship (including through demonetizing publications) makes the problem go away — in fact, it makes it worse,” he wrote. “We believe that supporting individual rights and civil liberties while subjecting ideas to open discourse is the best way to strip bad ideas of their power.”
This was the moment where I started to think Platformer would need to leave Substack. I’m not aware of any major US consumer internet platform that does not explicitly ban praise for Nazi hate speech, much less one that welcomes them to set up shop and start selling subscriptions.
According to Casey Newton, the momentexpressed Substack’s commitment to Free Speech was the moment Casey Newton no longer felt welcome on Substack. The moment Casey Newton believed he would not be able to drive away content he personally deemed objectionable, he elected to take his content elsewhere. The moment Casey Newton was denied the authority he arrogated to himself to decide what others could write, post, and think, he could no longer stand to post content on Substack.
Nor is this my speculation on what Casey Newton thinks. He tells us this himself, explicitly.
I’m happy to take my lumps here. I just want to say again that to me, this was never about the fate of a few publications: it was about whether Substack would publicly commit to proactively removing pro-Nazi material. Up to the moment I published on Tuesday, I believed that the company planned to do this. But I no longer do.
Casey Newton wants Substack to police content and automatically strike down all content Casey Newton defines as “Nazi”. This is what he has said, in plain English. That he does not trust Substack to play Thought Police is his stated reason why he is running away from Substack.
The irony here, which Casey Newton blissfully ignores, is that such insistence on censorship not just of content but of thought is what authoritarians do, not what libertarians do. People who are truly committed to ideals of personal liberty and a Free Society do not seek to unilaterally cancel the ideas of others.
Before Casey Newton waded into this “Nazi” kerfuffle, I argued this same salient truth:
Fearful of “fascists”, they present censorship as a “pre-emptive strike”, arguing that the only way to hold the authoritarians among us at bay is to use against them the main tool of authoritarians throughout history: censorship. In their fear, free speech becomes the authoritarian’s pathway to power. In their fear, the only way they see to block the authoritarian’s path is to go down it first.
Implicit in all the arguments in favor of censorship is this admission that censorship is what authoritarians do. Thus, the argument for censorship is invariably the argument for authoritarianism. The argument for censorship is the claim that the “enlightened” few should exert power and dominion over an unenlightened humanity—and that somehow this will prevent the “evil” few from exerting power and dominion over a virtuous humanity.
Casey Newton, by running away from Substack, is admitting this truth to the world even if he may be denying it to himself.
While Casey Newton may hide his disdain for the thoughts of others behind a preening posturing against “Nazis”, the unavoidable reality is that, to him and his ilk, “Nazis” are pretty much all those who disagree with him and who do not share his moral certitude about his ideas.
Equally unavoidable is the reality is that hatred, even of so-called “Nazis”, is wrong.
"Anti-vaxxer" has become the modern-day equivalent of "Raca" ("Raca" was an ancient Jewish epithet suggesting a person was "worthless" and contemptible), a term of derision and hatred. When even our presumptively objective news media casually uses such language, there is no conclusion to be made but that hatred for others is being normalized in the world. The very thing God commands us to not do is becoming commonplace, ordinary, and habitual.
The moment we dismiss those with whom we disagree as “Nazis”, in that moment we stray from the path and wander into the weeds of wrong thinking and wrong conduct. There is no way to embrace our fellow man, no way to love our fellow man even as we love ourselves, while at the same time seeking to silence our fellow man and suppress his thoughts. There is no scenario where such casual hatred, such banal “othering”, can coexist with the moral imperatives of love, compassion, and justice.
For this reason alone we must embrace Free Speech as a moral imperative. For this reason alone we must acknowledge that Free Speech is foundational to a Free Society. If we as individuals wish to remain free in thought and in conscience, we must accord everyone else that same freedom of thought and conscience, even when—especially when—we find their thoughts loathsome and repugnant.
Perhaps he will find Ghost a more friendly platform to his urges to control and regulate the thoughts and ideas of others. I suspect the more likely outcome is that, ultimately, he will again find himself confronted by “Nazis” who have the temerity to formulate thoughts against his wishes, and express ideas at odds with his own. People are ultimately individuals, who think and feel all on their own, without the need of a Casey Newton for guidance.
Myself, I rather enjoy people challenging me with ideas I do not like. All debate begins with disagreement, and all learning begins with debate. We cannot learn and we cannot grow if we do not first disagree with each other. This has always been the nature of humanity and it will always be the nature of humanity.
Casey Newton may be fearful of “Nazis” online. However, given his embracing of authoritarian belief in the virtue of censorship, the “Nazi” he should fear the most is the one in the mirror staring back at him. That is the “Nazi” doing Casey Newton the greatest harm.
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