Facebook recently permanently banned several purveyors of extremist hate and violence, including Louis Farrakhan, Laura Loomer, Paul Joseph Watson, and Alex Jones (again). They claim this is being done to keep us safe. However it only puts us at risk, because these people will now radicalize offline, much as top Nazi propagandists were radicalized while sitting in prison under Weimar ‘blood libel’ bans intended to protect the Jews. They can watch us, because in most cases Facebook allows them to view the site, but will give an error message if they try to post. Meanwhile we can continue to post and watch ourselves having fun, blissfully ignorant of what is going on outside.
Facebook doesn’t provide a reason for the ban, but we can surmise what it is in each case. They illustrate why banning doesn’t work and is likely to backfire.
Farrakhan was banned because he is ‘antisemitic’. However in fact he is also homophobic and misogynist. He has many race-supremacist ideas. Targeting him for ‘antisemitism’ only makes his followers hate the Jews – even though most originally had no antipathy toward us to begin with. Then we do the same to other black icons like Angela Davis and Alice Walker, who are socialist. The result is that we polarize all black people (right and left wing) to hate us (as opposed to gays, feminists, capitalists, Christians, etc.). Some may then attack us in the street and we cry, “Antisemite!” It seems like irrational hate, but in fact is easily traceable to our own actions. The fact that people hate us for different reasons does not mean they hate us for no reason. It does not mean that antisemitsm is therefore irrational and its spread can be explained by ‘tropes’ – the modern day equivalent of a witch hunt.
So now Farrakhan and his followers can radicalize offline and plot against us, and we can’t see them as we chuckle at pictures of our friends’ pets. I can’t challenge their misconceptions, and more importantly I can’t rebut my fellow Jews’ defamatory characterizations of them. We are not safer now.
Laura Loomer is a Zionist most famous for handcuffing herself to the door of the Twitter headquarters in New York City last year. She was probably banned for her many provocative stunts. I agree she crosses the line, and I suspect she is egged on by her followers who don’t have her best interests at heart. I’ve offered her advice, as I too was banned from Twitter. But she didn’t want it. I don’t have much sympathy for her, but as with Farrakhan I am unable to challenge her or her followers to help them see that Twitter and Facebook are not the problem. Instead they need to engage people like me instead of blocking us. They end up self-radicalizing in their echo chamber and have no way to know that they’ve gone off the rails.
Alex Jones was banned apparently for doxxing people and claiming that Sandy Hook was fake. In my travels across the internet I’ve come across him very rarely. I think however we as users need to do a better job of challenging people like him, instead of just watching and waiting for them to cross the line and ban them.
Paul Joseph Watson was probably banned because he is islamophobic. Again I am now unable to challenge him and his followers. They will almost certainly grow stronger and more radical. Watson is now demanding that the government step in to force Facebook to lift the ban. This is very hypocritical of course, because he’s a free speech advocate. It’s up to us to fight together. But he has shown no support for opposing voices like mine, even as I defend his.
Facebook and Twitter gave us the power and privilege to fight hate speech and incitement across the world from the comfort and safety of our living rooms. But instead of seizing it and becoming sofa superheroes, we instead sign a petition demanding they ‘do something’ and pat ourselves on the back for our slacktivism. So they called our bluff and we have only ourselves to blame for this predicament. Jack Dorsey was criticized for going to Myanmar on vacation and spending time relaxing and getting massages when his social media behemoth was being blamed for genocide of the Rohingya. However the opprobrium was short-lived as we came to the realization that Jack actually took us to Myanmar with him and we were perfectly capable of fighting the hate ourselves.
Blocking our adversaries is like going around the world in virtual reality glasses that filter out any threats. It obviously doesn’t make us safe. Furthermore, followers and sympathizers will use coded language to express the same ideas in increasingly evasive and pernicious ways. Or they will retreat to the dark corners of the internet where they are easily radicalized. The result is an escalating cycle of purity tests and purges that turn into a witch hunt and can lead to war as is happening again in Europe. Fortunately we are increasingly appreciating the ways in which this can backfire. We must stop ignoring ideas we find repugnant, and confront and debunk them. Otherwise we will cause another genocide.