Google’s censure of right-wing outlets over repulsive racist content was pushed by the UK’s Center for Countering Digital Hate, an outfit with strong ties to the Labour right. As awful as outlets like the Federalist are, do we really want Blairites who claim Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite to decide what is and is not acceptable to publish?
Censorship is a dangerous game.
No one with liberal or left sympathies wants to give hate and bigotry a platform. But dealing in terms so malleable and easily contorted means that attempts to simply banish unpleasant things from our discourse by decree often means letting people with vastly different ideas of what those words mean decide what should and shouldn’t be allowed to say.
A recent case illustrates this conundrum. Google’s decision to demonetize libertarian website Zero Hedge, and put the right-wing Federalist on notice over offensive content in their respective comments sections received a lot of attention last week. The Right was unsurprisingly furious, seeing in the move yet more confirmation of their vastly overblown theory of an anti-conservative bias among social media companies. Yet the move also saw well-reasoned pushback from the Left. After all, the Federalist may publish some appalling dreck, but do we really want unaccountable tech giants threatening media outlets over content they deem unacceptable, particularly when it’s in their comments sections of all things?
The pitfalls of this dilemma only get clearer when one looks at the organization responsible for mustering the pressure that led Google to act in this case: the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Despite the Americanized spelling, CCDH is a British nonprofit headquartered in London. More to the point, several of the figures involved enjoy links to the right wing of the UK Labour Party, which for years cynically used accusations of antisemitism to undermine the party’s former left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
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