As many on this blog know, I have been a long and vocal critic of Louis Farrakhan, who regularly espouses racist and antisemitic views. Coming from Chicago, I have criticized Farrakhan for years, including recent posts. Nevertheless, the move by YouTube to remove the video channel of the Nation of Islam is in my view another example of private censorship of speech on the Internet. Many of us have denounced Farrakhan, but censorship begins with the most unpopular and obnoxious among us. This action places the Internet on the slippery slope where more and more speech is likely to be banned as offensive or hateful.
According to the Jewish Journal, the channel was taken down on October 2 with the statement that “We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies.”
There is certainly no question that Farrakhan spews hateful and racist viewpoints. However, we have seen in Europe how such regulation of speech leads to a frenzy of new demands from individuals and groups citing their own objections to opposing speakers. This has led to conflicting and troubling bans that raise bias on the part of these companies.
As discussed earlier, there is now a strong movement on the left to regulate and censor the Internet. Indeed, this taste for regulating speech has now become evident in the United States. I recently criticized the calls of Democratic leaders like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff for greater censorship of the Internet and social media.
The Atlantic published an article by Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods calling for Chinese style censorship of the Internet. They declared that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong” and “significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with society norms and values.”
The reason we need to oppose YouTube’s actions is not to support Farrakhan but free speech. The Internet is the single greatest vehicle for free speech in the history of humanity. Not surprising, politicians and governments want to regulate it and curtail it. This effort always begins with the least popular figures, but it never ends there. The presence of Farrakhan on YouTube is not nearly as dangerous as the loss of free speech in removing him from YouTube.