Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: no platforming and censorship are different

Some people genuinely seem to believe that no platforming and censorship are the same thing. It comes up every now and then, this annoying argument, like a turd that just won’t flush. And so I write this post, in an attempt to break it up with a butter knife before flushing again.

Let’s start by discussing what censorship is. Censorship is something that comes from the top down: it’s done by the government or the media, those with the power to control who speaks in the public domain. The aim of censorship is to quash dissent, to silence voices speaking out against their aims, and to maintain the status quo. Censorship can only be enacted by those who are capable of doing so: those who have the means of blocking webpages, redacting documents, editing what gets published, and so forth. Censorship is an expression of power.

Let’s compare this to no platforming. No-platforming, in contrast, is bottom up. Those who organise events can democratically and transparently decide who to invite, and who not to. Likewise, people can suggest to organisers that perhaps it is inappropriate to invite a certain person to speak, and democratically and transparently apply pressure to disinvite people. The aim of no platforming is to avoid giving someone who is known to be an active contributor to oppressive power structures any further airing, and to maintain a safer space. It’s a refusal of complicity in oppression. No platforming is enacted by ordinary people: trade unions, pressure groups, activists, and just the regular everyday sibling on the street. It’s a tool we can use because, unlike the government and the media, we have no direct control over public discourse: all we can do is choose who to listen to. It’s important to note that this is an aspect of free speech often overlooked: the power to not listen, and the power to challenge. No platforming is an expression of free speech and democracy.

Some don’t see it that way, and it’s no coincidence that these people tend to be the sorts to get themselves no platformed. It’s no secret that fascists hate being no platformed, and indeed it’s about the only time they care about free speech, and no surprise that people like Nick Griffin will play the victim and cry censorship when venues refuse to host his vile parade of fascists, or they don’t get invited to shit. George Galloway, rape apologist and all-round tankie bellend, famously threatened to sue the NUS after they passed a no platform motion against him. And, right now, reams of column inches are being wasted on whinging about how it’s unfair and mean that noted enemy of bi women, sex workers and trans women, Julie Bindel is no platformed in a lot of spaces.*

It’s no coincidence that when someone is no platformed, the media will gladly report on the no platforming, often uncritically repeating the hate speech that got them no platformed in the first place: someone who is no platformed will generally have their own platform within traditional modes of communication. They will be a media personality. That’s how people choosing to no platform will find out that a speaker is inappropriate: from public presence. No platforming is a pretty small weapon, all things considered. It’s like throwing a pebble at a charging rhino.

Nonetheless, it’s a weapon that those who benefit from the current system want to take away from us. Their sense of entitlement to our spaces knows no bounds, and their contempt for the will of the people is evident. And so they will do what they can to quash this tiny little tool that we have.

But remember this: no platforming and censorship are not the same thing. Censorship is their tool, to keep us down. No platforming is ours, and a niggling little thorn in their side.


*As an aside, yes, I once did share a platform with Julie Bindel. My mental health was poor at the time I agreed to do it, and I didn’t really understand what I was getting in for. It went better than it could have, but it was a mistake, and I own that mistake.

12 thoughts on “Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: no platforming and censorship are different”

  1. Very clear in all this that many of the people objecting to the no platforming never even heard of no platforming before a month ago.

  2. If platforming is done in an open and ethical manner, I agree with your distinction. For example, a conference on the topic of involuntary female circumcision in the developing world would be completely justified in restricting the participation of advocates of banning male circumcision. It’s a little off topic.

    However, when there is subterfuge involved to suppress evidence or opinion that contradicts the PC desired “truth,” this in effect can be held to constitute a form of censorship, in that it seeks to suppress views that dissent from the desired orthodoxy, even if this is an unofficial orthodoxy.

    Feminist activists at universities who seek to prevent or disrupt speakers such as Warren Farrell, Ph.D., and Professor Janice Fiamengo–to use examples that have recently happened in Toronto–are attempting to effectively censor these individuals when they have no lawful or moral authority to do so.

    1. Nope. Well within their rights to get rid of those people. A quick google revealed a very good case. This is not difficult.

        1. I hadn’t even got that far down the search results, his own wikipedia page is damning enough.

          Anyway. Nobody has to host that sort of dreadful person.

    2. So supporting sex working women and trans women is orthodoxy in feminism? Could have sworn it was the opposite.

  3. From Ditum sub header, “the no platform of now doesn’t target [EDL and explicitly fascist and right wing groups]”? What a whiny shitheel – OF COURSE it does, and what does it say about her/their concern for political, religious, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities and immigrants that whoever wrote that didn’t bother to research how antifascists have recently engaged with such groups? How selfish can she be that her anti-bisexual and transmisogynistic message has to take center stage over the antifascist struggle? This should smell bad anywhere but the far right. One hopes she’s merely IGNORANT of fascist developments and the struggles against them, not positively interested in misleading others about them (whether by lying in the headers or happily sharing the post). I doubt they’d think her as useful as she does them, though.

  4. I have my own criticisms of No Platform, but they’re generally focused on being too narrow. Take, for example, the classic BNP/EDL No Platform policy. The justification of it is to not allow racists platforms, the fact that Jack Straw can get away with calling students at his alma mater “Stalinists” in the student newspaper because they banned him from speaking ten years ago for being a racist shitheel.

    Of course, the Student Left didn’t get up in arms about that interview when they got up in arms with the Nick Griffin interview a few weeks before.

    And really, when it comes to university unions and the like, it’s down to their duty of care. NUS LGBT will probably think “do we serve our members by inviting someone who attacks them and fights against the rights” when they enforce a No Platform on Bindel. After all, Trans Caucus in NUS LGBT are often belittled at Conference already (but are still able to punch above their weight due to a more uncompromising activist base).

    Of course, even in that case, you’ll get S’onewall employees invited to speak. Wes Streeting even tried to use the Safe Space Policy against me for calling him out on S’onewall transphobia last year (whilst there was a massive violation of safe space by the cis gay men. Plus ca change, y’know?).

  5. Unless a particular organisation has a duty to impartiality then
    it can have who ever it chooses on its platform. And also who
    ever it chooses not to have. And so stavvers is absolutely right
    to say that denying some that platform is not the same now as
    censorship. For they can still express their freedom of speech
    This is so obvious it should not even have to be mentioned now
    But here is some thing interesting – on George Galloway s wiki
    pedia page it quotes him as saying that he will not debate any
    one who is Israeli. Now I wonder if anyone could explain to me
    why it is alright in that instance but not when Feminists choose
    not to debate him because the principle is precisely the same ? I
    myself have a rule that I ban no one and that is because I do not
    know where to draw this imaginary line that is supposed to exist
    But if someone bans me then I just accept it and so do not take
    it any other way. For it is good when that happens as it teaches
    one humility. I have been banned by Feminists and Christians
    but I do not hate them. My words,. My responsibility. So I have
    no choice but to accept the consequences and that is how it
    should be every single time for every single one of us. Zero
    exception. Absolutely none whatsoever

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