Global News is reporting today that the Trudeau government is considering forcing social media to remove “extremist” content. Ralph Goodale, the Public Safety Minister, has declared his intentions to purge your Twitter and Facebook feeds of content the government deems problematic or toxic.
“This has been a subject of discussion among ministers at the Five Eyes meetings and at the G7 meetings where ample discussion has been held on how we encourage the social media platforms to move quickly and efficiently to deal with toxic communications like this that incite violence and hatred and obviously do great damage to social cohesion,” Goodale said.
Of course the problem with this statement is that one politician’s idea of “toxic communication” may go beyond ISIS recruitment videos and vile Nazi propaganda. What authoritarian politicians and ideologues deem “toxic” is often just an average person’s cultural content.
After the horrific New Zealand terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch, media, activists and politicians acted in unison to blame cultural figures who had absolutely nothing to do with the massacre. A New Zealand bookstore even went so far as to ban Jordan Peterson’s self-help book. No one was spared from the misguided accusations. Not even Chelsea Clinton. And while all of this social panic is going on, journalists at major outlets are helping to spread it, (that is, when they’re not too busy writing pointless takedowns of their fellow journalists for being mean ten years ago). Seriously. What the hell are we doing? Where are our priorities?
As we’ve seen recently in all of the “Five Eyes nations”—England, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States—it’s very easy to broadly define a notion such as “toxic communication” in order to include harmless cultural figures: YouTubers like PewDiePie, Psychology professors and public intellectuals like Jordan Peterson, prominent atheists like Sam Harris, reformers like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali and Maajid Nawaz, musicians like Tyler the Creator, philosophers and feminists like Meghan Murphy and Christina Hoff Sommers, and comedians like Konstantin Kisin. All have been deemed to be “hateful” or “islamophobic” or “racist” or “sexist” or “gateways to the alt-right.”
It doesn’t matter that the “science” behind such censorious slander has already been debunked. It doesn’t matter that a book like Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life actually helps young people get their lives in order, promotes personal accountability, and helps potential problem cases avoid the pitfalls of online radicalization. It doesn’t matter that PewDiePie has helped countless young people suffering from depression find humour and comfort through his videos. It doesn’t matter that Ayaan Hirsi-Ali and Majiid Nawaz advocate for peace and women’s rights. None of this seems to matter. Corporate and government censors will likely march on, like dutiful firemen from Fahrenheit 451.
Those who care about individual freedoms have already observed that these freedoms are quickly stripped away in the name of public safety. Governments, universities, and even bookstores have a tendency to take good intentions to the extreme in a nanosecond. It appears that they will use any human tragedy as an opportunity to stifle free speech.
At first one wonders why the government even feels the need to do the dirty work of cultural censorship since the corporations are doing a pretty good job of it themselves. But when you consider just how effective government and monopolistic corporations are at eliminating unwanted culture when they act in concert, then it becomes clear what’s going on. They want you to consume only their culture.
This is where we’re headed: no more provocative or heterodox ideas allowed. A future when a bestselling self-help book or a comedic viral video can be determined to be hate speech.
On days like today, it’s hard not to lose hope, and it’s hard to conceive future where freedom of expression isn’t a thing of the past. On days like today, it feels that this dystopian future is already here for much of the western world.
For Canada, the only ray of hope is that there is a federal election coming up. I hope and I pray that Canadians will choose common sense over social justice and censorship—that we will trust our our own eyes over the “Five Eyes.” We may not get many more chances.