This week the ultra-right-wing Canadian commentator Faith Goldy was banned from Facebook and Instagram, after earlier being prevented from crowdfunding on Patreon, from the online payment system PayPal, and even from Airbnb.
The ban extends to pages and groups affiliated with her, and Facebook also banned, among others, the Canadian Nationalist Front, Aryan Strikeforce, Wolves of Odin and the Soldiers of Odin.
While specific reasons are seldom provided, Facebook explained that, “Individuals and organizations who spread hate, attack, or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are have no place our services.” I can be a little more specific.
In 2017, she posted a video from Bethlehem, claiming that the city’s “Christian population has been ethnically cleansed,” and calling for a new Crusade. At the time, she was a star contributor on Rebel Media, speaking of “White genocide in Canada.” While covering the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, she recorded the car attack that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer. She was eventually fired from The Rebel when she appeared on The Krypto Report on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. She also agreed on a podcast to recite the “14 Words,” a slogan considered iconic and even sacred among neo-Nazis and their ilk. She then publicly promoted a book called For My Legionaries by the genocidal fascist who founded Romania’s Iron Guard. And so on.
The reaction to this latest banning is not one of surprise that it happened, but at how long it took. I used to know Goldy, and even — mea culpa — provided her break in television on my old show. Back then she was certainly a conservative, but very much in the mainstream of the Canadian democratic system. I don’t really know what has happened to her and why but her reaction to this latest condemnation is indicative. “Our enemies are weak and terrified,” she tweeted, and “They forget most revolutions were waged before social media!” Which, of course, motivated her friends to blanket social media with their defence of both her and of apparent freedom of speech.
Which leads to a very interesting debate about the ethics of all this. Facebook is a private company and, unlike a public or publicly funded body or institution, has a right to ban whomever it wants. But, some argue, it’s so prominent within the public square of debate that to be prevented from participating in its discourse is a form of censorship. It should be noted, however, that Goldy is still on Twitter, with a far wider reach than Facebook, and there are also several far right, alternative social media platforms emerging.
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in some circles of what freedom of speech is actually about. Goldy and her friends are not being silenced, but some of their venues are rejecting them. It’s not particularly different from someone being allowed to speak their mind outside of one’s home, but not be invited into the kitchen to hold forth. It’s also just a little ironic in that some of those championing Goldy are hardly the most consistent advocates for liberty of expression. I can tell you from personal experience that social conservatives in particular — some of her most outspoken supporters — are past masters at censorship, and try, and often succeed, in silencing those with whom they disagree. It’s often more about protecting one’s own right to speak rather than that of other people. Free speech is rather like the golden rule: those with gold usually make the rules, those with wealth generally decide what speech is free, and many conservatives and right-wing activists now concerned about freedom said little until they themselves were challenged.
Then there is the nature of what is said by those on the racist and white supremacist right. It is often simply untrue, it aims directly or implicitly to divide and even cause violence, and it revels in what has become known as fake news. Vibrant discussion and disagreement is not widened and deepened by all this but made smaller, lesser, and certainly more angry. Even the most ardent libertarian would agree that freedom is never absolute, and that certain limitations must apply if a greater freedom is to be defended and upheld. The “freedom,” for example, to constantly denigrate and dehumanize a particular race has inevitable consequences, and history has taught us that authentic freedom can only be maintained if the roars of the racist are, within reason, controlled.
That via media, that sensible middle way, is vital in all this. Many Goldy fans have spoken, inevitably, of the slippery slope. Who is next, they ask, and what about when the state comes for you? First, this isn’t the state. Second, most liberal societies are governed by a messy, far from precise but still effective pragmatism. We have laws but we also conventions, manners, and instincts. The fact is that very few people are banned, they have to smash the regulations repeatedly to be so, and social media is still bursting with unsavoury and extreme positions. This far-right obsession with an Orwellian crackdown is self-serving hyperbole, because for once in their lives they have felt what it’s like to not be in control.
Goldy will find other sources of income and influence, her people will continue to salivate their enthusiasm and believe what they do, freedom will continue to shine, and Facebook will be a slightly more endearing and constructive place than it was. Hashtag “move on.”