'Free Speech' Cowardice At The MRC
The Media Research Center laments that alternative social-media operations get deplatformed for serving as outlets for far-right extremism -- which it rebrands as "free speech" -- but it can't be bothered to support them by establishing a presence there.
By Terry Krepel
For a while now, the Media Research Center has been pushing the narrative that social media operations like Facebook and Twitter discriminate against conservatives -- while almost completely ignoring the existence of alternatives until they face deplatforming.
The first mention of one at the MRC's main content site, NewsBusters, came in a Sept. 10 post by Corinne Weaver complaining that Google removed the Gab app -- a Twitter alternative -- from its Android store for violating hate-speech policies (though this actually happened more than a year ago). Over at MRCTV, folks were a little more vociferous toward Gab:
So, with all this conservative hate against Twitter, you'd think the MRC would be highly motivated to just abandon it altogether and move all its various promotional accounts to Gab? Weaver vaguely alluded to one reason why it hasn't by acknowledging that Gab "has some questionable users" -- but she failed to elaborate further on how exactly "hate speech" got Gab kicked out of the Android store.
As Ars Technica pointed out, Gab is the place to go "when right-wing trolls and outright racists get kicked off of Twitter," and the site doesn't ban content that attacks people based on their race, gender, or other protected category. Additionally, Gab's frog logo looks not unlike Pepe, the cartoon frog alt-right extremists have adopted. The MRC considers itself to be a respectable right-wing organization that doesn't associate with such fringe elements.
Yet, the MRC kept complaining about attacks on a platform it would never dare use. Weaver complained on Oct. 29 that Gab was getting cut off by a host of "tech providers and website companies" in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre after "media complained about the shooter’s Gab account, where he posted anti-Semitic sentiment on a regular basis." Weaver further complained: "The New York Times wrote that Robert Bowers, the alleged synagogue shooter, had found a 'haven for white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other extremists' on Gab. The piece criticized Gab for not prohibiting “hateful speech” on its platform."
Apparently, according to Weaver's framing of the issue, the problem is not the plethora of hateful content on Gab and lack of policing by website operators; it's that the media found out about it. If only so many people hadn't found out about all that "free speech" going on at Gab!
The MRC did basically the same thing regarding the deplatforming of another alternative social-media operation, this time a YouTube alternative named BitChute. Alexander Hall wrote in a Nov. 15 post:
“Go create your own website” has been a common reply to conservatives concerned about Big Tech censorship, but now Leftists can shut them down even when they do that.
Hall curiously didn't mention what content on BitChute might have resulted in PayPal cutting off its services. As one website documented:
The front page of BitChute greets visitors with videos on very specific topics: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, censorship and conspiracy theories like "PizzaGate." Conspiracy videos capitalize on recent tragedies, alleging that survivors of the Parkland high school shooting are crisis actors. ... It’s the type of content that, if they were on YouTube, advertisers wouldn’t want their ads placed on.
Hall went on to complain:
When conservatives have previously voiced their concerns about the deplatforming of various Youtubers, many leftists and libertarians often smugly reply that in a free market, companies have a right to deny service, and that conservatives should build their own platforms. The issues with this line of thinking are twofold: 1) It is extremely difficult to build alternative platforms (consider how Google+ with all of their parent company’s resources and reputation, failed to provide a remotely competitive alternative to Facebook) and 2) Payment processors that keep platforms up and running can deny their services with no repercussions.
But mainstream conservatives are generally not affected by deplatforming -- far-right extremists are. And if the MRC were truly concerned about YouTube censoring content, it wouldn't have its own YouTube channel that, as far as we know, no content has ever been censored by YouTube (we certainly would not have heard the end of it if it had).
Once again, the hollowness of the MRC's deplatforming complaint is exposed. Just as the MRC never quit Twitter to move to Gab, it never abandoned YouTube to join BitChute. It has no standing to complain about deplatforming of social media outlets it never bothered to cultivate or support, let alone provide any content to. After all, it's easier to complain about Twitter on Twitter, and complain about YouTube on YouTube, than from another platform for which an audience has to be built.
It's saying something about the content on Gab and BitChute that even the MRC didn't want to associate itself with it -- which makes it cynical for the MRC to denounce their deplatforming without telling its readers about the content that caused the deplatforming.
Hate becomes "free speech"
The idea that alternative social-media operations -- which, again, the MRC offers no support beyond lamenting when they get deplatformed -- and individuals who engage in hate are really providing "free speech" was being taken to new extremes in January, largely by hiding the actual content of that "free speech." Hall complained in a Jan. 9 post:
Even when entrepreneurs build their own platforms and use alternate forms of money, companies can still shut off their cash flow.
Again, Hall refused to note the specific content that keeps getting Gab deplatformed -- in this instance, its reputation as the place to go "when right-wing trolls and outright racists get kicked off of Twitter."
And, again, we would remind the MRC that if it really believed that Gab was all about "free speech," as Hall insists, it would quit Twitter and move that branch of its social-media operation there (and it would quit YouTube and move its video operations to BitChute). But it's not -- because it's cynically denouncing the deplatforming to perpetuate its narrative that social media platforms discriminate against conservatives when it would never permit the content that got those operations deplatformed on the MRC's own websites. (Remember, Tom Blumer got fired from NewsBusters for including white-nationalists links in his posts.)
Gab is not the only beneficiary of Hall's attempt to rebrand right-wing hate as "free speech." Hall wrote in a Jan. 17 post that "Two free speech YouTubers from the UK have been demonetized for unclear reasons." Hall seriously soft-pedals the first, Tommy Robinson:
The video that Robinson was punished for was titled “TOMMY ROBINSON: GOODBYE 2018, BRING ON 2019!” He summarized his ongoing fight against grooming gangs in England, as well as successful fundraising he had organized for English communities.Grooming gangs became famous with the Rotherham Scandal, when it was exposed that UK politicians and police had ignored 10 years of largely Pakistani gangs sexually exploiting English girls.
In fact, Robinson is an anti-Muslim activist who violated British law placing strict regulations on what can be reported in the media during an ongoing trial; the regulations apply to all trials, not just the trial in question. Robinson was jailed because the offense violated terms of a previous suspended sentence, not for the act itself. In fact, Robinson's violation almost derailed the trials he was reporting on, which could have allowed the suspects to go free.
Hall also noted that Robinson is the head of the English Defence League without mentioning that the EDL is a far-right anti-Muslim group.
Hall did, however, hint at why the other person, who goes by the name of "Count Dankula," was deplatformed: he's a "Scottish Brexit-supporting internet comedian who made headlines when he was arrested for 'grossly offensive' hate speech. His offense was uploading a video where he taught his pet pug how to raise its paw in the 'Heil!' gesture to annoy his liberal girlfriend." Hall bizarrely passed no judgment on this offensive act; instead, he gushed that it made him "a free speech icon online with a successful YouTube channel."
Hall touted Gab again in a Feb. 19 post, fawning over its "downloadable add-on that will attach a comment section to every website," which he declared is "a workaround for critique on every liberal news report, Wikipedia page, or site that otherwise would be able to delete or shut off comments." Hall again benignly described Gab as "a free speech alternative to Twitter," obliquely adding that it "has been criticized as being extremist-friendly" but saying no more on the subject.
Perhaps because it knows where its bread is buttered, and raging against Twitter on Twitter is an attention-getting narrative it wouldn't have if it just up and quits Twitter to rage against it on Gab -- it's more profitable to stay than leave. Bozell admitted as much in a round of self-aggrandization after a 2016 meeting he and other conservatives had with Facebook: "I explained from our standpoint between the Media Research Center and For America, my other organization we have some 19 million Facebook fans."
After all, as one observer noted (on Twitter, natch), a right-wing-only social network "will give users no way to trigger the libs, and so what's the point? People will just get bored."