Why attempts to silence Whaleoil will always have the opposite effect

It is an open secret that Whaleoil’s readership increased substantially when The Dirty Politics Hack was revealed. Not only did it increase our readership at the time the news hit, we also retained most of the people who came to see what the fuss was about. The hack and the book were designed to cause such carnage that Whaleoil would be forced to shut down. Failing to win the contest of ideas on the internet, certain individuals on the left instead conspired to silence the opposing voice by breaking the law.

Now we have three academics who want to do a Colin Craig and try to intimidate us with money and lawyers in order to silence Whaleoil by financially crippling us. These academics chose to enter the robust arena of politics and didn’t like it when the opposition body slammed them into the canvas. Their  intention is to use their defamation case to create a “chilling effect” on political discourse. They don’t want “toxic bloggers” and private businesses to have the freedom to criticise their views and opinions.

Incomprehensibly, these same individuals consider it their right to attack private companies and hurt their businesses while they are being paid by the taxpayer. They are allowed to lobby while paid by the government yet want to deny the exact same right to businesses and individuals wanting to lobby the public themselves. Their actions are a clear attack on free speech that will have serious repercussions for every New Zealand blog and media outlet if they succeed.

Thankfully, in both the case of the hack and the court case started by the three troughkerteers, these actions will have the opposite effect to what they intended. An article written at Harvard Politics.com explains why.

what actually happens when annoying—or even hateful—voices are silenced?

According to Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos, they get louder. Yiannopoulos is a recently popular conservative activist, particularly among younger audiences.

…protestors recently stormed the stage at DePaul University and blocked the entrance to his event at UCLA.

At first glance, critics of Yiannopoulos may rejoice when they read about these protests. If you believe that spreading Yiannopoulos’s message is harmful, shutting down his events appears to be an effective way to limit his influence. Why, then, does his popularity tend to skyrocket in response to these demonstrations? One plausible explanation is found in psychological reactance theory. Research supporting the theory suggests that people have a strong emotional reaction when they perceive their freedoms to be violated. In other words, there are people who will not agree with what Milo has to say—but who will defend his right to say it. This may explain why Yiannopoulos’s twitter following increased dramatically when Twitter removed his verification earlier this year.

Disruptive protests help Yiannopoulos’s movement in two main ways.

First, they give Yiannopoulos more visibility. A conservative speaker giving a talk at a college generates relatively little media attention. A headline like Milo Mayhem: Activists Storm Stage, Threaten Milo at DePaul Event” allows the speaker to trend on Facebook. The increased visibility gives Yiannopoulos the chance to convince those who disagree with him and strengthens his following.

Second, disruptive protestors provide evidence for Yiannopoulos’s claims about the “regressive left” on college campuses. Yiannopoulos frequently argues that campus activists suppress the voices of conservative-minded thinkers, and use fear—rather than evidence—to propagate their views. When protestors prevent Yiannopoulos from hosting events, they prove Yiannopoulos’s points for him.

…It is equally important to point out that discourse is a two-way street. If opponents of Yiannopoulos expect to change the minds of his supporters, they should also be open to changing their own views. It is easy to straw-man Yiannopoulos and his supporters as hateful bigots who cannot be reasoned with. However, this ignores the nuance of their stances. Yiannopoulos does not oppose feminism because he believes men are superior to women; rather, he disagrees with specific stances that he believes characterize the modern feminist movement. For instance, he argues that feminists do not have sufficient evidence to support the existence of a wage gap between men and women or a rape culture on college campuses. He does not oppose Black Lives Matter because he is a racist but rather because he disapproves of their separatist tactics.

Many campus activists will not find his arguments compelling. But in order to make that judgment, first they must understand what he is actually advocating. To be fair, Yiannopoulos is by no means the epitome of civil discourse. He uses sensationalist phrases like “feminism is cancer” in order to draw attention and stir up his crowds. He has even dressed up as a male stripper and been carried into his events on a throne. But at the very least, he is willing to have a conversation. He deliberately offers arguments that are rarely discussed on college campuses, and he makes a point to include Q&A sessions at his events. He is more than the sum of his ideological viewpoints—he is a representation of what it means to have strong beliefs (and an equally strong personality) while remaining open to discourse. Engaging in discourse with those who disagree with us is not only the best way to change their minds—it is also the best way to change our own views and develop more sophisticated arguments.

The rise of Yiannopoulos can help to explain the rise of Donald Trump. Both have attracted followers that feel silenced, ignored, and invalidated by the left. Both will continue to receive sympathy and exposure if their opponents continue to aggressively and instinctually dismiss their views.

… A political system established to encourage discourse and compromise has succumbed to partisan bickering. In order to save it, we may need to confront those we most disagree with, listen empathically, and fight the urge to silence or invalidate them.

-harvardpolitics.com


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