Complaining about censorship ahead of the 2020 elections, President Trump signed an executive order that encourages the Federal Trade Commission to probe whether Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media are biased against conservatives.
Such an order raises questions about de-platforming — excluding those who have the wrong politics on grounds that they are haters — to a new and welcome level. But it is mistake to focus only on companies dealing with information and communications, as is the case now. Yes, the educational system, traditional media, social media, non-profit organizations and advertisements are problematic. Of course, information has vast importance; but de-platforming has quietly and ominously crept much further and affects much of daily life.
Left-wing organizations (the Southern Poverty Law Center in the United States, Hope Not Hate in the United Kingdom) drive this trend by pressuring businesses to refuse commerce with “haters.” (Never mind that SPLC has its own severe problems). And while universities and the social media giants make a show of reaching out to conservatives, that’s mere tokenism. In fact, de-platforming overwhelmingly targets those on the right, including social conservatives, limited immigration advocates, anthropogenic climate-change skeptics, Islamism critics and Israel supporters.
Some examples of de-platforming in daily life:
Hospitality providers have jumped into the de-platforming business with gusto. On a micro scale, a restaurant owner expelled a White House official dining in Lexington, Virginia, for political differences. After this incident, Rep. Maxine Waters called on fellow-leftists to “harass” Trump aides: “they’re not going to be able to go to a restaurant, they’re not going to be able to stop at a gas station, they’re not going to be able to shop a department store.” The subsequent verbal assault on Tucker Carlson’s daughter must have pleased Ms. Waters.
On an institutional level, Eventbrite canceled issuing tickets for a talk by Pamela Geller for the New York Young Republican Club. Norwegian Cruise Line dropped Rebel Media after it had booked and advertised a cruise. Hyatt Hotels and Mar-a-Lago canceled events hosted by Act! For America. Airbnb de-platformed Jewish hosts living on the West Bank (while still accepting Palestinian ones). Uber and Lyft expelled Laura Loomer from their car-share services on account of her tweets.
Amazon Smile, a service that designates one-half of 1 percent of Amazon sales to non-profits, excluded organizations listed by the SPLC as “hate groups.” O2, a U.K. Internet provider, essentially blocked access to my website, DanielPipes.org. Internet de-platforming can have direct financial consequences: YouTube demonetized (another neologism: removed the ability to make money) videos presented by Dennis Prager and Tommy Robinson.
Financial institutions joined the movement. Citibank gave the Israel Independence Fund one month to decamp. Capital One dropped Appalachian Gun, a store in rural Georgia. MasterCard and Visa refused to process donations to the David Horowitz Freedom Center. PayPal suspended the accounts of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) members and donors. Reviewing the role of credit-card companies in what he calls “financial blacklisting,” Allum Bokhari of Breitbart concludes that “the encroachment of progressive ideology into the financial industry” poses a “terrifying new threat to freedom” in Western societies.
Add governments to the de-platforming trend. The federal U.S. tax authority improperly denied tax-exempt status to Z Street, a Zionist organization. In a first step toward denying tax-exempt status to 60 organizations that the SPLC deems to be “hate groups,” Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing in September 2019 on “How The Tax Code Subsidizes Hate.” The German government already took this step by withdrawing the tax-exempt status of JournalistenWatch.com, a conservative website.
Leading German politicians hope to exclude members for the Alternative für Deutschland party from holding civil service jobs. The British government refused entry to Geert Wilders, as did the Australian to Milo Yiannopoulos.
A unit of the British National Health Service, followed by the whole of England, announced that patients who engage in “racist or sexist language, gestures or behavior … will be challenged and warned”; then, should the problem continue, treatment will be “withdrawn as soon as is safe.” How soon before NHS employees exploit this regulation to deny service to polite critics of climate change or Islamism?
A restaurant, a ticketing service, ride-share companies, a cruise line, a hotel chain, President Trump’s private club, a lodging broker, a retail store, an Internet provider, a video-hosting company, banks, credit-card companies, a payment system, governments and hospitals: The list is long, scary and constantly expanding.
For conservatives, these deprivations threaten livelihood, dignity and enfranchisement. They do constitute a “terrifying new threat to freedom” and deserve much more attention, planning and resources than at present. Resistance must be organized; new, neutral institutions must be established. The time is now, without waiting for government action, and before the walls close in further.
• Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.
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