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Big Tech Censorship of Hate Speech May Cause Violence, Warns Terrorism Expert

A new study published in the University of Nevada School of Law’s journal spells caution for any big tech company considering deplatforming or censoring "hate speech."

The study comes from Gordon Danning, a history research fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who has extensively studied terrorism in the Middle East and Europe.

The study was written in light of numerous cases of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Paypal and Patreon kicking conservative pundits off their sites. Though tech giants justify this by invoking “community standards,” Danning’s research says it can backfire.

His article, “Is the Cure Worse Than The Disease?: Censorship of Hate Speech May Well Increase Violence,” attempts to shed light on this issue, though Danning admits that, of course, correlation is not always causation.

“There is substantial evidence that censorship and demonization of hate group members is counterproductive because it tends to lead to more violence, not less,” writes Danning.

“To understand why that is the case, it is essential to take a step back and consider why individuals engage in political violence in the first place... individuals engage in political violence only when they have grievances.”

Censorship is one problem that may cause an individual to feel aggrieved. This is because censored individuals may feel that their right to free speech has been violated, and thus, that they’ve been treated unjustly.

“Hence, it should be expected that silencing and stigmatizing hate group members [or people deemed a member of a ‘hate group’ by liberals] will create grievances and thereby make violence more likely,” writes Danning.

He cites research from Europe to make his point, though recent anecdotes from the United States also help his case. According to the University of Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism, politically motivated violence rises when governments censor and stigmatize minority religious and cultural groups.

That center reports that “one ‘recipe’ for increased right-wing violence was elites responding to right-wing extremism by repressing and stigmatizing extremist groups and opinions,” Danning recounts. (Read that full study here).

But while Danning worries about censorship of hate groups backfiring, it stands to reason that any individual or group of individuals that feel suppressed may counteract that with violence. So, this isn’t exclusive to hate groups. Under certain circumstances, anyone — from political liberals to atheists — may feel censored.

And as Danning points out, censorship may cause people to lash out.

One recent example is the YouTube headquarters shooting perpetrated by Nasim Aghdam, 39. Aghdam opened fire at the company’s headquarters in April, wounding three employees she apparently didn’t know, according to CNN.

Prior to the shooting, Aghdam claimed that YouTube was censoring her fitness and dance videos. Since Aghdam was born in Iran —  where dancing is an arrestable offense — it’s likely she may have viewed the (alleged) censorship as politically motivated.

“There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!!" claimed Aghdam in one post. "YouTube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views!"

"We know she was upset with YouTube, and now we've determined that was the motive," said San Bruno Police Chief Ed Barberini after the attack.

The solution to hate speech is not deplatforming, Danning concludes.

“While putting up with reprehensible beliefs is deeply unpleasant, the alternative is likely worse. The best — or, perhaps, the least bad— solution to the problem posed by those who express odious opinions is not less respect for civil liberties and democracy, but more.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.