Tim Squirrell is a PhD candidate in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His research focusses on construction and negotiation of authority and expertise on the internet, with a focus on fitness and nutrition communities.

New article on the New Statesman - cucks, the alt-right, and free speech

New article on the New Statesman - cucks, the alt-right, and free speech

The work I did at the Amsterdam Digital Methods Initiative has proved pretty popular with various outlets, including the piece I had published on the LSE's Impact Blog about digital methods this week and some upcoming work I'm doing with another major publication (keep your ears open!).

The New Statesman piece on "cuck" and the alt-right

The latest is a piece in the New Statesman, in probably the most mainstream outlet I'm likely to get into with this content. It's called "The evolution of 'cuck' shows different far-right groups are learning the same language", a title which some have already criticised on the basis that the groups I'm talking about are primarily the alt-right, alt-lite, and so on. They've also criticised NS's use of Milo Yiannopoulos as the featured image, on the basis that he's more of an alt-lite provocateur than a true far-rightist. I can see where they're coming from, but I think the entire point is that communities like The_Donald are acting as fermenting vats for the hatred that oozes out of every pore of the various constituencies of the alt-right. It's full of bored teens, #GamerGate misogynists, white nationalists, Islamophobes, anti-globalists, far-right conservatives, 4chan shitposters, and so many more groups.

Should Reddit ban The_Donald?

In the article I call for reddit to shut down The_Donald, as they have done with similar communities (/r/fatpeoplehate, altright, CoonTown, and a few others). I honestly think that it would significantly stem the spread of hate speech across the internet if they were to take down the primary meeting places for alt-rightists. Reddit is a massive site, with more unique visitors per month in the US than anywhere other than Youtube, Facebook and Google. The_Donald gets a lot of chance traffic, and they used to get even more when they were able to manipulate Reddit's algorithms to boost their content to the front page so any random visitor would see it. Shutting it down (and shutting down any subsidiaries that might spring up) would be a significant step forward. It's obviously true that a lot of the community would find other places to congregate, but pushing them away from mainstream platforms denies them legitimacy and exposure, and it makes it significantly harder to recruit unsuspecting passers-by with seductive rhetoric.

It's not about censorship or free speech

Predictably, some commenters have suggested that I'm in favour of banning things that I don't like. I don't particularly want to flog a horse so dead that it's practically decayed into nothing, but in case anyone's interested in why that's not the case, here goes.

Free speech is a legal right, not a social right. It protects you from state intervention. Even then, there are limits: for example, we in the UK don't allow hate speech or the incitement of violence, because we think that the expression of those views is more damaging than any kind of discursive benefit we might gain from protecting them. I'm inclined to agree with this. 

Moreover, it's within reddit's rights as a private entity to give or deny a platform to any kinds of views that it wishes. I would content that it has a moral duty to shut down communities in which hate speech is common, on the basis that there is simply no advantage to allowing that speech to be vented on their website, and there are significant harms: to others on the site who have to put up with sharing their communities with those people and the inevitable spillover onto their own pages, and to people elsewhere who become exposed to the kinds of toxic views that places like The_Donald inculcate in its users.

The_Donald spreads fake news

There's also the simple fact that The_Donald (and similar subreddits) spreads lies as a means of gaining followers. For a couple of months this year they were obsessed with the fake news story of Seth Rich, a DNC staffer killed in 2016 whom they insist was murdered by the Democratic Party as retribution for involvement in leaking sensitive information. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. It's a conspiracy theory, and it's probably also libel - right now, Fox News is being sued for propagating this dangerous nonsense.

I honestly think the world would be a better place if The_Donald were shut down. I find it hard to conceive of decent arguments that say otherwise, but I'm willing to be persuaded.

New article on Quartz - "Linguistic data analysis of 3 billion Reddit comments shows the alt-right is getting stronger"

New article on Quartz - "Linguistic data analysis of 3 billion Reddit comments shows the alt-right is getting stronger"

New post on LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog

New post on LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog