We need to talk about no-platforming, and who better to talk about it with than Rowan Ellis?
Content warning: this article refers to torture and hate speech.
No-platforming, in essence, is a policy that several universities in Britain have adopted and, while it’s different for each university, the base idea remains: it refuses people with bigoted views or hateful ideologies a place to speak or, to put it more clearly, to espouse their hatred.
“They are, of course, allowed to speak anywhere else that will have them, or write about their views in publications or online wherever they can,” explains Rowan Ellis. “They just aren’t given money, publicity, or a platform anywhere affiliated with those particular universities.”
Rowan’s video is well thought-out, well presented, and offers a good look at the many problems with giving hateful people a platform. It’s the perfect video for anyone just coming into contact with the concept of no-platforming. It’s clear and concise, and still takes into account how students might want to engage with these rhetorics, while also dismantling the idea that the way they should engage ought to be through the university.
Rowan doesn’t delve into detail about the controversy surrounding the topic, such as accusations of censorship or issues with free speech. Instead, she focuses on the far more insidious argument against no-platforming: that, by not affording these people a place to speak, we’re depriving students of the chance to engage in debate with their ideas which would simply expose how absurd their views are. “Which I personally think is slightly ridiculous for a number of reasons,” says Rowan.
She explains that denying these people – e.g. fascists – a platform is “not the same as banning students from engaging with the history of fascism, the rhetoric of fascism, the implications of fascism, and current fascism”, and argues that giving a platform (and therefore legitimacy) to bigots only serves to give their views more power. Rowan uses the example of how someone who “legitimately wants to torture gay people to ‘cure’ them became the Vice President of the United States”, and how that very public platform didn’t let people laugh at his ridiculous and completely bigoted views. It allowed them to vote for him.
Exploring how giving bigots and fascists a platform at universities presents their arguments as valid, Rowan continues: “You can’t just invite people to speak at an institution of learning and then not expect people to think that the underlying message of that is, ‘This person who is speaking on a topic that you have never really engaged with before, you don’t know much about, and doesn’t affect you – yeah, they’re trustworthy because we invited them, and they’re here now, and we’re an institution of higher learning and this is the person we’ve chosen to engage with’.”
Rowan strikes on some incredibly good points all throughout the video, especially concerning the safety and mental health of students having to see people denying their human rights and saying horrible things about them while it’s posed as nothing more than a debate. She also mentions how debate as a format is impractical for what an institution might be trying to achieve by giving these people a platform, and quite how ridiculous it is to think that bigots just haven’t been argued with in the right way yet.
Rowan’s closing line is something that should be echoed across every social media platform: “If you really want to combat extremism, it isn’t going to be done by making students listen to it being preached from a pulpit – unless I missed that point in history where good paragraph structure and wide vocabulary in a university debating chamber ended fascism.”
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