A friend texted me last week recommending I watch the Errol Morris documentary American Dharma. I politely thanked him for the suggestion, that I enjoyed Morris’ early work but wouldn’t be watching that film as I believe Steve Bannon should be deplatformed. Deplatforming is similar to a boycott, but has more specific means to its end. The goal of deplatforming is to remove the platform that allows a group/person to spread their ideas. It is not to prevent them from speaking their ideas, just to make it more difficult to spread them. Some of the biggest news stories recently have involved deplatforming, in one way or the other. It has become one of the easiest virtue signals to adopt. It is also quickly becoming the loudest weapon of America’s culture war.
The culture wars aren’t particularly new to American society. The states fought a war over slavery, banned alchohol to appease the prohibitionists, and blacklisted hundreds of citizens for being perceived communists or sympathizers. The 60s saw the standardization of the culture wars as we are fighting them today. Race, religion, and politics began to become entwined. Then, it was primarily conservatives responding to anti-war-civil-rights-free-love cultural trends. Presently it’s more of a mixed bag. With conservatives aggressively pushing a christian nationalist world view and either responding to whichever story offends that worldview or creating a controversy of their own.
I recently wrote about the ongoing Spotify controversy and the calls to remove the Joe Rogan podcast. The argument reached news sites when Neil Young removed his music from the platform stating he would not allow his work to benefit an organization that supported such dangerous views. Rogan is famous for being willing to have controversial guests on his show and “hear them out.” Unfortunately for Rogan, he lacks the forethought to research the topics and fails to fact-check the lies that are regularly spread by his guests on his program.
Anti-Vaccine arguments are, assuredly, the driving force bringing calls for Joe Rogan’s removal. But calls for deplatforming have been hitting tech companies like this for a few years now. Once Trump was officially out of the office of the Presidency, Facebook and Twitter removed his accounts from their platforms due to his consistent bullying and misinformation. Twitter has become quick to issue such bans to political figures that copy Trump’s behavior. Critics of these policies are quick to assert that Twitter or Facebook are attacking the individual’s freedom of speech. A preposterous argument as the 1st amendment solely prevents congress from passing such a law, not a private corporation.
Deplatforming as it is known today is primarily a social media term, but it’s history is as old as the culture wars themselves. The most consistent field for deplatforming over the last 80 years is the school. Whether it’s students protesting a controversial speaker, parents wanting to ban certain subjects, or the ever popular book burnings; deplatforming has had a constant presence in our schools. Andrew Hartman’s book A War for the Soul of America details the role schools have played as a battleground for the culture wars and is a must read for those interested in learning more.
Conservatives have certainly been the more active side in the attempt to control the classroom as of late. Beginning roughly a decade ago conservative pundits believed college professors courteously balancing their course content with students’ past lived trauma would leave an entire generation devoid of toughness. Safe spaces were considered dangerous to all of western civilization and the proponents of such safe spaces were threatened on Fox News and state legislatures. Even more dangerous to Conservatives is the combination of Critical Race Theory and Vaccine science. These two totally unrelated subjects (whose complexity of subject matter surpasses the majority of non-experts) have so threatened Conservatives that they are attempting to legalize the recording of professors and teachers who cover such subjects.
Those Florida legislatures are just hoping to scapegoat a teacher or two, but a law such as that can have drastic consequences if abused by its enforcer. If I had to make one rule to follow while deplatforming, it is that you should know who you are trying to deplatform. Deplatforming is a simple weapon, you are voicing your refusal to support (whether it be money, views, listens, etc) a platform due to its inclusion of a person/group. It is easily one of the easiest ways to participate in the culture war and certainly one of the loudest virtue signals. There may be more effective weapons to use, but nothing is louder than a book burning.
Personally, I’ll be deplatforming a litany of right wingers. Our institutions, corporate media in particular, have failed again and again to hold the grifting right wing accountable. Democracy is in peril and Chuck Todd is about as useful at fact checking his guests as Joe Rogan. Until these platforms either improve their coverage of these dishonest political villains or remove their coverage entirely they won’t be receiving my support. I’m sure Errol Morris did a great job with his Steve Bannon documentary, but I’ll just have to miss this one.