Overview:

People often accuse content providers who do not want to provide a platform for problematic views of censoring. But is it? No. No it's not.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

On March 30, scholar Dr. Robert Price was interviewed on YouTube and the discussion ended up being pretty controversial for some, not so much for others.

What ensued was a small storm in one corner of the internet. Dr. Price was, in one case, de-platformed as a result. Many shouted accusations of censorship, confusing that term with a decision by a private entity to not give someone a small, specific platform.

Some background on the situation

Dr. Robert Price holds Ph.D.s in Systematic Theology and New Testament and is a well-respected biblical scholar who works in the context of comparative mythology and biblical studies at large. But for those who know him or who have seen him speak at any length and in different contexts, it is also abundantly apparent that he is politically right-wing. By that, I mean a Republican who denies climate science and has what liberals consider problematic views on race and gender and feminism and all the other subjects you might expect. For example, he wrote a controversial foreword to a fantasy anthology that was pulled, provoking claims of cancel culture.

This can cause some serious cognitive dissonance if you, like me, are avowedly or even somewhat leftist and often find Price’s ruminations and writings on Christianity fascinating. It’s like being a Michael Jackson fan and then… You get my point.

People who shout about liberty, freedom, and the free market, don’t half whinge when other people make choices they don’t like.

Price had been interviewed by (conservative) atheist YouTuber Doug at his PineCreek channel. The interview, called “Robert Price joins me. Is he a racist deserving de-platforming?,” caused something of a ruckus because Price voiced several controversial views, including justifying shooting to death BLM protesters who caused property damage because, apparently, property is more valuable than human life. Many atheists weren’t aware of his beliefs outside of the world of religious skepticism, but many were. Some who were already aware agree with him, and others have been able to successfully compartmentalize or even steer well away from him.

Compartmentalizing and de-platforming

Humans are good at compartmentalizing, but there is a strong argument to be made that this kind of compartmentalization is running away from inner confrontation and moral honesty.

Perhaps it is healthier—or being morally more honest with oneself—to address the problem rather than place it in a mental box to be somewhat ignored.

Another YouTube channel run by a friend of mine, who is also friendly with Dr. Price, and where I personally have been interviewed perhaps 15 times, has also interviewed the biblical scholar a host of times.

But upon seeing the aforementioned PineCreek interview, this second YouTuber decided it was probably time to stop interviewing Dr. Price. “I still love Dr. Bob, but I honestly can’t platform that,” he said in a subsequent video. He then very clearly laid his reasons out. Though he had had pressure from people calling him a bigot as well (for consistently giving Price a platform), there was also a lot of support for Price. Some other atheist scholars have cast their moral evaluation opinion on the matter, too.

Two tribes go to war

The YouTuber in question admitted to not wanting to platform Dr. Price (or, more accurately, his ideas) as a result of the interview and the views expressed. He subsequently took the decision not to continue interviewing Price (a very regular guest). This was a free decision (as in they weren’t bullied into doing it) that they made, and that they also found very difficult to make. It was also a decision that some of his own supporters called “canceling” and “bowing to the censor Nazis.”

Situations like this are not bowing to the censoring Nazis: that’s utterly ridiculous. He’s making an informed personal decision. Just because his decision might align with the decisions of people that such commenters don’t rate—liberal do-gooders—doesn’t mean that those people are forcing the YouTuber to change his mind, and forcing him to retract any future offers of interviews.

Go and get a paid-up subscription to FOX, OAN and Newsmax, but don’t expect me to be platforming Tucker Carlson anytime soon just because you are a fan.

This is not an example of bullying groupthink where a bunch of Twitter do-gooders forces someone to do what they don’t want to do. This was an informed decision of someone not liking the content of a scholar in one domain and thinking that he doesn’t want to promote such thoughts on his own platform.

Morally agreeing with other people and agreeing to do what they would like you to do is not some kind of conspiratorial groupthink censorship.

This is the difference between doing something primarily to accord with the expectations of others in order to “fit in,” as opposed to doing something to accord with one’s own personal morality (that also just so happens to accord with the expectations of some others).

You have to be true to yourself.

Surely that’s something we can agree on. If you hold strong moral convictions, then you should surely want to stand by them, and let them guide you.

I run a YouTube channel myself—my own personal enterprise—and I ultimately get to decide what I do because it’s my time and my life and my channel. If I choose not to interview someone—for whatever reason it might be—that is my choice.

Now, if you don’t like the fact that I am exercising my own legally-supported liberty, then you can watch a different channel. You can choose not to donate via the different monetization methods.

For bigger channels, where this is a full-time gig, these decisions carry more weight, and decisions can get blurred given the potential financial fallout. Corporations make these calculations all of the time (think Russia right now).

So for someone deciding not to interview a scholar because of certain views that the former finds problematic, we should not find fault. People do, though, because viewers and consumers become involved in YouTube (or blog or Twitter or…) communities where they psychologically project themselves onto the host or other community members. Thus when there is disagreement, there is an eruption of cognitive dissonance. “How dare you make that decision because I thought you were like me and I don’t like that decision!”

Of course, it works both ways. “How dare you not make that decision because I thought you were like me…”

My channel, my guest choice—but not censorship

People telling me I have to interview someone because they like them does not cut the mustard with me. If you feel that strongly, go start up a YouTube channel and do it yourself. And if my not platforming someone whose views I strongly disagree with upsets you that much, you can indeed not donate to my channel.

It really is that simple. That’s not censorship. It’s personal autonomy. On both our parts.

The irony is that if so many dissenters acted to reverse my decision by threatening their own channel boycott, they would be carrying out reverse-censor Nazism, forcing me to change my mind and interview someone I had an issue with. It would be forced platforming and perhaps, depending on how they did it: their own version of bullying. “I hate this cancel culture so I’m canceling you!”

Robert Price still has a massive platform. He talks at conferences, he gets more books published than I get hot dinners, and he has interviews aplenty on YouTube and online. For a single YouTuber to remove their own small platform as a stage for another voice is not to de-platform them in a larger sense.

Here are a few more erroneous views so emblematic of this misunderstanding (a couple out of the plethora of them found on the socials in the last day concerning this event):

“But if you cut him off he is in fact censored. Not good…. I vote that we continue to learn from Dr Price. If we start this type of censorship where will it end.”

“I disagree with a lot of what Dr. Bob said, but I don’t think canceling anyone over their opinions is ever productive.”

“Cancel culture? Ugh. Not you, too.”

“I am saddened by his decision to jump on the cancel culture bandwagon & throw his good friend under the political correctness bus.”

All the same talking points: censorship, canceling, cancel culture, political correctness…

Now, there are plenty of people I could interview on my channel but don’t, and you’d never know. These decisions, for the most part, take place in our heads—mine or any other YouTuber or content creator—and no one shouts that we are de-platforming this person or that person. We simply don’t invite certain people we don’t want to interview to be interviewed. And most of the time, others know nothing about this.

Sometimes, the decisions go public, and sometimes people kick-off.

But, even so, this is not censorship. Me deciding not to interview someone is not censorship. It’s not cancel culture. It’s not the nanny state.

It’s me saying, “I don’t appreciate some aspect of you and I would rather not associate myself (or my brand) with you.” Even if I am doing this for purely commercial reasons, as some claimed of Nike with Colin Kaepernick, we are still entitled to do so. It’s being a moral agent.

Sometimes we overcome our moral discomfort because the financial payback is too good to turn down. We all have our price, I guess.

But when it comes to a content provider making a choice for their own channel or output, they have their own moral compass to answer to. Politics is morality writ large, and so a huge political and moral gulf between people can be a bridge too far for some. And people are different. So if you love that area of the moral compass, if the politics and morality of any given person floats your boat, fair enough. But you don’t get to decide what they do with their time.

Get over it. Start your own channel or your own platform. That’s the free market. Vote with your feet and with your wallet. Go and get a paid-up subscription to FOX, OAN and Newsmax, but don’t expect me to be platforming Tucker Carlson anytime soon because you are a fan.

People who shout about liberty, freedom, and the free market, don’t half whinge when other people make choices they don’t like.

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...