Yesterday, we told you about the situation faced by Dr. Michael Hesemann, a German Catholic historian who was suspended from Facebook for 30 days for expressing a true, if unpopular, fact about Islam’s adversarial relationship with the Christian west.
This morning, I awoke to find that I, too, have been deemed guilty of thought crime — in this case, by Twitter.
Here’s how that happened:
In the wake of the recent shooting that took place at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, I watched several videos and looked at several images of the shooter, alleged to be a woman of Iranian origin named Nasim Aghdam. As I observed her bizarre behavior, I was immediately struck by the masculine features I saw – a muscular neck and defined Adam’s apple, bone structure in the face, the shape of the hands and length of the fingers, and the musculature and overall build. I found myself thinking, “I’m looking at a man, not a woman.”
It’s a bizarre world we live in where such a thought is so probable that it has to be seriously entertained, and even more bizarre is the idea that if it were true, the media would almost certainly not report on such information unless they had to, because it either would not support the narrative they’re trying to weave, or they would fear the consequences of going against it. For those who believe that it is unlikely that a person who grew up in the strict Islamic society of Iran would have undergone a sex change surgery, it is surprising to note that Iran has a far more progressive view on transsexualism than one would expect, and in fact carries out “more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except Thailand” — operations which are even subsidized by the government.
In other words, my idea here was hardly implausible, even if the basis of my claim was strictly rooted in my own observations of physiology.
On both Twitter and Facebook, I made comments that I believed Aghdam was, in fact, a man. Finally, I responded to one Tweet, saying, “Can we talk about the fact that Nasim is clearly a trans woman and that gender dysphoria is a mental illness with an enormous suicide rate?” To me, there were questions that should be asked if the correlation between these two things could be explored.
Twitter, evidently, disagreed:
I would be very curious to know exactly how my tweet promotes violence, threatens, or harasses anyone, whatever the basis, so I of course wrote to the Twitter support team and filed an objection to their action, although I don’t expect a response of any kind (and have not yet received one as of this writing). But I apparently can’t even use my account to “browse Twitter” without deleting my “offending” tweet — in fact, I’m not even sure the timer countdown for the 12 hours has begun. All I see when I try to use the service is this:
The only action I can take is to press that delete button. There’s no way to skip it, there’s no way around it. And I’m not going to delete the Tweet at this time because I don’t see how it in any way violates the terms of service.
The issue at hand is not my opinion of Nasir Aghdam. You can agree with me or not agree with me on what I think, and that’s fine. The point is that I make a living sharing my opinions on current events, and I use various venues and platforms to do so, including social media. But social media — which has become a ubiquitous and essential space for public discourse — is becoming increasingly hostile to the expression of anything deemed outside the approved progressive confines of Goodthink.
This is a problem for us. A rather serious one.
Some people will simply advocate opting out. I saw comments on the Hesemann piece yesterday from people who won’t have anything to do with Facebook or Twitter because they find them to be ideological cesspools. That’s fine. But I am a public commentator running an online publication in an age where social media is the dominant means of distribution of information. Last year, social referrals accounted for nearly 900,000 user sessions here at 1P5 — almost a quarter of our total traffic. In 2016, it accounted for nearly half of our incoming traffic. Maintaining a presence on social channels is not an option for publications like ours if we want to compete for the limited attention span of our audience. It’s a necessity.
And increasingly, simply speaking the truth or asking unpopular questions is enough to get you kicked out of the conversation.
This isn’t an issue of free speech, per se. Twitter and Facebook are private companies, and they can control their users’ access just the same way we can control our comment boxes here. I don’t object to that. I do object to the pretense of an equitable approach to speech on these platforms, and the selective enforcement of rules. The amount of hateful, anti-Christian speech one finds on the social web would surprise no-one. To date, I’ve not heard of any such ban for the perpetrators of speech that is offensive but non-threatening toward people who believe, say, what the majority of the readers of this site believe. And I’ve received some comments that are absolutely revolting. I’m sure others have gotten worse.
I also see people fantasize about alternative platforms. “We just need a version of Twitter or Facebook that’s actually OK with free speech” people will say. But they say it on Twitter or Facebook, because no such platforms exist. One competitor that some people believed might have a chance — a site called Gab.ai — found itself in a battle with its domain registrar over content some users were posting within the site. Gab managed to get control of its domain from its original registrar and stay online, but its app was removed from the Google Play store, official content banned from Apple and Twitter, and the story of their fight to remain a platform for free speech — however unpopular — continues.
If they can pull your URL, you no longer exist on the web. Coming back from that is not a simple task.
One needn’t believe that unfettered free speech is a real social good to recognize the threat we face. Allowing companies run by progressive, secular elites to control which speech is permissive and which isn’t is incredibly dangerous for all of us, but especially the small group of Catholics who are out there fighting for what remains of our faith. As Bishop Athanasius Schneider said several years ago, “‘Only on the Internet can you spread your own ideas. Thanks be to God the Internet exists.” Later, during the Synod on the Family he credited those “Catholic journalists and internet bloggers behaved as good soldiers of Christ and drew attention to this clerical agenda of undermining the perennial teaching of Our Lord.”
But the landscape that has unfolded before us becomes increasingly more Orwellian by the day. A time may well be coming when you try to load this website and it simply no longer exists. (I recommend you join our mailing list, by the way, so that we can still contact you should such a moment arise.)
Ironically, it was anger over perceived filtering and censorship on “her” YouTube account that allegedly led Aghdam to decide to walk into their headquarters and shoot three people, before finally killing herself. That’s a horrifying, extreme reaction from someone clearly not in their right mind. Nevertheless, the growing perception that giant, faceless corporations are controlling what we can and cannot say on platforms they pretended we could use to freely express our thoughts and beliefs is becoming an issue of escalating importance in our time.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.