Online censorship only serves the status quo

In 2017, Britain First were banned from Twitter. Shortly after in 2018 Facebook followed suit and the burgeoning far right party saw itself relegated to the internet’s sidelines with the rest of the British fascist movement.

Many on the left, particularly those in more liberal antifascist circles, celebrated this as a victory. Britain First had been gaining a worrying amount of traction on social media – particularly Facebook – by hiding it’s true nature behind ‘common sense’ viral posts. At it’s peak, their Facebook page had well over a million ‘likes’ and hundreds of thousands of interactions every week. There certainly aren’t a million fascists in the UK, so antifascists were quite right to be concerned that fascism was hiding it’s message in populist viral content, and relief that they’d been denied this platform is understandable. Understandable, but unfortunately wrong. The idea that No Platform – a tactic used by antifascists to deny the far right organisational oxygen – can be done via edict from large companies is entirely false. No Platform is a tool used by working class antifascists, to protect working class communities from fascist violence. Apart from anything else, social media censoring of organisations like Britain First has not succeeded in removing the threat of the fascist right. Britain First have certainly suffered because of it, but the majority of their serious membership have either carried on or dispersed into smaller fascist groups. Closing down their pages didn’t stop them, it just moved them.

But the success (or lack thereof) of social media’s censorship of fascist groups is not the main problem with it. The problem is that it is a double-edged sword, and the antifascist movement is now feeling the impact of social media censorship. In the wake of the Trump administration and American hysteria about ‘Antifa’, political content from across the spectrum can now be seen as a valid target for censorship. The 0161 Festival Instagram page, having gone from strength to strength during the pandemic, was handed a 30 day ban without reason or opportunity to appeal. That now appears to have become an indefinite ban, having already lasted longer than 30 days. This has also happened to 0161 affiliated pages on other social media in the past, and it happens regularly to antifascist and anticapitalist pages.

The difficulty in combatting this censorship is twofold. Firstly, it is not usually done by people, but by algorithms that use keyword recognition and collected data (such as users ‘reporting’ content) to identify and shut down objectionable content. This can be seen in the fairly consistent targetting of explicitly political content, whilst more subtle social media activism like community-focused pages are untouched, despite clear links between the two. Secondly, the precedent and the justification is already set. Social media companies are not only entitled to censor political content, they are often obliged to do so by governments or large groups of users.

This means that the reporting mechanisms developed by social media companies can be manipulated for political purposes against antifascists (by political opponents, as well as the state), and that there are few ways to fight against it. Is this worth the almost entirely meaningless victory of Britain First not having a Facebook page, or Donald Trump not posting on Twitter? We don’t think so. The justification for online censorship came not only from governmental pressure, but from the social media companies seeing the wider public as being supportive of it. It’s tempting to cheer when the far right page that spews hate onto Facebook gets deleted, or laugh when Trump’s ridiculous Twitter rants are cut off. But every time you do, you reinforce the idea that fighting fascism and the far right is the responsibility of Mark Zuckerberg. And unfortunately, Mark isn’t just interested in the right, he wants to silence anyone that threatens the status quo, from the right or left.

The bottom line is this; fighting the fascists is the responsibility of the working class, not the capitalists. History tells us that it is only working class antifascism that stops the right. We cannot outsource antifascism to social media companies. Not only is it lazy and ineffective, it gives moral justification for the suppression of our own politics. The capitalist class knows that antifascism and anticapitalism go hand in hand, and they’re right. We need to stop giving them the excuses they need to silence us.

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