After I wrote a piece for Splice Today, I thought I was done writing about anything related to Milo Yiannopoulos. I don’t agree with him politically, and personally, well, he really likes attention and I’m the sort of person who considers Thomas Pynchon a role model for self-promotion. I think his support for Donald Trump is rooted in the idea that narcissists like other narcissists.
However, Yiannopoulos has been suspended from Twitter indefinitely, and it has reignited the free speech debates. Since my article was a defense of Yiannopoulos speaking on campus in the face of some genuinely daffy protestors, I thought I’d weigh in.
Twitter’s ban is not a violation of Yiannopoulos’s free speech rights. He’s been suspended at least once before and had his little blue checkmark taken away. Much of it is rooted in his habit of instigating harassment—and harassment is not protected speech. He’s an adult and a public figure, and his behavior should be held to a higher standard. That’s not to suggest that regular people should be allowed to get away with harassing others on social media, but holding public figures accountable does send a message that this behavior is unacceptable. Twitter has a greater obligation to keep its users safe from harassment than to provide a platform for it.
If we were talking about the government interfering Yiannopoulos’s output, then it would be a very different conversation. Even then, harassment is still not protected speech.
The reason I defended Yiannopoulos in regard to his campus appearances is because going to college means exposure to a range of ideas, and guest speakers are a part of that. He was often a guest of student groups, attendance was voluntary, and he said he never got paid for these appearances. I don’t see anything objectionable in that. While I also believe that one’s right to protest should be defended, I’m under no obligation to be silent if I think the rationale behind a protest is loopy, which I go into greater detail about in the article. I think all those protestors accomplished was garnering more attention for a professional attention whore.
I don’t think the Twitter ban spells Yiannopoulos’s doom. He still has access to other social media platforms and he can still write his column without fear of being thrown into a gulag. While his message means nothing to me, Yiannopoulos is smart and creative enough to find new ways to market himself, and his devotees will come running. He may be down, but he’s not out. We’re stuck with him.