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No platform

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No platform is the practice of of preventing someone—either through policy or through protest—from spreading their ideas through a particular event or website. The term is mostly used to refer to rescinding an invitation to someone asked to speak at an event (such as a guest lecture at a college). The concept apparently originates from a policy used by the British National Union of Students to prevent people they disagree with from giving speeches on UK college campuses. The concept is similar to the political action of cordon sanitaire, where a politician or political party is either unconditionally excluded from coalitions or other forms or cooperation, or even completely ignored. "No platform" is typically invoked for issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, Holocaust denial, and so forth. As what is and is not acceptable by society changes with the times, so do the targets of "no platform", with 2015 seeing protests of speakers seen as transphobic or Islamophobic who consider themselves progressive as they are feminists or atheists, respectively. No-platforming is, at best, an attempt to prevent a balance fallacy, with protesters refusing to allow tacit endorsement of reactionary views.

Depending on the circumstances, the tactic can be controversial, and has been compared to book burning.[1] Ignoring a person (or group) also means that no one is directly refuting their arguments. Some have criticized the action as a form of censorship and a violation of the principles of freedom of speech and critical thinking. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education maintains a database of hundreds of incidents[2] in which invited speakers have been no-platformed on college campuses, showing that the phenomenon has been "steadily increasing over the past 15 years" and is used more often by left-wingers than right wingers.[3]

Advocates of no-platforming counter that the speaker's message has already been heard by protesters and venue holders, and they have decided not to extend the speakers the right to an audience that has already rejected them. The protests are generally meant to raise awareness of the target's views and not a call to place a blanket ban them; the reaction from many protested is arguably censorial itself, considering they're refusing to acknowledge the right to demonstrate opposition to their views.[4] Apparently, both sides believe that their speech is more free than others'.

Freedom of speech concerns[edit]

xkcd on free speech.

"No platforming" as adopted so far is not a violation of freedom of expression rights; there is no right to have a ready audience. Individuals do not have a right to speak wherever and whenever they want. For instance, newspapers are not obligated to publish every, or any, letter-to-the-editor they receive.

In most liberal democracies, the right to publish your own newspaper, and the right to speak in a public space where speaking is permitted, are inalienable. However, private venue holders themselves also have the right to free speech and to exercise it by not promoting speech they dislike, something which is continually ignored by the people who complain about not being heard. Further, at public universities, student groups and academic departments are under no obligation to provide a platform for any particular viewpoint. Too many don't understand that their voices have been heard, but that other rights-bearing people have just decided not to give them the time of day.

An unfortunate result of "No platforming" is even more contentious debate over what exactly constitutes hate speech, and whether or not it counts as free speech. There is a contingent of people online (and sometimes even offline!), usually right-wing types and 4chan-style trolls (though some are, indeed, genuine), who are dead set on trying to hand-wave their racism, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc. as "Not actually hate speech", rallying behind mischaracterizations of "no platforming" as censorship to bolster their arguments.[citation needed]

Definitions of what constitutes hate speech have expanded in recent years; this has had the effect of making people with transphobic stances (eg. Germaine Greer[5]) or who allegedly express Islamophobic ideas (e.g. Maryam Namazie[6]) targets for protests. These experiences ruffle the feathers of those whose approach to liberalism is out-of-step with the current mood of campus activists, which has led to a proliferation of editorials attacking millennials for being "coddled" in "safe spaces" or accusing them of being "anti-democratic" and "censorial."[7]


What an extremist needs more than anything else is an enemy
—Alex Grobman[8]

In 1994 some university papers decided to run Bradley Smith's advertisement promoting Holocaust denialism, but printed a refutation on the opposition page.[9] This was somewhat controversial, but is quite probably a more effective way to refute Holocaust denialism than ignoring them and hoping they go away. As mentioned in the free speech section above, these people will get their message out, and people uninformed of the refutations will be convinced by this.

In a similar vein, some have also argued that it can lead to more extremism. For example during the 1980s and 1990s Hans JanmaatWikipedia's W.svg had a seat in the Dutch parliament, but was excluded from most public discourse by cordon sanitaire in both parliament and the media due to his views on immigration (which weren't even that extreme, certainly not by today's standards). Parliament members would just get up and leave whenever he spoke. This, in part, led to the rise of Pim FortuynWikipedia's W.svg in the early 2000s, who was significantly more vocal on these issues than Janmaat was, and later Geert Wilders in the mid 2000s, who was even more extreme. Many[Who?] at least partly blamed Hans Janmaat's Cordon sanitaire during the 1980s and 1990s for the rise of growing anti-immigration sentiments and increasingly extreme politicians related to anti-immigration. Part of the population simply felt ignored[citation needed] by the political elite, and when only one side does all the talking (and thus convincing), it's not difficult to see[citation needed] how this group grew, rather than shrunk.

National Union of Students[edit]

The British National Union of StudentsWikipedia's W.svg has an officially drafted policyWikipedia's W.svg on no platforming, which is explicitly meant to prevent far-right speakers (defined as racists, fascists, and antisemites) from being allowed an audience at British universities in order to refuse to give their political stances credence and possibly endanger the lives of students. They also detail how this is not a restriction on anyone's freedom of speech, as the student unions are democratically deciding who they want to be allowed to talk on campus, and this in no way impinges on their ability to speak their mind elsewhere.[10]

As of September 2014, the NUS had a blanket ban on only 5 organizations:[11] the terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun, the racist British National Party and English Defence League, the Islamist pro-Caliphate organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the anti-Semitic Muslim Public Affairs Committee. The NUS enforces this by not funding speeches by these groups and not allowing their officers to share a stage with members of these groups. Individual colleges' student unions can decide to ban other speakers should they wish with internal votes.

See also[edit]