There’s a complaint that online allows radicalisation. You start out watching something on YouTube about how perhaps the lady penis doesn’t, quite and wholly, exist and the next thing you’re invading Poland and planning soap factories. Because the recommendation algorithms push you down that path of ever more radical – or fruit loop crazy, to give the technical term – content.
This could even be true.
That does not mean that we should therefore all agree with the proposed solution, which is that YouTube and the others should monitor – for which is meant censor – those pieces about the existence or not of the lady penis. Partly this is because of the slippery slope argument. For this not to fail as a logical fallacy it has to be proven that the next and subsequent steps necessarily happen. That they might, or could, is not enough. They must. Something which isn’t true. I have fairly conservative ideas about sex and gender (to be clear, the first is biological, the second social, we can have any set of rules we desire about the second, the first is rather more hardwired) and having been to the place more than once I have zero desire to invade Poland. I’m also quite certain that current methods of making soap are entirely adequate.
Sliding over that saponified rung there’s another reason why to oppose this. Which is that they’re not arguing for a general censorship of dangerous arguments. Rules like “Do not advocate invading Poland” are, as with “no libel” and “no urging of immediate harm” fair, even if they may be right or wrong. What is in fact being argued is that we must not be allowed to argue for the invasion of Poland for the one specific reason. Other reasons might be acceptable.
In the fall of 2018, I released a research report warning of a growing trend of far-right radicalization on YouTube. Specifically, I identified a loosely connected network of reactionary YouTubers, ranging from mainstream conservatives and libertarians all the way to overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis, who were all broadcasting their political ideas to young audiences. Tethered together by a shared opposition to “social justice warriors” and the mainstream media, they frequently collaborated with each other and amplified each other’s content. In the process, they made it extremely easy for a viewer to move bit by bit into more extremist content.
D’ye see? The libertarian arguing that folks should be able to smoke ditchweed is the gateway drug to boiling human fat into shampoo. Therefore libertarians should be censored.
The danger here being that the other entryways to civilisational collapse – if we are to assume that the slippery slope exists – are not to be so censored. No one at all is arguing that Marxist discussions lead to invasions of Poland – despite the historical evidence that the cult did in fact lead to such, thrice in fact, in 1920 and then again in 1939 and in 1945. True, not to soap making but that’s just because the rotting corpses of the victims were buried at Katyn rather than used.
We thus have a useful little test here. Assume the slippery slope part of the argument is correct. That twibbling about online can lead you down the rathole to truly absurd and dangerous beliefs about the reality that surrounds us. OK. So, which beliefs do we need to censor in order to stop this happening?
History tells us that yes, fascism is a bad idea. So is socialism imposed from above, no form of communism in government has ever worked out well, forcible back to the land movements required Noam Chomsky at his worst to defend them, MMT would appear to have its dangers as Venezuela and Zimbabwe show and so on. So, are all these ideas to be so censored?
Nope, that’s not the suggestion at all, is it? Therefore they can bugger off because what they’re arguing for is not limitation of bad ideas for societal protection but the banning of things they disagree with. Something which ain’t liberty nor is it even civil.