Fans of free speech owe it to themselves to check out the documentary film "No Safe Spaces," which I got to screen the week before Thanksgiving.
And if those free speech fans have not been paying attention, they will be shocked to discover just how dramatically their fundamental freedoms are eroding.
"No Safe Spaces" impressively chronicles an alarming trend in the West, particularly on college campuses, where the "woke" left is violently resisting free speech, aided and abetted by tenured academics and other ivory tower types.
Distressingly, many young people today believe that "hate speech," as they define it, "isn't free."
Therefore, because it isn't free, such speech ought not be permitted. And because it should not be allowed, despite the clear wording of the First Amendment and the long Western tradition of open debate, policy measures should be implemented to restrict certain speech, they believe.
This is dangerous, uncharted territory in the U.S., the filmmakers stress, and young people today are stunningly ignorant of their own heritage and privileges, which, for most of human history, has not been the norm.
Hosted by conservative icon Dennis Prager and popular podcaster and comedian Adam Carolla, the film features a slate of both right-wing and left-wing public figures and talking heads, all of whom have expressed concerns that free speech is vanishing in the West. The film covers several thoughtful dimensions, flows seamlessly, and is woven together effectively.
Prager deliberately distinguishes between political liberals and the left, defining the latter as aggressively illiberal and the former as liberal in the truest sense of the word, meaning free. The hosts and others argue that a large-scale cultural shift toward a hard left posture occurred sometime in 2013 or 2014 though they do not definitively pinpoint this change on one specific event. Nevertheless, the case they make that such a shift happened is compelling, given what has transpired since that time.
The film highlights some of the most egregious examples of the suppression of speech on college campuses in recent years, such as the organized, student-led harassment and violent threats leveled at biology professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College in Washington state; the wrath that erupted at Christian UC-Berkeley student government senator Isabella Chou; and the Yale University students who were filmed hysterically lambasting sociologist Nicholas Christakis for his email comments on Halloween costumes.
I will not revisit any of those incidents here, except to say they are all perfect examples of the madness that has all but completely swallowed many universities. Do read up on them if you're not familiar.
In addition to recounting his harrowing ordeal, Weinstein contributes superb commentary on the role that social media giants play in shaping the environment in which our speech now takes place. Like it or not, Silicon Valley has largely become the arbiter of what is and is not offensive. And that is truly scary.
That was by far my biggest takeaway from the film, especially given some of my reporting on issues for which people have been booted from social media platforms.
As abusive as the campus woke left can be, it is without reservation that I say that the gravest threat to free speech is the insidious censorship coming from Big Tech. Although not everyone in society is wired into the world of online discourse, social media is a vital part of the new public square where we should be able to think and speak freely about anything. But alas, on some topics, that is proving to be impossible.
With breakneck speed, the rules governing speech have been and continue to be overhauled and redefined by a small cadre of West Coast tech gurus with a moral superiority complex. Unaccountable to voters, these gurus have determined that they know best and have taken it upon themselves to police what the masses are and are not allowed to say online. Despite nice-sounding assurances from tech industry leaders about their commitment to free expression when they speak before Congress and in other forums, anecdote after anecdote precludes me from thinking they are remotely trustworthy.
To wit, while some might be quick to ignore and dismiss Twitter as a rotten sewer of insanity, the truth is that the platform and other social media utilities wield enormous influence over politics, culture, journalism, communication, and legislation. As such, free speech must be defended there. For those of us in the media, we have no choice but to use them to get in touch with sources and reach out for tips. And if we are not allowed to report facts accurately because our digital overlords do not agree with or like it, we cannot do our jobs.
I have especially noticed Silicon Valley's heavy-handedness when writing on issues related to gender ideology and its assault on language. I mention the following examples I have observed and personally reported on because they should be included in "No Safe Spaces 2" if it is ever made.
In November 2018, Canadian feminist journalist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from Twitter. What horrible thing did she say that got her kicked off? She used the word "him" when referring to a trans-identified male who was still using a male name in certain online profiles. No, really. And this was before Twitter changed their user rules forbidding "misgendering;" she was barred retroactively.
The male trans activist who now claims to be female, who Murphy referred to as "him," has made a name for himself by hauling female estheticians — many of whom are religious minorities and immigrant women who work out of their homes — before a provincial human rights tribunal based on claims that he was discriminated against because they refused to wax his genitals, a service which they made clear they were not trained to perform. Meanwhile, he is allowed to be on Twitter and has publicly bragged that he, through his contacts at Twitter, got Murphy banned.
Similarly, in the U.K., Standing for Women's Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who goes by the name Posie Parker, had her Facebook account disabled last month. Known for her spirited defense of women's and children's rights, Parker is an activist who cleverly uses black and white billboards, stickers, and T-shirts with the word "woman" and its dictionary definition on them to generate debate. Facebook cited "safety and security reasons" and gave no specifics about why she was being banned, but did note their decision was final.
Last year, Parker was interviewed under caution by the police for tweeting criticisms of a woman who took her 16-year-old son to Thailand for a surgical procedure where his penis was inverted and his testicles were removed because he thinks he is female. One of the offending gripes the police brought up with Parker was that she dared call that operation "castration." Without her consent or knowledge, Twitter had supplied her contact information to the police so they could interrogate her for wrongthink.
And just a few weeks ago, for the first time ever, one of my own comments that I made on the Facebook wall of a friend (his privacy setting was friends-only on this thread) about males who invade female-only spaces was flagged and banned. I was informed my remark was against their "community standards" on hate speech. I immediately requested a review and was soon told that indeed it was a violation and it would remain banned. What had I said? I quote:
"Yeah, and the package-retaining men who claim to be lesbians peak a lot of people. They are monsters."
I was speaking about men who prey on women, specifically adult males with autogynephilia — a sexual fetish where men become aroused by the thought of themselves as female — many of whom today simultaneously identify as transgender and insist they are lesbians. The majority of them have not undergone surgery to remove their genitals, hence my choice of the hyphenated "package-retaining." And, oh, by the way, let the record show that I still believe and will always say that males can never be lesbians.
These are the guys who have caused many people to "peak," that is, to awaken to one of the many dark underbellies of the gender identity movement — that when sex is replaced with the nebulous notion of self-defined gender in the public consciousness and law, women's privacy and their single-sex spaces evaporate. Thus, if any male, predatory ones included, can legally claim to be female then the word "woman" has no material meaning and women's hard-won, sex-based rights are erased.
Yet to voice my disgust for these perverted men in a discussion with friends is smacked down as "hate" by Facebook. Think about that.
I then complained about this on my own Facebook page and another friend privately messaged me a few minutes later to say he had not long ago reported an explicit picture he saw of a naked male infant with his legs sticking in the air and his genitals fully exposed at the center of the image. Facebook informed him that the image was reviewed and that it would not be taken down because it was not objectionable by their standards. This friend showed me screenshots of both the clearly inappropriate image and the subsequent Facebook review saying it was fine.
Lest I sound conspiratorial, also highlighted in "No Safe Spaces" was a recent Senate hearing on Big Tech censorship where Google's vice president for government affairs was asked why Prager's popular PragerU video on the 10 Commandments was demonetized and placed on YouTube's "restricted" mode. The reason the Google official gave was that the video and several others like it contained "more mature content" that references things like "violence, war, or rape."
How it is that succinct, five-minute explanations on the 10 Commandments are deemed as "mature content" and have restrictions imposed on them by Google employees is beyond me.
Yet such are the people staffing extremely powerful tech companies that get to define and shape the contours of online content and conversation. This should not be and Facebook, Google, and Twitter all deserve the most robust challenge free speech lovers can possibly muster. They do not own our speech. We the people do.
All in all, I give "No Safe Spaces" 5 out of 5 stars. It's really that good. Whatever your politics, and especially if you value free speech, this film is a must-see.