Debate: No platforming is harmful

Ivan Merker 23 January 2018

The concept of ‘no platforming’ is an eminently dangerous one, yet one which is nonetheless becoming an ever-more common occurrence in our universities and society as a whole. Put simply, is a patronising, overly paternalistic and fundamentally dangerous idea with the potential to undermine not only the basic right to freedom of speech – which includes the freedom to offend – but democracy as a whole.

The basic problem lies in the fact that, once one person or group is subject to no platforming, there will always be those who make the case to apply similar restrictions to more and more people – ultimately resulting in silence. After all, it inevitably begins without much controversy: barring an evident bigot from the EDL or the like. But the problem with no platforming is that is not where it ends. As we have seen recently, the no platformers incessantly seek to expand their remit; closing down debate on everything from abortion to the Jewish right to self-determination. There is no due process here, no democracy – simply groups of individuals denying others their rights to freedom of speech. No platforming is – not always, but commonly – merely a device used by certain people to close down political debate to their own benefit.

Even when no platforming is adopted as an official policy by organisations like the NUS, its moral premise is dubious. It is important to recognise that, admittedly perhaps inadvertently, those who seek to no platform controversial, unpleasant or even extreme individuals are implicitly distrusting would-be audiences. They deem it to unsafe to unleash questionable views on us, in case we are radicalised into bigots, racists or sexists. They do not fear the extremists, but fear us and what we might become. At best, no platforming is an overly protective, supercilious and selfdefeating notion which causes more harm than good.