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I’m a Digital Strategist. Stifling Speech Undermines Our Industry.

Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

I must confess: I was a reluctant adopter of social media who grew to love it.

I launched my Facebook profile in October 2007, downloaded the Twitter app in January 2010, and caved to Instagram in April 2014. I also jumped aboard the LinkedIn train in May 2010 to bolster my career prospects after college. I never put much thought into Pinterest or YouTube, but only recently took an interest in the latter for my new video series CONSERVATION NATION.

Despite initial doubts over their utility, I became intrigued by these digital properties and how they worked. Understanding features became second nature to me. Analytics became something to lean on to improve efficacy and track online performance. It’s hard not to be intrigued by these communication tools.

As the Left and Democrats perfected the art of communication on social media in 2008 and again in 2012, I recognized serious voids to be filled in the conservative movement and Republican Party. Like other digital wonks on our side, I realized how imperative it was to teach activists, campaign volunteers, and others how to be effective on digital platforms.

During my time at Leadership Institute from 2012-2016, I was a frequent lecturer at in-house trainings on social media usage, strategy, and best practices. Today, I train center-right politicians, outdoor sportsmen industry groups, and non-profit/private sector clients on these very things.

Without social media, I don’t think I’d be self-employed today. I believe my colleagues in the industry share the same sentiments.

What I see transpiring on social media today, from blurring innocuous hunting content to outright banishment of conservative views, makes me pause and worry.

Individuality for Me, Not For Thee

Social media users are encouraged to “live their best lives” and to “be their best self” in embracing individuality and tolerance. But when that individuality extends beyond progressive views, users are instructed and encouraged to shun the non-believers and digital heretics who think differently.

You see Twitter users using block lists to mass block conservative users who’ve never interacted with them. You see armies of Instagram users flag legally and ethically harvested wild game content on the grounds of “animal cruelty” and “pornography.” You see non-progressives, especially mainstream conservative individuals and outlets, get de-platformed on YouTube. The examples are innumerable.

Individualist platitudes need not apply to those who don’t espouse so-called progressive or Democrat views, and that’s a damn shame.

Why are so many people, particularly those on the Left, out to rid serious commentators who are not leftist? The purpose of social media platforms is to permit the free exchange of ideas by allowing them to percolate and be debated. Social media allows users to start conversations, to strategically communicate, and to facilitate important connections offline. What will happen when you restrict certain views and allow others? Social media platforms will become obsolete and alternatives will be created. They may be private companies but many argue they can’t hide behind that label if they act as publishers.

You don’t see conservatives, Republicans, or libertarians posting call-to-actions to ban progressive or leftist users—unless they violate Terms and Conditions on these platforms. Our friends on the Left should extend the same courtesy to others if they claim to be tolerant.

There’s No Crime Watching YouTube Videos Made By Non-Progressive Content Creators

YouTube currently enjoys widespread participant usage—averaging 30 million daily users. According to a Pew Research Center survey published in April 2019, 73% of U.S. adults actively consume content on the platform.

Recently, the video platform has been accused of breeding right-wing “radicals”—thanks to videos curated by newsmakers Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, and the late Milton Friedman. Many of the aforementioned individuals are “renegades” who comprise the so-called Intellectual Dark Web (IDW). Their videos get millions of views. They inspire debate. They bring together unlikely voices for constructive, civil debate. Many voices who make up the IDW aren’t even remotely conservative, though they are free speech absolutists. However, their opponents accuse them of tainting impressionable YouTube users with so-called poisonous views of free speech and independent thought. The horror, the horror!

The New York Times article suggesting this reads like this. Apparently, YouTube is easily manipulable to “radical” non-progressive views:

The radicalization of young men is driven by a complex stew of emotional, economic and political elements, many having nothing to do with social media. But critics and independent researchers say YouTube has inadvertently created a dangerous on-ramp to extremism by combining two things: a business model that rewards provocative videos with exposure and advertising dollars, and an algorithm that guides users down personalized paths meant to keep them glued to their screens.

The article also noted progressive YouTube channels have lagged behind non-progressive ones, as the latter have started to master the game:

A few progressive YouTube channels flourished from 2012 to 2016. But they were dwarfed by creators on the right, who had developed an intuitive feel for the way YouTube’s platform worked and were better able to tap into an emerging wave of right-wing populism.

This—coupled with what became the Vox Adpocalypse—prompted YouTube to recently change their hate speech policy to discourage “bigoted” views. Harmful content in violation of Term and Conditions should be barred, but if “bigoted” views include mainstream conservative views, there’s an implicit bias there. We’ve yet to find out what those entail and if they’ll disproportionately affect non-progressive content creators. Here’s more on this from Daily Caller:

YouTube announced that they were demonetizing Crowder’s channel in response to complaints from Carlos Maza, the producer of Vox’s “Strikethrough” series, alleging he was harassed by Crowder “for being gay and Latino.” Maza also created a compilation video of statements Crowder made against him. Youtube said that Crowder had not violated its community standards, but that his “pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community,” resulting in his demonetization.

As I noted earlier in the article, non-progressives, conservatives, and Republicans realized they had to step up their social media game on platforms like YouTube after 2008 to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

For many on the Left, they must quash their opponents’ success in the marketplace of ideas because their ideas and values are being questioned. Doubt is healthy. All ideas should and must be challenged. Social media can and does breed free thinkers. What’s the crime in that?

Progressives think banning differing views on YouTube will compel users to accept their worldview. History shows prohibition doesn’t work. The non-progressive videos will still be disseminated whether they like it or not.

Pinterest Gives Pro-Life Group the Boot in Most Blatant Suppression Effort Yet

Pinterest has banned Live Action, the influential pro-life group started by Lila Rose, on the grounds it peddled conspiracy theories and misinformation. An investigation by Project Veritas found the female-centric platform placed them on their Porn Domain Blacklist” among many things. It later removed them from this list and then banned them altogether.

“We received a permanent ban without notice or previous contact from Pinterest, and they have not given us any clarification apart from our ban notice claiming that our content causes ‘immediate and detrimental effects on [a Pinterest user’s] health or on public safety,'” a Live Action spokesperson said to BuzzFeed News.

Below is the Project Veritas expose that lead to this bombshell. As of this writing, that Pinterest insider has been fired:

Pinterest used to be to-go platform for conservatives as recent as 2014, so this is quite strange.

I’m not one for boycotts, but I’ve joined calls to deactivate Pinterest accounts. I have no use for it, as I haven’t used it in years. Plus, I’m not keen on platforms labelling pro-life views as ones that could inspire violence or ones that are borderline pornographic. As you well know, the pro-life movement also exists to counter pornography.

If you meet a pro-lifer or are familiar with pro-life organizations, they generally act in a professional and calm manner. They’ve modified their tactics and have gained a lot of steam in recent years as technological advances and trends favoring life have led to many changed hearts. Heck, even if you aren’t pro-life, you can objectively see these views gaining momentum on digital platforms. It’s hard to deny this, and suppressing them further won’t stop their momentum.

Pinterest has suffered declining participation numbers over the years. This controversy will do little to attract more users.

Pin at your own discretion.

What Our Industry Should Do Going Forward

Although I’ve deactivated my Pinterest account, I have no plans to retire or deactivate my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. That would be unwise and impractical. Though most of my past social media posts have been innocuous at best, I’ve modified my posting strategy in recent years to ensure I don’t get flagged or banned. I advise people on how to carefully go about posting and to document any action taken against their accounts.

I’m aware of the associated risks related to privacy and bias—but will continue to speak out against them. I also believe it’s imperative for my fellow digital and social media strategists to work together to improve user experience, encourage robust debate, and coach people on best practices. Those who abuse their user privileges or incite violence have no place on social media, and rules shouldn’t be selectively enforced for one side and not the other. Efforts to lump bad behavior with viewpoint diversity, however, should be discouraged.

Regardless if social media platforms are to be regulated as publishers or not, it’s our job to ensure those who play by the rules aren’t sidelined or have their user privileges revoked. It’s incumbent upon social media executives to hear out everybody and improve the user experience for the better. That includes allowing conservatives and other non-progressives the opportunity to freely push their views far and wide.

Let’s make social media great again, where everyone has the equal opportunity to an enjoyable user experience.

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