Deplatforming, also known as no-platforming, is a form of political activism or prior restraint by an individual, group, or organization with the goal of shutting down controversial speakers or speech, or denying them access to a venue in which to express their opinion. Tactics used to achieve this goal among community groups include direct action, and Internet activism. It is also a method used by social media and other technology companies to suspend, ban, or otherwise restrict access to their platform by members accused of violating their terms regarding hate speech.
Banking and financial service providers, among other companies, have also denied services to controversial activists or organizations, a practice known as financial deplatforming. The term deplatforming also refers generally to tactics, often organized using social media, for preventing controversial speakers or speech from being heard. Deplatforming tactics have included disruption of speeches, attempts to have speakers disinvited to a venue or event, and various forms of personal harassment including efforts to have an individual fired or blacklisted.
In the United States, banning of speakers on University campuses dates to the 1940s. This was carried out by policies of the universities themselves. The University of California, for example, had a policy known as the Speaker Ban codified in university regulations under President Robert Gordon Sproul, mostly, but not exclusively, targeting Communists. One rule stated that "the University assumed the right to prevent exploitation of its prestige by unqualified persons or by those who would use it as a platform for propaganda." This rule was used in 1951 to block Max Schachtman, a socialist, from speaking at the University of California at Berkeley. But it was not always used against Communists (or socialists): in 1961, Malcolm X was banned from speaking at Berkeley as a religious leader, whereas the white Protestant evangelist Billy Graham spoke the next year. In 1947, former U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace was banned from speaking at UCLA because of his views on U.S. cold war policy.
Controversial speakers invited to appear on college campuses have faced deplatforming in the form of attempts to disinvite them or to prevent them from speaking. The British National Union of Students established its No Platform policy as early as 1973.
In the United States, recent examples include the March 2017 disruption of a public speech by political scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury College by violent protesters. In February 2018, students at the University of Central Oklahoma rescinded a speaking invitation to creationist Ken Ham, after pressure from an LGBT student group. In March 2018, a "small group of protesters" at Lewis & Clark Law School attempted to stop a speech by visiting lecturer Christina Hoff Sommers. As of April 2019[update], the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a speech advocacy group, documented 390 disinvitation or disruption attempts at American campuses since 2000.
Graduation speakers, in particular, have often been disinvited or forced to withdraw in the face of protests and other efforts to deny the opportunity to speak. According to Inside Higher Ed, "Planned commencement speakers have been disinvited from or backed out of various talks in recent years amid pressure from campus groups – usually students", as with Haverford's cancellation of a planned address by former Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau. Birgeneau's replacement as speaker, former Princeton president William Bowen, responded in his own address by calling the suppression of speech "a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford – no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect."
Other notably deplatformed commencement speakers in 2014 included International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, who withdrew after students circulated a petition at Smith College, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University. After Rice was announced as commencement speaker, a student group staged a sit-in and Rutgers' faculty council passed a resolution that labeled Rice a "war criminal", causing Rice to withdraw from the ceremony. In some cases, opposition to a commencement speaker arises primarily from faculty members, as with Ursinus College's 2017 disinvitation of journalist Juan Williams, a political analyst for Fox News.
Deplatforming efforts have also extended to corporate invitations. On March 26, 2019, Google announced an external advisory board to consider ethical issues around its artificial intelligence projects. The board's eight appointed members included Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation. Within days, 1,600 Google employees had signed an open petition seeking to remove James from the board. Employees had stated on Google's internal message boards that a person with James' conservative views about climate change policy, immigration, and LGBT rights "doesn't deserve a Google-legitimized platform." On April 4, Google dissolved the advisory board, stating, "It's become clear that in the current environment, [the board] can't function as we wanted."
As early as 2015, platforms such as Reddit began to enforce selective bans based, for example, on terms of service prohibiting "hate speech". According to technology journalist Declan McCullagh, "Silicon Valley's efforts to pull the plug on dissenting opinions" began around 2018 with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube denying service to selected users of their platforms, "devising excuses to suspend ideologically disfavored accounts."
Law professor Glenn Reynolds dubbed 2018 the "Year of Deplatforming", in an August 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal. According to Reynolds, in 2018 "the internet giants decided to slam the gates on a number of people and ideas they don't like. If you rely on someone else's platform to express unpopular ideas, especially ideas on the right, you're now at risk." Reynolds cited Alex Jones, Gavin McInnes, and Dennis Prager as prominent 2018 victims of deplatforming based on their political views, noting, "Extremists and controversialists on the left have been relatively safe from deplatforming."
Deplatforming has typically targeted individuals or organizations who use free accounts on social media platforms. In February 2019, McCullagh predicted that paying customers would become targets for deplatforming as well, citing protests and open letters by employees of Amazon, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Google who opposed policies of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and who reportedly sought to influence their employers to deplatform the agency and its contractors.
Supporters of deplatforming have justified the action on the grounds that it produces the desired effect of reducing what they characterize as "hate speech". Angelo Carusone, president of the progressive organization Media Matters for America, pointed to Twitter's 2016 ban of Milo Yiannopoulos, stating that "the result was that he lost a lot.... He lost his ability to be influential or at least to project a veneer of influence."
Twitter has been described as vulnerable to manipulation by users who may coordinate in large numbers to flag politically controversial tweets as allegedly violating the platform's policies. The platform has long been criticized for its failure to provide details of underlying alleged policy violations to the subjects of Twitter suspensions and bans.
In July 2018, Twitter was accused of "shadow banning" prominent Republican politicians and conservative users, as a result of its implementation of a "quality filter" to hide content and users deemed "low quality" from search results and to limit the visibility of their tweets. Twitter later acknowledged the existence of the problem and characterized it as a software bug that it was working to correct, stating that its "behavioral ranking doesn't make judgements based on political views or the substance of tweets".
In February 2019, Canadian journalist Meghan Murphy filed a lawsuit against Twitter for permanently banning her in 2018 based on its policy against misgendering, which Murphy called "viewpoint-based censorship".
On May 2, 2019, Facebook and the Facebook-owned platform Instagram announced a ban of "dangerous individuals and organizations" that included Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, along with Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones and his organization InfoWars, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Paul Nehlen. Unlike the personal bans that removed the accounts of the named individuals, the ban on InfoWars as an organization extends to all users by prohibiting any content that contains or quotes material from InfoWars. Facebook and Instagram stated that such content would be removed, regardless of who posts it, unless the post is made to explicitly condemn the content. Cybersecurity columnist Joseph Steinberg wrote that such actions threaten to "undermine one of America’s most basic and valued principles," and called on the federal government to extend civil rights protections to social media users.
Financial service providers have deplatformed controversial speakers and organizations by denying them business services such as credit card payment processing, effectively limiting their ability to raise funds, accept payments, or sell items online.
In 2018, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing donations to the David Horowitz Freedom Center at the request of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit which had controversially labeled certain organizations as alleged "hate groups". Robert Spencer, editor-in-chief of the publication Jihad Watch, had previously been deplatformed from Patreon under pressure from MasterCard.
PayPal, an online payment and funding platform, has terminated accounts of organizations that were accused of advocating racist views or promoting "hate, violence and intolerance." According to The Washington Post, PayPal banned at least 34 alleged hate groups in August 2017, after more than two years of "lobbying" by the SPLC. In February 2019, PayPal terminated the account of activist Laura Loomer, who stated that she had also been banned from using GoFundMe and Venmo to raise funds, and from using Uber and Lyft.
In February 2018, First National Bank of Omaha became the first of several companies to cut ties with the National Rifle Association. A month later, on March 22, 2018, Citigroup announced that it would turn away business customers and commercial partners based on a new Citigroup policy restricting sales of firearms, applying the policy to clients seeking to "borrow money, use banking services or raise capital through the company".
Chase Bank closed the accounts of alt-right activist Enrique Tarrio in February 2019, after which Tarrio was also deplatformed by credit card payment processors First Data, Square, Stripe, and PayPal, in addition to being banned from social media platforms.
Deplatforming tactics have also included attempts to silence controversial speakers through various forms of personal harassment, such as doxing, the making of false emergency reports for purposes of swatting, and complaints or petitions to third parties. In some cases, protesters have attempted to have speakers blacklisted from projects or fired from their jobs.
In 2019, for example, students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia circulated an online petition in an effort to remove Camille Paglia from the faculty. Paglia, a tenured professor for over 30 years who identifies as transgender, had long been unapologetically outspoken on controversial "matters of sex, gender identity, and sexual assault". According to Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic:
It is rare for student activists to argue that a tenured faculty member at their own institution should be denied a platform. Otherwise, the protest tactics on display at UArts fit with standard practice: Activists begin with social-media callouts; they urge authority figures to impose outcomes that they favor, without regard for overall student opinion; they try to marshal antidiscrimination law to limit freedom of expression.
Friedersdorf pointed to evidence of a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom. Of the faculty members he had contacted for interviews, a large majority "on both sides of the controversy insisted that their comments be kept off the record or anonymous. They feared openly participating in a debate about a major event at their institution—even after their university president put out an uncompromising statement in support of free speech".
In December 2017, after learning that a French artist it had previously reviewed was a neo-Nazi, the San Francisco punk magazine Maximum Rocknroll apologized and announced that it has "a strict no-platform policy towards any bands and artists with a Nazi ideology".