Something is rotten in cyberspace. Internet platforms of all kinds have become cesspools of organized harassment and bigotry, with those supposedly in charge of maintaining civility and decency allowing it all under the mistaken banner of “free speech.” 

Twitter, the internet’s premiere short-form news and networking website, allows white nationalists like Richard Spencer and David Duke to post freely, yet suspended actress Rose McGowan for attempting to use the platform to bring attention to her sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein. Apparently in Twitter’s eyes, "Does human civilization actually need the Black race?" is less worrisome a statement than “#OscarsSoRape.” Neo-Nazi Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet gets a free pass for a feed chock full of images of “progressives” in gas chambers and iconography involving him threatening his “enemies” with firearms by claiming that he’s just joking, while comedy twitter account KRANG T. NELSON was banned after right-wing groups abused Twitter’s report function on a single tweet of his that joked about “millions of antifa supersoldiers” descending upon an idyllic town square, according to a Nov. 1 Newsweek article. At the 2012 Guardian Changing Media Summit, Twitter branded itself as the "the free speech wing of the free speech party,” but it would appear that said freedom is hardly distributed as equally as Twitter proclaims it to be. Furthermore, is allowing harassers the right to go after their targets, as they please, at all coherent with the principles of free speech? 

Meanwhile on YouTube, we’ve seen both the rise of talking heads like Paul Joseph Watson and Stefan Molyneux, modern day heirs to the right-wing outrage radio style pioneered by Rush Limbaugh, and the much more insidious trend of popular and supposedly apolitical channels sneaking alt-right talking points into their content. Content creators like Watson and Molyneux, who create videos with such charming titles as “I Love My Male White Privilege!” and “There’s NO Such Thing as Mental Illness,” can regularly expect for YouTube’s video recommendation algorithms to promote their videos alongside innocuous news or entertainment content. The platform’s biggest star, Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg, who was partnered directly with YouTube and Disney before recent controversies, used the phrases “Death to All Jews” and “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong” as shock lines in a reaction video and called an online opponent the N-word during a livestream in what he later called a “heated gaming moment.” After Kjellberg had his premium YouTube series cancelled and his Disney contract torn to shreds, he denied any wrongdoing and instead blamed the Wall Street Journal for “taking that and use it out of context to portray me as a Nazi” and proceeded to accuse institutions like the Wall Street Journal of running a smear campaign against him, adding that “Old-school media does not like internet personalities because they are scared of us. We have so much influence and such a large voice, and I don’t think they understand that,” according to a Feb. 6 article in the Guardian. Similarly, h3h3productions, a channel popular enough to be featured on NBC’s Today Show, regularly claims that his videos will “trigger feminists” and declared in a conversation with rapper Post Malone that “women, in a natural setting, are designed to be conquered.” These YouTubers have very young and impressionable audiences, and — knowingly or not — they’re pushing messages of extreme racism, anti-semitism and misogyny upon them. YouTube originally did nothing in response to the fact that their golden boys were putting out such hateful content, but after advertisers balked at having their branding associated with white supremacists and rape apologists, YouTube relented and put a demonetization system in place that stopped only the worst offenders. 

Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” plays host to /r/the_donald, the internet’s largest community of Donald Trump supporters. It should come as little surprise that they’re a unanimously terrible bunch. Back in July, Trump tweeted a video of him “beating up” CNN which had been made by the user HanAssholeSolo, who had previously posted comments like “500,000 dead Muslims is a good start. Kill the rest and I’ll be impressed,” and “liberals just need to buy some good rope and hang themselves.” Another prominent /r/the_donald user, Lance Maurice Davis, who went by “Seattle4Truth” and posted links like “CNN IS *ACTUALLY* ISIS” and “Teen Vogue looooves jihad now! They want to indoctrinate children” murdered his own father after a heated argument about Pizzagate, the crackpot conspiracy theory that claims that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta are running a secret pedophile ring out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington D.C., according to an Aug. 10 article in GoSkagit. When pressed about the violent extremism his site was giving a platform, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman stated that “the_donald is a small part of a large problem we face in this country — that a large part of the population feels unheard, and the last thing we're going to do is take their voice away.” That includes subreddits like /r/incels, a community of “involuntary celibates” that discusses optimal ways to entrap and incapacitate women and celebrates mass murderer Elliot Rodger as their patron saint and /r/uncensorednews, a supposedly unbiased news source that actually exists to peddle alt-right and homophobic talking points that proudly proclaims, “Here at uncensored news we love racism, bigotry, misogyny, hatred, xenophobia, transphobia, homo phobia etc.” How is any of this the “voice of the unheard?” In what universe is any of this valuable discussion?

If the only argument that sites like Twitter and Reddit have to defend allowing such undisguised hatred on their platform is the free speech argument, that’s not much of an argument at all. When your positions are so awful that the only defense you can muster in their favor is that you are constitutionally not barred from expressing said position by the government, that’s a terrible position to take. Furthermore, groups like /r/the_donald don’t actually believe in free expression to begin with: The forum explicitly states in its sidebar that any questioning or dissent of the president should go in a separate forum, as “This forum is NOT for that.” 

If institutions like Twitter and Reddit really want to be the avant garde of free speech, they need to get rid of the steadfast deniers of free speech that they’ve been promoting and abetting this whole time.