Silencing Hate Doesn’t Make It Go Away (Response to Ryan Chapin Mach’s “Why Your College Campus Should Ban Yik Yak”)

In the past year or so Yik Yak has stormed the phones of college students across the country. The app doesn’t ask for any personal information, so it’s entirely anonymous, and which posts you see is determined entirely on your current location.

Like many other anonymous online forums that become mainstream, Yik Yak has attracted a negative reception, especially as it targets students. Ryan Mach provides a pretty common argument for banning Yik Yak: It allows unrestrained speech which includes speech we don’t like. People can post all the racist and sexist things on their mind without having to attach their name to it.

From Mach’s article:

What I am saying is that there’s valuable discussion and there’s harmful discussion, and that no amount of one kind can ever really eradicate the other. That’s why I think that college administrations should permanently ban Yik Yak and any other forum that allows people to post comments anonymously.

What exactly we can define as “harmful discussion” is left to the reader. Is it content? If it is content, then readers of the harmful discussion are just as free to respond with valuable content. Any discussion on a written forum can be infiltrated with well-written arguments.

He also wishes to “eradicate” harmful discussion. If we continue to assume that means discussions with bad content, then we can succeed by adding good content. So there must be another goal in mind. In this case, based on his stated desire to bring censorship into play, he wants to prevent posts that are of poor content. The posts he uses as example of harmful discussion aren’t engaged in invalid arguments or unfounded personal attacks, though. Some are jokes. Some are public declaration of opinions that don’t see the time of day normally because they’re considered unacceptable by a sizeable population that has power.

Banning statements you disagree with only creates an echo chamber for people who you agree with. The people who disagree are marginalized and thus polarized away from you further. If you want to eradicate racism and sexism, you have to fix the problems, not just silence your opposition, giving them a valid reason to hate you.

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