Wait, Milo Yiannopoulos is still on Facebook?
Late Friday night, former Breitbart golden boy and rallying figure for the alt-right, Milo Yiannopoulos, complained in the comments section of a Facebook post about how hard his life had become.
“I have lost everything standing up for the truth in America, spent all my savings, destroyed all my friendships, and ruined my whole life,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “At some point, you realize it’s occasionally better to spend the money on crabs and cocktails.”
Yiannopoulos later characterized the comment as “casually snapping” at someone, but his words highlight a greater point: that de-platforming hate-mongering internet celebrities actually works. It reduces the influence pernicious trolls like Yiannopoulos can have on national discourse. And makes their speech, though still hateful, and free, do less harm.
For those of you who have forgotten about this once relevant person, Milo Yiannopoulos is the former tech editor of Breitbart. The marriage of Yiannopoulos — and his devoted alt-right social media following — with Breitbart, helped catapult Breitbart into the influential outlet it became in the lead up to the 2016 election.
For a few years there, Yiannopoulos was a reigning troll of the alt-right. He championed the ability to demean anyone anywhere, and called it free speech. Notoriously, he dumped approving gasoline on the Gamergate controversy, in which trolls doxxed and harassed women who were calling for more diversity, and less toxic masculinity, in video games. He has worked to legitimize the alt-right and white nationalist movements by working hand-in-hand with known neo-nazis to bring their positions out of the internet shadows and into the light of day; his former staffer was a participant in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally of white supremacists. Yiannopoulos’ rise and influence crystallizes how social media can amplify a fringe voice by coalescing followers and normalizing once-abhorred opinions and groups, which leads to real world violence.
Eventually, however, Yiannopoulos took it too far for social media, his speaking sponsors, and even his bosses to handle.
In 2016, Twitter permanently banned Yiannopoulos for his participation in a targeted racist harassment campaign against comedian Leslie Jones. In 2017, Yiannopoulos resigned from Breitbartamidst outrage over comments he made seemingly defending pedophilia. That also resulted in the termination of his book deal with Simon & Schuster. Universities canceled multiple speaking engagements, including his ‘Free Speech Week,’ amidst protest to his ideas on, well, everything. And as recently as last week, Politicon pulled him from the speaking lineup — which was to be his return to the speaking spotlight.
“My events almost never happen,” Yiannopoulos wrote in the same comment. “It’s protests, or sabotage from Republican competitors or social media outcries. Every time, it costs me tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And when I get dumped from conferences, BARELY ANYONE makes a sound about it — not my fellow conservative media figures and not even, in many cases, you guys.”
Milo’s events don’t happen because his words, and the real world action they’ve inspired, triggered “de-platforming.” De-platforming is the idea that the best way to combat hate and vitriol in the real world is to take away amplification, usually online. It most recently regained prominence amidst the wide scale ban of Alex Jones and InfoWars from every major platform he had, except Twitter.
Yiannopoulos’ recent comments made waves on Twitter, and he took, once again to Facebook, to respond. In a post on Sunday, he apologized for being “too real,” and also called himself a superhero. But he resolved to keep fighting his good fight, and stick it to his haters by never backing down.
“Since the best form of revenge is to stick around to make their lives hell, my critics have done me a favor — again — by reminding me that what they really want is to shame and humiliate me into silence,” Yiannopoulos wrote. “THAT WILL NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN.”
But here, Milo is missing the point: he can keep talking, but it just does’t matter if nobody is around to hear him.
Yiannopoulos’ general misery and fear of violent retribution aren’t something to celebrate. But now, Milo only makes news when something or someone cancels him; when people say “no” to his insistences that white privilege is fake or that black lives matter is a hate group. The fact that Yiannopoulos has found his reach and influence so depleted that he can’t get new gigs and takes to comments on Facebook to complain shows the real world effect that de-platforming a toxic public figure can actually have. Indeed, the pro-InfoWars fervor surrounding Alex Jones’ ban from social media lasted about 24 hours; much more enduring is his silence.