Last Friday, on Real Time, Milo Yiannopoulos held himself up as a great defender of free speech, while minimizing the effects speech has.
He admitted that he got off on people’s reactions to his trolling and abusive comments, trying to get all three panelists at the end (on Overtime) to tell him to go fuck himself (Larry Wilmore got it started after Milo responded to an attempt at honest debate by saying “you [Maher] always invite such awful people on your show; they’re so stupid”).
Milo said he “hurt[s] people for a reason” and that he’s “a virtuous troll,” in between insulting female comedians and actors (Lena Dunham, Leslie Jones, etc.). He never said what the “reason” or “virtue” might be in such attacks, but he attempted to claim at one point that he actually builds bridges with his “jokes.”
Perhaps the strangest thing he said, however, was “Mean words on the internet don’t hurt anyone.” Milo then said that what he does isn’t harmful in any way, compared it to physical instances of abuse. Maher mentioned that some believe speech provokes action. Milo’s response was that those of us who believe so “would be idiots.”
There’s a reason why one form of speech that’s not protected is speech that incites violence. There’s a reason why we have laws against slander (and some against certain forms of lying).
But setting that aside, the claim that “mean words on the internet don’t hurt anyone” is insane. Luckily, I’m not famous, so I don’t get trolled very often; however, I’ve been hurt by things people have said on the internet.
And I know lots of other people have been too.
The first lady said she wants to work against teen cyberbullying–because mean words hurt.
Young people sometimes commit suicide–because mean words hurt.
I know women who are scared by rape and death threats–because mean words hurt.
Lindy West had a man pose on Twitter as her dead father to verbally abuse her. Guess what? Those mean words hurt.
I was planning to write about this before Yiannopoulos’s words finally got him in trouble with conservatives this week. There are so many more layers now, so much irony. It’s so fitting that the knee-jerk reaction to “please think of the children” is biting him in the ass after he used it against trans people.
It’s ironic that all the conservatives who said Milo should be allowed to talk have pulled him from their editorial boards and conventions.
It’s sad that they weren’t bothered by any of his racist, sexist, transphobic, white supremacist bullshit.
Yiannopoulos, for maybe the first time, apologized (partially).
“I’m partly to blame. My own experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, ‘advocacy.’ I deeply regret that. People deal with things from their past in different ways.”
He seems obtuse and stubborn, so I don’t know if he’ll get the lesson:
Words matter. Words can hurt.
That’s why free speech is important–because, as Margaret Atwood once said, “a word after a word after a word is power.”