Tyler Gross

Conservatives have always been afraid of dissent. From the Red Scare to the Vietnam War to the first (and second) invasion of Iraq, it doesn't take much for conservatives to rally around a cause, no matter how immoral, and crank up the inquisition. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11—when you were in diapers and the rest of us were waiting for our internet to dial up—conservatives became suspicious of Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, strangers, airports, books, Bill Maher, french fries (which were briefly and shamefully renamed "freedom fries"), and country music stars who dared to question the wars.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told Americans they needed to "watch what they say, watch what they do," and Congress passed or amended dozens of laws to limit our civil rights. To this, star spangled conservatives stood up and said, "HELL YES." There were also no iPhones back then, and if you wanted a cab, you actually had to hail one. Be glad that you napped through these dark years.

Much has changed in the time since the USA Patriot Act was passed: Our current president is even dumber than the idiot George W. Bush, Friends is now problematic, and you're the one in college and I'm the one who needs diapers (start doing Kegel exercises now, believe me). And while the right is still afraid of dissent—just look at their response to kneeling football players—the left has become intolerant of it as well.

The left used to be about questioning political structures, reforming criminal-justice systems, dismantling white supremacy, and providing health insurance and living wages to the poor. It was about civil rights and Lenny Bruce and George Carlin (google them) and the freedom to speak your mind. While the right burned and banned books, like Adolf Hitler (google him), the left actually read them. But in the pursuit of higher values, many on the left have decided that there may actually be something to book-burning, and any dissenting viewpoints are no longer to be tolerated.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than on college campuses.

In the last few years, it has been increasingly common for university students, as well as faculty, to try to shut out speakers they've deemed problematic or offensive. It's called "deplatforming" or "disinviting," but it has major downsides that the left has been reluctant to acknowledge. For one, it's unconstitutional at a public institution. But there's an even bigger problem: It doesn't work because, unfortunately, offensive speakers don't disappear when you revoke their invitation to talk.

The goal of deplatforming is to shut a speaker up, but in actuality it brings the target even more attention—which is exactly what they want. We've seen this on campus and off, including at events like the New Yorker Festival, where outcry online led the festival to cancel an onstage interview with Steve Bannon. The interview was to be conducted by David Remnick, one of the country's toughest critics of the Trump administration and the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book about Russia. Rather than making Bannon disappear, the day after the announcement of the cancellation, Bannon was in every newspaper in the country—not for his part in the decline of America and the rise of Trump, but for being deplatformed.

If you want to show your objection to a speaker you despise, it's more effective to go to the event, and, once it starts up, get up and leave. But you cannot and should not try to prevent the person from speaking in the first place. Because they dine out on it. They get invited to Fox News because of it. Their credibility among their base grows.

It happens every time: A conservative group invites a provocative speaker to campus, and members of the university community try to get the event shut down. When that doesn't work, the event goes forward, protesters and counterprotesters brawl outside, the media shows up right on time to cover the ensuing violence. This is what happened at the University of Washington in 2017, when a protester was shot outside Kane Hall during a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. The melee cost the university and the city almost $75,000 in security costs alone. The UW College Republicans, Yiannopoulos's host for the evening, reimbursed the university for about $9,000, but the rest of that mess was paid for by us—the taxpayers.

There are good reasons to oppose people like Milo Yiannopoulos or Ben Shapiro or Ann Coulter or Gavin McInnes, all of whom have been subject to deplatforming attempts and all of whom espouse some truly vile, often racist ideas. But even if you want to shut them up—you can't. Espousing vile ideas is protected under the Constitution, and so on any public campus in this country, people have the right to speak up.

Free speech is sacrosanct in the United States, and there's a reason for this: Protecting the most odious speech protects all speech, and while shielding citizens from "hate speech" may seem like a noble goal, in places where speech is restricted, the consequences of this can be very broad. According to the Times of London, in 2017, nine people a day were arrested in Britain for statements they made on social media that caused "annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another." In France, an animal-rights activist was given a seven-month suspended sentence for calling a butcher who had been killed in a terrorist attack an "assassin" on Facebook. In the US, this would be tacky; in France, it's a criminal offense.

Deplatforming attempts haven't just come from the left. Chelsea Manning was disinvited from Harvard last year after conservative complaints, and Women's March leader Linda Sarsour was the subject of a disinvitation attempt by Israeli activists at City University of New York. But, according to a survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that advocates for free speech on campus, deplatforming is far more popular on the left than the right: 78 percent of very liberal students surveyed said that disinviting speakers is acceptable, compared to only 38 percent of very conservative students. And, out of 45 disinvitation efforts on college campuses cataloged by FIRE in 2017 and 2018, 37 came from the left and only six came from the right. There were also two unaffiliated attempts to deplatform speakers: one was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and the other was the Dalai Lama, who was targeted for deplatforming by Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego. The students described the spiritual leader as a "terrorist" due to his advocacy for an autonomous Tibet—further evidence that who qualifies as harmful all depends on who you ask.

The right may be, at heart, afraid of dissent—but the left wasn't always this way, and it doesn't have to be going forth. Conservative provocateurs want you to deplatform them. Don't give them the satisfaction.