BBC handled this delicate problem a bit differently a few days ago.
After a Syrian migrant announced his fealty to ISIS, and his intention to blow Germans up in their homes, and then detonated himself in a wine bar in Ansbach, Germany, BBC headlined its report in this ingenious manner:
Syrian migrant dies in German blast
LU’s Howard Portnoy interpreted the BBC editorial decision as most of us would:
The BBC headline is an indication of how far the liberal press will go to promote the twin fictions that (1) the radical Islamist terrorists who carry out these deadly acts do not do so in the name of Islam, and (2) attacks of this nature are for the most part for the most part retaliation for Islamophobia.
But we shouldn’t overlook the possibility that BBC was just grasping for a way to avoid posthumously glorifying the attacker. If you think about it, there would hardly be a more foolproof way than mischaracterizing the event entirely. Turning the bomber into a victim would deny him glorification, at least as a “martyr” of jihad.
We need to start thinking in this convoluted manner, because the media are constraining themselves to do so.
The Guardian reports that some French media outlets have already decided not to publish images or names of terrorist attackers, in order to avoid gratifying them (and/or terrorist recruiters) with “posthumous glorification.”
Now, first of all, I’ll believe it’s really about that when I see the same media avoid posting the name or photo of an Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who massacred 77 people in a pair of attacks in 2011. Breivik was after notoriety and recruitment too, and he certainly got the notoriety. To hear European leftists tell it, he got the recruitment as well: ordinary Europeans who complain about the migrant influx are basically Breiviks waiting to happen, potential homicidal psychopaths motivated by xenophobia and hate.
But aside from that, it’s true that this can be a complicated issue. It’s understandable that media managers would object to their outlets becoming conduits for messages they find reprehensible. It’s never been a requirement of professional orthodoxy for them, that they ignore how their audience perceives what they report. Some in their audience do think of it as a form of glorification, when a jihadi “martyr” is featured in the Western media for his or her appalling acts.
So it is not to make fun of the French media that I write this. Nor is it to proclaim that there is an easy, cost-free answer.
Instead, it’s to point out that starting down this road of defensive, or prophylactic, censorship can’t lead anywhere good. Ultimately, that will have to be the tiebreaker, at least where media censorship intersects with public policy. (It does so in most European countries, where there are flagship national media supported by the state and answerable to it for their editorial practices. Media companies that are truly independent of government control – on the American model – need to remain free to make their own choices, even if the choices are misguided.)
I want to address just two dimensions of the problem here. One is very simple, and it’s referred to in the Guardian article (emphasis added):
Michel Field, the executive director of news at the state-run France Télévisions, issued a statement saying: “Our duty is to inform, it’s the right of citizens to be informed. And we must resist this race towards self-censorship and grand declarations of intention.”
Field said suppressing the names and pictures of terrorists would contribute to the anxiety of the public and the feeling that they were being kept in the dark by the mainstream media, adding that such censorship was ridiculous in the age of social media.
Many of you probably thought of that final point immediately. Won’t it be futile for the national, mainstream media to withhold names and images, when they are so readily available via social media? Isn’t it through new media – social media, our go-to websites – that we now pick up almost all of that kind of information, at least initially?
That’s a valid point, but it’s also a shortsighted one. Social media are already heavily engaged in defensive censorship, mostly to serve the themes of progressive-left political correctness. And the second-order implication of that is already upon us.
What do I mean by second-order implication? I’ll illustrate it with an incident in early July. Social media – especially Facebook and Twitter – have signed up to police their boards to censor “hateful” and “inciting” content of various kinds. That includes things like ISIS videos issuing bloody threats, and terrorist videos depicting, and celebrating, gruesome attacks involving bombings, beheading, crucifixion, etc.
Now, “hate” and “incitement” are also held to include things like saying “Islam is not a religion of peace,” or “migrants aren’t making Europe a better place.” And that’s a real concern for Europeans watching Mark Zuckerberg make deals with Angela Merkel to police Facebook for such sentiment. (It’s also a concern for Americans experiencing constant social-media censorship.)
But that’s not the second-order effect I’m talking about – as problematic as it is for free speech and truth.
The second-order effect is that people who oppose Islamist terrorism – who oppose ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc. – can’t highlight or call out the true, bloodthirsty, and Islam-based nature of the Islamists’ appeal. Because merely quoting them – showing what they do and say – is deemed to be an unacceptable manifestation of “hate” or “incitement.”
Even if your whole point is to show how bad these terror groups are, your content can be censored, just because it exposes rather than covering up the nature of their content. That’s exactly what happened in July 2016 to a video posted to YouTube by CounterJihad.com.
The Clarion Project quotes Jim Hanson, executive vice president of the Center for Security Policy:
I am stunned that the policy that YouTube developed for the express purpose of fighting Islamic State propaganda is now being used to silence critics of radical jihad.
Instead of counteracting radical propaganda online, these policies are now being used to silence the very speech that YouTube said it wanted — speech that challenges ISIS.
Silencing bad news because some people might find it motivational simply doesn’t ever serve the cause of truth. It certainly doesn’t serve the cause of governmental accountability or public unity. Instead, it makes people suspicious and cynical about the media managers themselves.
Make no mistake. That isn’t just a generic reaction to having information withheld. It’s because of the net effect when the people are “protected” from the truth about Islamism (or any other –ism that benefits from systematic censorship).
The net effect is that the Islamist terror message is shielded from exposure to public view. It’s also, equally, that truth-seeking groups like CounterJihad.com become known unjustly as publishers of videos that got censored, supposedly for “hate” or “incitement.” The net effect of this defensive censorship is to imply a grand, inverted lie. And public trust cannot be built on that.
Beware media managers trying to protect you from the hate speech and incitement of third parties. In closing, let’s bring this back full circle, to the Shoebat post we started with. It recounted the manifesto of the Ansbach bomber, and was one of a very few high-profile websites that offered a translation.
Notice about the post that both the tweet and the video that clarified the bomber’s intentions have been deleted from their host servers (Twitter and YouTube).
You’ve been “protected” by the social media managers from direct evidence. But since you now can’t evaluate it yourself, or form a thoughtful, independent judgment on that basis, I very much doubt that you think you’ve been helped.