Peer Policing: The Next Dangerous Step Silencing Our Voices

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(Illustrative photo: Artyom Geodakyan / TASS / Getty Images)
(Illustrative photo: Artyom Geodakyan / TASS / Getty Images)

From Minneapolis to Indonesia, peer policing for “deviancy” is on the rise in a trend that was first triggered by social media. In addition, across the board, social media platforms are involving themselves in state affairs to facilitate a state agenda.

Recently, Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, had a tweet against face veils flagged by Twitter for violating Pakistani law. Another Silicon Valley giant, Google, is hand-in-hand helping Chinese authorities crackdown on it’s Uighur (Muslim) population. 

The advent of policing and censoring speech within social media platforms has normalized the idea that it is acceptable to police each other for “unfavorable” rhetoric. That concept is now moving beyond online spaces and taking up real estate in communities from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Jakarta, Indonesia. 

The slow-drip of these developments, and the fact that they are stretched across territories and over time, make it difficult for people to connect the dots.  

In 2016, for example, the Kansas City school board passed a resolution condemning violence and hate speech against Muslim students. In 2017, the city of Minneapolis launched a hotline to report “harassing behaviors motivated by prejudice.” Within just the last couple of years, more major cities across the U.S. are passing legislation against Islamophobia. 

While hate, discrimination and violence against any group needs to be stood against steadfastly, the trouble with verbiage in these cases is that as a society we’re conflating ignorant and frowned-upon rhetoric, politically incorrect comments and other expressions of free speech with genuine hate speech that instigates violence.

The patrolling of behavior in online spaces has arguably facilitated the patrolling of speech in physical spaces. Additionally, ballooning definitions of Islamophobia have not helped the situation, particularly as any critical commentary or philosophical inquiry into Islam (or any other contentious or complex issue for that matter) is now seen as dancing on a razor’s edge of hate. 

In other words, any opinion someone doesn’t like risks being labeled offensive, hateful and in some cases punishable. Particularly noteworthy is the hysterical reaction to behavior classified as “deviant.” Whether it’s America’s tech elite facilitating the fundamentalism and fascism of foreign powers or the draconian regulation of free thought and expression, we are not that different from those we claim to be better than. Not anymore. 

In Indonesia, for example, the practice of peer policing has taken an additional step that now includes an app that allows people to report deviancy. Just like hate, discrimination and Islamophobia, deviancy can mean anything. 

How much longer will it be before Americans are also able to peer police each other through apps with devastating consequences to life, liberty and privacy? We are already being primed for more serious stages of self-reporting through the measures already in play.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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