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Free speech groups say everyone must stop speaking about boycotts

Nick Duffy January 6, 2017
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A collective of groups supporting free speech have urged people to stop talking about boycotts.

Publisher Simon & Schuster has recently faced calls for a boycott after handing a $250,000 book deal to far-right internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yiannopoulos, a Donald Trump supporter, has previously claimed he would ‘cure’ himself of being gay if he could, and describes trans people as “mentally ill gay men dressing up for attention”.

He was banned from Twitter last year after allegedly encouraging a wave of racist abuse directed at Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, while he took advantage of a university speech on his ‘Dangerous Faggot’ lecture tour to single out and bully a transgender student on-stage.

The Chicago Review of Books led the calls by confirming it would not carry a review of any Simon & Schuster books in 2017 – but this week, a coalition of free speech groups have slammed any talk of a boycott.

The groups, including Index on Censorship, wrote a joint statement alleging that “threats to boycott publishers undermine intellectual freedom and harm readers and writers”.

The letter states: “In the present case, the calls for a boycott stem not from the content of a book, which has not been published, but because of previous statements by the author which critics characterize as hate speech.

“This kind of response will have a chilling effect on authors and publishers, which is undoubtedly the goal of those who support such boycotts. However, the suppression of noxious ideas does not defeat them; only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech effectively.

“Shutting down the conversation may temporarily silence disfavoured views, but does nothing to prevent them from spreading and resurfacing in other ways.”

The letter does clarify that people should be “free to choose not to read any book that they think contains objectionable material, or to urge a boycott”, but simultaneously states that “threats to boycott publishers undermine intellectual freedom and harm readers and writers”.

It is signed by the National Coalition Against Censorship and Index on Censorship – alongside the American Booksellers Association, Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and National Council of Teachers of English.

Simon & Schuster previously released a statement defending the deal.

It says: “We do not and never have condoned discrimination or hate speech in any form.

“At Simon & Schuster we have always published books by a wide range of authors with greatly varying, and frequently controversial opinions, and appealing to many different audiences of readers.

“While we are cognizant that many may disagree vehemently with the books we publish we note that the opinions expressed therein belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees.”

Yiannopoulos said previously: “I met with top execs at Simon & Schuster earlier in the year [2016] and spent half an hour trying to shock them with lewd jokes and outrageous opinions.

“I thought they were going to have me escorted from the building – but instead they offered me a wheelbarrow full of money.”

Related topics: boycott, boycotts, far right, Gay, Internet, LGBT, milo, Milo Yiannopoulos, Troll, US

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