Choose your fighter
Loyalty and fandom in the free speech culture wars
in The free speech wars
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People need to pick between untrammelled ‘free speech’ on one side and a free press and democracy on the other. You can’t have both. We platform fascists in the name of balance and free speech, and then are surprised when they threaten journalists, murder politicians and grow their fanbase all the while. Some find their happy place by following musicians, actors, fictional characters, sportspeople and celebrities, as always. Others find a different kind of well-known, sometimes magnetic and often political figure appealing – party politicians and campaigners. Looking at this phenomenon through the lens of fandom makes it easier to understand why it is so appealing, why the fans are so dedicated and loyal, and why the grifters at the top of parapolitical movements can make so much money from crowdfunding and merchandise. It also rehumanises many of those attracted to the personalities and the campaigns, rather than ideologies. Dismissing huge swathes of people as stupid racists and deluded fascists does not make the problem go away, and keeping the grifters famous makes it worse. Activism in many contexts relies on the same logics as fandom. It is the sense of identity, community and the chance to be around and even heard, recognised and appreciated by interesting people, intellectual or literal crushes, that draws people to put in hours of volunteering, as much as their values. Examples are a political party that feels like your family, an intense grouping around a single-issue campaign, or an event that raises money for charity. For these to be successful, charismatic and capable people are usually somewhere at the centre and people who are well known, even in a niche and local context, are involved.

The free speech wars

How did we get here and why does it matter?

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