Sarah Phillimore, a barrister specialised in child protection law, describes her experience of having her account banned from Medium.
Let me start by setting out my credentials, in case what you are about to read makes you think I must be a knuckle-dragging hate-monger of epic proportions. I am not, of course. I am a female lawyer who has specialised in child protection law for over 20 years. I am also disabled, which has given me a keen appreciation of material reality over the years, and a firm understanding of the limits around which we can simply ‘declare’ ourselves to be anything we want to be.
Since 2014 I have owned and operated a website. Please feel free to visit and tell me if you find evidence of ‘hate’ there. I have since 2018 been very concerned about the implications for children of a growing ideology that promotes the notion of ‘born in the wrong body’ and sets even very young children on a path of ‘affirmation’ that may lead to surgery or medication that has irreversible and life long consequences. I have been invited to speak at an international conference about this. I have spoken and published widely.
I do not consider that I ever conduct myself in a way that his ‘hateful’. I think sex is real, it matters and single sex spaces for women and girls are rightly protected in law to ensure their safety and dignity. My rights to discuss issues around gender identify were confirmed by Mr Justice Knowles in Miller v College of Policing to be political speech protected by Article 10 of the ECHR.
In 2019 I decided to set up a Medium account to publish my thoughts on issues relating to sex and gender. All proceeded smoothly until June 25th 2020 when I published a summary of a Zoom meeting I had hosted on June 24th where 68 people met to discuss either reform or repeal to the Gender Recognition Act.
I’ve set out a link to that summary below. I do urge you to read it and tell me where in that document is evidence of hate?
Because Medium found it and suspended my account on June 26th. Their email to me read:
After careful review of the account linked to this email address, Medium’s Trust & Safety team has found it to be in violation of site policies, and it has been suspended:
We do not allow content that promotes violence or hatred against people based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, disease, age, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.We do not allow posts or accounts that glorify, celebrate, downplay, or trivialize violence, suffering, abuse, or deaths of individuals or groups. This includes the use of scientific or pseudoscientific claims to pathologize, dehumanize, or disempower others. We do not allow calls for intolerance, exclusion, or segregation based on protected characteristics, nor do we allow the glorification of groups which do any of the above.
The site did not, of course, tell me what was hateful about anything I had posted, or even if it was discussion of repeal to the GRA that prompted this investigation. That’s merely my reasonable assumption, given that I had published untroubled for the previous year. There was no right of appeal.
I set up another Medium account to point out my unhappiness with this; that account was also placed immediately ‘under investigation’. But my $50 to register again was worth it, as it prompted this automated email from the CEO Eve Williams. I think its worth quoting in full:
Over 20,000 times today, someone will publish on Medium to share a story, an idea, or a perspective with the world. Some of those will be professional writers we’ve paid. Others will be experts publishing of their own accord. Most will be people you and I have never heard of. Each one has a chance to influence others, plant a seed, perhaps even start a movement.
We do our best to help these stories find the audience they deserve, using a large team of people that includes human curators, editors, and software engineers. As a result, over 120 million people read on Medium every month. Our hope is that they understand the world more deeply by doing so and find ideas that can help them in their daily lives.
This is why Medium exists: To deepen understanding of the world and spread ideas that matter.
We pursue this with humility, because it is a job that will never end. But we also recognize the information we pay attention to plays a huge part in shaping how we think. It can divide us or empower us. It can lead to insight or spark anxiety.
There is a need today to rethink the systems that dominate our information landscape—and, therefore, our attention. Do they create more clarity or confusion? Do they mislead more than they inform? And do they serve the people or the advertisers that fund them?
Medium is creating not just technology, and not just content, but a new information ecosystem—one that is open for everyone to participate in, but without submitting to the lowest-common denominator. One that rewards quality over quantity. One that supports nuance, complexity, and substantive storytelling that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.
We have come a long way on this journey, but we are just getting started. As a paying member, you are critical to our mission. At any time, feel free to reply to this email to share your thoughts, and know that we’ll read each piece of feedback you send.
In the hope – probably vain – that Eve would indeed consider my feedback, I replied:
I was delighted to get your email as only a few days ago you suspended my account for violations of your terms of service regarding ”hateful conduct’. As I had been publishing since 2019 with no complaint, I can only assume it was this piece that earned me my suspension. Another site has kindly offered to publish it. The link is here https://gcritical.org/2020/06/26/first-meeting/
This post was a summary of a meeting of 68 people discussing suggestions for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 in the UK. This discussion was prompted and promoted by our own Government in 2018 and a ruling of the High Court of England and Wales confirms that discussion of such reform is political speech, protected under Article 10 of the ECHR. A link to that ruling is here. https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/miller-v-college-of-police-judgment.pdf
There was nothing in that post that was ‘hateful’. There is nothing ‘hateful’ in exercising rights to engage in political debate, as a protected right in a democratic society. I could have explained this if I had been given any opportunity to respond to any complaints made about my post. You simply suspended my account with no warning and no explanation.
It is therefore with some amusement I read the email you have just sent me and this paragraph in particular
“Medium is creating not just technology, and not just content, but a new information ecosystem—one that is open for everyone to participate in, but without submitting to the lowest-common denominator. One that rewards quality over quantity. One that supports nuance, complexity, and substantive storytelling that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.”
Your words are empty. You are creating a echo chamber that will permit no challenge, no dissent and you will slur those who try as ‘hate mongers’. You have shown contempt for one of the most fundamental and important of all human rights – the right to freedom of expression.
I would like my $50 back please.
At the time of writing, I haven’t got my $50 back.
And I know the arguments that will be ranged against me – freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, you aren’t entitled to a voice on any platform, they decide who they host, and so on.
And yes, that’s true, up to a point. But the situation we are now in is a very uneasy one. We rely upon these huge, often American owned and run, tech giants to provide us with means of communication and dissemination of ideas. Debate has been rumbling on for years as to how they could or should be better regulated. I won’t miss Medium much or at all. But if my Twitter account was suspended that would have serious impact on my ability to communicate. We have ceded enormous power to a handful of private companies that will silence our protected speech on an accusation of ‘hate’ that they refuse to identify or defend.
Everyone should be very worried about this. Just because you are in the right gang now, doesn’t mean you always will be. An arbitrary and undefined axe may fall on you too for something you did or said that seemed utterly insignificant but hurt someone else’s feelings – and you will have no right of appeal.
So let me just repeat again, in words now tediously familiar to me: It is not ‘hate’ to hold the view that sex is immutable, it is observed at birth and it has real and serious consequences that are recognised in law. And it is a shameful betrayal of the intelligence and dignity of the human race to insist on closing down lawful discussions that you don’t like, on your own personal definition of ‘hate’.
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