In November 2014, Oxford Students for Life organised a debate, to be hosted at Christ Church, a college at Oxford University, on the motion “This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”. Two guest speakers were invited: Tim Stanley to speak in favour of the proposition and Brendan O’Neill to speak against. As Stanley wrote in his post-mortem of the ensuing ordeal, “this wasn’t a pro-life demo and the subject wasn’t whether or not women should have the right to choose abortion. […] [T]he motion ha[d] nothing to do with abortion rights per se and was simply a consideration of how having effective abortion on demand affects wider society”.
On 28 January 2016, Oxford’s Oriel College announced that it would not be removing the statue of Cecil Rhodes — a British imperialist and benefactor of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship — that has been at the centre of a student campaign demanding its displacement. The decision was made following a private consultation process undertaken by the college that found “overwhelming support” for keeping the statue and revealed a risk of fundraising losses upwards of £100m.
Activists at universities and beyond are increasingly using so-called ‘No-Platform’ arguments to ban the public speech of those whose views they find offensive. In practice, this typically involves staging protests or petitioning university authorities to disinvite ‘offensive’ individuals from speaking engagements. Examples abound from both sides of the Atlantic: in the United States, students have No-Platformed the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christine Lagarde, while in the United Kingdom their targets have included Maryam Namazie and Germaine Greer, among others.
On 19 April 2015, twenty-five year old Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Maryland, died from spinal injuries sustained during a police arrest. The riots that followed triggered a state of emergency in the city of Baltimore, making national as well as international headlines. As these events unfolded, I turned to YouTube to explore the news coverage: a quick search for ‘Baltimore protests’ yielded everything from live footage to reports to talk show segments detailing the crisis. But between first-page hits from familiar sources like CNN and ABC News, several news reports came from a channel inconspicuously named RT.