Free Speech

The silencing of Graham Linehan

Twitter has the power to control debate in society. That is real political power. Maybe the time has come to hold them to account?

You may not have heard of Graham Linehan but you will be familiar with his work. Linehan is the creator of Father Ted and the IT Crowd, among other comedy shows. And in the wake of the attacks against JK Rowling, he is the latest high-profile person to have been targeted by the mob for speaking out on the issue of transgenderism.

Over the weekend, Linehan was booted off Twitter. His apparent crime? To tweet the words: ‘men aren’t women tho’. His post, in response to a message from the Women’s Institute wishing their transgender members a happy Pride, was too much for Twitter. Now Linehan has been permanently suspended, it would seem, for saying among other things words that the majority of people would surely agree with.

How exactly Linehan broke Twitter’s rules remains a mystery. He told me that he received a notice saying that he had been suspended, along with an email from Twitter saying that ‘hateful conduct’ would not be tolerated. In Linehan’s own words, this is ‘odd (given) the thousands of examples of misogynistic abuse sent to JK Rowling (that) are still up.’

While Linehan may have taken a provocative stance on gender, the debate surrounding the rights of women and children is serious and needs to be brought out into the open. As Professor Kathleen Stock commented, ‘Graham Linehan shouldn’t have been banned from Twitter. He doesn’t put things sensitively, he’s p***** people off, but he’s also done his best to stick up for women against encroaching trans activism. For which he has paid disproportionately. Cowardly blue ticks walk on by.’

Stock Tweet

Cowardly blue ticks being politicians, policy makers, and others who choose to say nothing when critical voices are bullied into silence. The bullying in this case has come from a mob. The pressure is relentless and insidious, but also ludicrous. An ongoing petition that called for his head: ‘Graham Linehan Needs To Be Removed from Twitter’ cited causing upset and offence as the headline charge against him.

So why does the mob hate Linehan? He told me that he is campaigning for the word ‘woman’ to retain its meaning as ‘adult human female’. And he wants children to be allowed to experiment with gender non-conformity without being labelled as ‘trans’ and potentially put on a damaging medical pathway. And he wants women to be allowed to discuss these issues without receiving vile misogynistic abuse. Is that too much to ask?

As a comedy writer he naturally uses humour to expose the absurd – he called himself a ‘Wooblybooblysexual’ and described his pronouns as ‘woobly/boobly’ – but he is deadly serious: ‘I think gender ideology is evil and needs to be destroyed.’

But rather than refute that charge, his opponents have silenced his voice on a platform where he had over half a million followers. In 1984, George Orwell wrote, ‘The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.’ That has never been so true as it is now. Freedom has been sacrificed to happiness. What feels good is more important than what is true. Puncturing someones balloon of misconceptions and untruths is framed as hateful conduct, and punished with cancellation. In Linehan’s case, his Twitter account. But when we yield to that pressure we lose our liberty.

If this were an episode from Linehan’s IT Crowd it might be funny, but this is deadly serious. Twitter has the power to control debate in society. That is real political power. Maybe the time has come to hold them to account?

Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by The Spectator on 29 June 2020: The silencing of Graham Linehan.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

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