In our information age, companies such as Google and YouTube allow ideas to spread more quickly and farther than our ancestors would have thought possible. But there is a dark side to the information age. A small but significant minority — those who own social-media sites that all of us rely on — can dictate what viewpoints, ideas, and even facts to hide from the public.
That is exactly what happened last week, when YouTube pulled down a Heritage Foundation video that featured Walt Heyer, who used to identify as a transgender woman, sharing his personal experience. Heyer underwent hormone treatments and surgeries in his quest to become female. He eventually realized that even the most extreme medical interventions could not address his gender dysphoria. He de-transitioned and now encourages gender-confused individuals to make peace with their biology rather than undergo irreversible surgeries.
In the video, Heyer told an audience about the heartbreaking regret he continues to experience from his decisions. His story is no outlier, but one among a growing group of people who regret using hormones and surgeries to attempt to address gender dysphoria. Heyer spoke with compassion and conveyed his deep desire to promote the best interests of young people, who he believes can be tragically and permanently harmed by the irreversible consequences of the hormones and surgeries some doctors offer.
In our identity-centric age, we often hear people discount or censor others’ messages because they say the speaker lacks first-hand experience. But Heyer lived this trauma — for decades. Yet YouTube pulled the video. In a statement explaining their decision, YouTube wrote, “Our hate speech policy prohibits videos which assert that someone’s sexuality or gender identity is a disease or a mental illness.”
YouTube claims to provide a space where people can share their experiences and ideas, but by suppressing content from an important national debate, YouTube (which is run by Google) violates its own claim. Rather than being a platform for all ideas, these companies suppress free and open debate by censoring ideas with which they disagree.
This is wholly at odds with the cherished principles of free speech. Protecting dissent is a uniquely American tradition, and those “unpopular” views — such as the views of abolitionists prior to the Civil War — have often led our society to more just positions on crucial social and moral issues. When information giants like Google and YouTube suppress certain viewpoints — and silence personal stories — they crush the robust exchange of ideas that makes our society more just and that they claim to support.
There are more than principles at stake. The lives and health of countless individuals are on the line. The number of young people who claim to experience gender dysphoria has skyrocketed in the past decade, and yet some doctors encourage young people — even minors — to address their dysphoria with irreversible hormone treatments and surgeries. At the same time, a serious lack of transparency exists about the harms of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
Studies show that up to 90 percent of children who experience gender dysphoria psychologically reconcile with their biological sex by the end of adolescence, but such information is now being censored, and young people are encouraged to make irreversible changes to their bodies.
Those who regret transitioning often struggle to make their voices heard, while others like Jazz Jennings who want to promote their decisions are welcomed to do so (Jennings was born male, raised as a girl, and underwent sex-reassignment surgery age 17 as part of the television series I am Jazz).
How are people to make informed decisions when only “correct” personal life stories and experiences are shared? A culture that embraces free-speech principles affords us the opportunity to listen, to think critically, and then civilly debate our ideas with those with whom we disagree. And we are all better for it.
Viewpoint discrimination is a threat to a healthy, diverse, and prosperous society. YouTube should help society express a diversity of viewpoints and ideas instead of suppressing them.