The crowd inside the Kern Building erupted in cheers as the speakers entered the auditorium, kicking off what was arguably the most controversial event of the semester thus far.
“We’re not about divisiveness,” Sean Semanko, president of Turning Point USA at Penn State, said. “We’re here to have some fun.”
On Wednesday, Turning Point hosted YouTubers Carl Benjamin and Hunter Avallone to share their experiences with censorship from big technology companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Both speakers are banned from Twitter because they violated the company’s speech policies.
Semanko said free speech is “under attack” in America, and that’s why his organization hosted the event that around 300 people — a majority of which were men — attended.
Avallone took the stage after a brief video highlighting clips from his YouTube channel played for the audience.
He said American conservatives too often play the victim when discussing censorship — something that makes them look bad, as the First Amendment protects their free speech.
“Censorship is not a free speech issue,” Avallone said.
In April, Avallone’s YouTube account — with more than 630,000 subscribers — was suspended without warning. He said while this would have been the perfect opportunity to cry censorship, he didn’t because his channel was reinstated within seven “painful” hours. He supports his wife and child with revenue generated from his videos.
“If big tech censorship exists it’s happening to everyone,” Avallone said. “YouTube is like Communism — everybody suffers equally.”
However, he said the idea of making YouTube review every video before it is published is “ludicrous.”
Bias against conservatives exists on Facebook and Twitter, Avallone said, and shadow-banning is a way companies do just that.
“Although censorship isn’t happening at the level most people claim, big tech needs [to be more transparent],” Avallone said.
Looking back, Avallone said he read Twitter’s guidelines and understands why he was permanently banned from the platform.
Then, a video highlighted clips from the YouTube channel of Benjamin — who goes by the pseudonym Sargon of Akkad.
“All dissident voices are important,” Benjamin said in the video.
Unlike Avallone, Benjamin does believe big tech censorship is an issue and said one might find his or herself “boxed in” as more speech becomes restricted. He said he wouldn’t bank on leftist integrity and that free speech should mean all speech — including anti-semetic speech — is protected.
“I don’t like the alt-right — you all know that — but I think they should have a right to exist,” Benjamin said.
Student Jake Goldenberg said he expected people with different political beliefs to attend the event and he respects the opposition.
“I love that the students are passionate enough to have this civil discourse and to express their beliefs so adamantly,” Goldenberg (freshman-English) said. “I think it’s important that we remember that at an academic institution we have to respect all beliefs and acknowledge the ugly things and the uncomfortable things.”
Nick Franchi said he came to the event because he has watched Avallone on YouTube for the last couple years and wanted to see him in person.
“I personally don’t understand the point of protesting an event like this,” Franchi (freshman-actuarial science) said. “I haven’t talked to any of the protesters so I don’t exactly know their standpoint either.”
The event was met with a group of protesters, who held signs, chanted and shouted at attendees as they entered the Kern Building.
“I bet if this was a Democratic gathering [and someone said racism was overblown] I think they’d get lynched on the stage,” Benjamin said. “They’d put you in a Gulag if they could.”
In terms of academic censorship, Avallone said students should “never shut up.”
“If you shut up, you’ve validated their tactics,” Avallone said. “If you refuse to be intimidated by these tactics I believe you’ll be able to turn that [power] around a little bit.”
The conversation shifted to discuss those protesting the event outside.
“Look at the absolute desperation from the protesters and the establishment,” Benjamin said of the protesters and of Penn State administration. “I bet if you were to check [Penn State’s faculty] Twitter [accounts] they’d be pretty leftist,” Benjamin said.
Earlier Wednesday, Penn State released a statement condemning the speech and beliefs held by Benjamin and Avallone.
Benjamin joked he didn’t want to discuss Brexit, although he willingly answered two questions regarding the topic.
“You want a strong society to prevent a big, tyrannical government,” Benjamin said.
Bias against conservatives through algorithms on websites exists, according to the speakers. However, Avallone said it’s not an issue on every platform.
“Google controls so much information,” Avallone said. “Google should be held to a higher standard [in regards to bias].”
The two speakers agreed the flow of content on platforms will remain constant, if not increase, because of the easy access to platforms and because YouTube makes money from creators’ videos.
“YouTube is a slave to their advertisers and the mainstream media,” Avallone said.
Other topics included circumcision, the effect pornography has on a family dynamic, immigration in the United States and the potential inclusion of women in the U.S. Army draft.
One attendee asked what the speakers thought about the LGBTQ community, as he said he feels it was difficult to learn all the pronouns to identify different genders.
“Don’t feel bad about it, man,” Benjamin said. “They put ridiculous pressure on themselves. It’s never going to work.”
Many attendees asked questions during the Q&A portion of the event.
“I don’t think offense is good reason for censorship,” Benjamin said to an attendee who asked if the speakers thought about the effect of their words on marginalized communities.
Avallone shared a similar sentiment to Benjamin in regards to the question, and brought up a double-standard.
“There are racial jokes in shows like ‘The Office,’ and no one [cares about that],” Avallone said.
Turning Point secretary Tahrier Faruque said she was happy with the results of the event and expected more protesters to show up.
“I only saw a small crowd and only one flag [with] obnoxious behavior as usual,” Faruque (senior-psychology) said.
Faruque has followed the YouTubers since they started creating videos.
“I love the fact that they’re able to sit there and answer everyone’s questions,” Faruque said. “My respect for them has gone much higher than it was before.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article mischaracterized aspects of the protest and m…