Deplatformed! The Tech Left's Attack on Free Speech and Why Christians Should Object, Part I
"We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to," said then President Obama in Pittsburgh in October 2016.
The President continued, "There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don't have any basis in anything that's actually happening in the world."
In the opinion of this author, those are some of the most chilling words any president has ever spoken. In all but name, Obama called for the government to establish a 1984 style ministry of truth. Perhaps more chilling, not many people took notice or seemed to care.
Perhaps the lack of attention could be chalked up to the timing of Obama's remarks, made, as they were, less than a month before the most contentious presidential election in recent memory.
In light of the events of the last two years, and especially those of last week, a week that saw the coordinated takedown of Alex Jones by the biggest social media platforms, it's this author's contention that Obama's statement ought to be seen as a declaration of war by the deep state on internet free speech.
Now someone may say, "I don't like Alex Jones, he's just so over the top." Others, perhaps who aren't into social media or who don't follow politics or economics or just aren't into alternate news sources, may yawn and think this has nothing to do with them.
Christians, particularly American Christians, concerned as they ought to be with maintaining freedom of religion may be tempted to pass over Jones' very public, Big Tech deplatforming as having no direct bearing on their ability to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ or to openly worship.
But it is the contention of this author that ignoring what happened to Jones would be a serious mistake for anyone, Christian or not, who cherishes liberty, limited government, and the ability to think and to speak freely and without fear of punishment, either from the civil authorities or key private institutions.
So just what was done to Alex Jones last week that prompted this essay? For that matter, who is Alex Jones and why should Christians care about what happened to him?
According to a piece on ThinkProgress, "Alex Jones was dealt a series of blows on Monday when Apple and Spotify decided to remove nearly all of Infowar's podcasts, and Facebook banned several of his pages." These bans followed the lead of YouTube, which just a few days earlier pulled all of Jones' Infowars channels except The Real News with David Knight.
As seems to be the standard operation procedure with such bans, the reasons given by the tech companies were rather vague. The article continues with a comment from an Apple spokesman who is quoted saying, "Podcasts that violate these [hate speech] guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming."
In a post explaining its actions against Jones, Facebook said, "Earlier today, we removed four Pages belonging to Alex Jones for repeatedly posting content over the past several days that breaks those Community Standards." As with Apple, we see a vague reference to "Community Standards" and "hate speech" but no specific examples of what was said that prompted Facebook's act of removing the Infowars pages or explanation of why these statements were so egregious that they required the banning in the first place.
But lest one suppose that Infowars is uniquely the target of big tech tyrants, there have been many other casualties, not just last week, but over the past two years since Obama's call for "truthiness tests."
For example, in an email to supporters of the Ron Paul Institute, Executive Director Daniel McAdams related his recent experience of being banned from Twitter for having the audacity to tweet support for a friend whose Twitter account had been permanently banned.
For those unfamiliar with McAdams, alone with being Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute, he's a former Congressional staffer for Ron Paul and Ron Paul's co-host on the daily Ron Paul Liberty Report. From my observation, Mr. McAdams, far from being over the top or deliberately provocative, conducts himself as a gentleman and a scholar, none of which prevented him from feeling the wrath the masters of the Twitter universe.
McAdams' Twitter account has since been restored, but the restoration came with an odd, Orwellian twist to it. McAdams wrote,
Twitter also did something to Scott [McAdam's is referencing Scott Horton, Horton, a libertarian writer, also was banned for voicing his support for fellow libertarian Peter Van Buren, the same thing that got McAdams in hot water] and me that was positively Stalinist: when we tried to log in to our [Twitter] account while suspended, we were greeted with our "offending" Tweets, the message was clear: you must admit how wrong you were and remove it yourself. I told a colleague about this strange demand and his response was chilling...and accurate:
That's giving the game away for them, Stalin face, deniability for them by making you self incriminate...communitarian policing to the extreme, psychological reframing, behaviorist modification...just like they would do to a child in school.
Neither Scott nor I bit.
The suppression of accounts, which seems to happen only to conservatives and libertarians, rarely if ever to socialists, is not limited to outright deletion. It's not uncommon for social media platforms to engage in the practice of shadow banning.
So just what is shadow banning? Let's quote one of the leading experts on the practice, Twitter itself. "The best definition we found is this: deliberately making someone's content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it, unbeknownst to the original poster."
According to Vice News, Twitter had engaged in the practice of shadow banning, not on various fringe personalities, but on some of the biggest names in the Republican party. On July 26, Vice reported that "Twitter appears to have fixed search problems that lowered visibility of GOP lawmakers."
So who were these lawmakers? "Those affected included RNC [Republican National Committee] Chair Ronna McDaniel, Republican Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, along with Andrew Surabian, Donald Trump Jr.'s spokesman and former Special Assistant to the President."
These are not by any means obscure individuals, but some of the most powerful and best known Republicans. Twitter claims that the problem with the accounts was "a side effect attempts to clean up discourse on its platform."
The Vice article goes on to describe the shadow ban technique used on the Republicans as "[A] shift that diminishes their reach on the platform - and it's the same one being deployed against prominent racists to limit their visibility. The profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar."
What is more, the supposed "side effect" of Twitter's efforts was limited to Republicans only, as there were no reports of this happening to Democrats. As Vice notes, "Democrats are not being 'shadow banned' in the same way, according to a VICE News review. McDaniel's counterpart, Democratic Party chair Tom Perez, and liberal members of Congress - including Reps. Maxine Waters [in what came close to a call for physical violence against Trump administration officials, Maxine Waters recently called on her supports to "push back" on Trump staffers if they saw them in public], Joe Kennedy III, Keith Ellison, and Mark Pocan - all continue to appear in drop-down search results. Not a single member of the 78-person Progressive Caucus faces the same situation in Twitter's search."
To make matters worse, Twitter responded to criticism of its practice of shadow banning by issuing a denial that sounded a whole lot more like an admission of guilt. Said Twitter, "We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don't shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology."
But what is shadow banning if not making people "do more work to find" tweets by those out of favor with the powers that be?
And Twitter's denial that they shadow ban based on political viewpoints seems threadbare in the face of Vice News' findings reported above.
And, oh yeah, Vice News, far from being a conservative bastion, is a liberal publication. With that in mind, their reporting that prominent Democrats were not subjected to the same treatment as their Republican counterparts can be seen as an admission against interest.
But as notable as the above deplatformings are, they are not the only examples of the tech left bringing down its heavy hammer on those who dare voice opinions at odds with the received government / mainstream media narrative.
Trump supporters Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, better known as Diamond and Silk, testified before Congress about how they were censored on Facebook and demonetized on YouTube.
So what did they mean by censored and demonetized? In the case of Facebook, the sisters claim that, beginning in September 2017, their 1.4 million followers stopped being notified about new posts. This is similar to Twitter's shadow bans in that, while Facebook allowed Diamond and Silk to post content, they made it harder for people to access their content.
As for the charge of demonetization, that's something YouTube does to videos its algorithms are programmed to recognize as "not advertiser friendly," that is to say, videos by conservatives and libertarians that challenge the liberal mainstream media news narrative, are actually interesting, and attract a large audience of unfashionable people sporting unfashionable opinions, who have the audacity to ask unfashionable questions of their supposed betters. That is to say, videos liked by the dreaded deplorables.
To demonetize a video means YouTube makes it ineligible for advertisers to sponsor it. Since YouTube content providers receive advertising revenue from the ads that run on their videos, YouTube is depriving popular YouTubers of advertising revenue when their videos are flagged as not being advertiser friendly.
During their Congressional testimony, USA Today reports that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee questioned Diamond and Silk on what role Congress could have in telling private entities how to manage their platforms.
Good grief! Since when did the Democrats ever see any successful private entity they didn't want to tax and regulate into the ground? And now, when YouTube is doing their dirty work of censoring their opponents for them, suddenly we're to believe they've had an epiphany, having discovered wonders of laissez faire economics and limited government? What hypocrisy! Spare me!
For some of the best, not to mention most entertaining, Congressional testimony you'll ever see, check out this video from Mark Dice which shows Diamond and Silk unloading on Congressman Hank Johnson (D, GA).
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And speaking of Mark Dice, he's another YouTuber and one of the biggest voices among alternate media conservatives. He has 1.3 million followers on YouTube, yet routinely has his videos demonetized, considered as they are by YouTube, not advertiser friendly.
So how have conservatives responded to all this cyber harassment? In many cases, not well at all.
Echoing the Congressional Democrats, one inadequate conservative response has been to take the position that, since Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et. al. are private companies, their decision to ban Jones, Diamond and Silk, Mark Dice and others is simply an example of private businesses exercising their property rights. Therefore, no one has the right to complain. The message? Just stop complaining, shut up and go start your own version of Facebook already!
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times last week, establishment conservative and never-Trumper David French said as much when he took issue, not with the tech left's banning of Alex Jones, but they way in which they did it. The "loathsome" Jones and his "loathsome" content should be banned, says French, but Twitter, Facebook and YouTube got it all wrong by booting him for hate speech. They should have deep sixed him on the basis of libel and slander laws.
One major problem with French's position is that, as Lord willing I hope to develop next week, one can make a strong circumstantial case that the selective banning of conservative voices is not merely a matter of private companies legally exercising control over their own product, but very likely is the result of their collaboration with the deep state. In other words, the Big Tech's jihad against conservatives is really a case of the merger of [deep] state and corporate powers, which is the very definition of fascism.
A second problem with French's position is that, not only does he come off in his New York Times op-ed as a rather snooty movement conservative, it never seems to occur to him that someday he may find himself shadow banned or deplatformed in the same way Alex Jones was, a man for whom French has nothing but contempt. Perhaps Mr. French needs to go back and reread Martin Niemöller's famous poem, First they came...
Another weak argument used by some conservatives is to say that big tech's censoring of Republicans is a First Amendment issue. But the First Amendment applies to Congress - Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. Since Congress has not passed a law abridging free speech on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, arguing on First Amendment grounds seems like an unpromising line of attack.
Finally, there are calls by some to threaten the big techies with antitrust lawsuits. Admittedly this is tempting, but this would be a mistake. Not only are antitrust laws a product of the regulatory state which Christians should eschew, but they actually can work in favor of the businesses being regulated.
As James Corbett argued in a recent video, the tech left's banning of conservatives is part of a larger chess game Corbett refers to as Problem, Reaction, Solution. Corbett believes that antitrust regulation of big tech will not weaken, but actually strengthen the grip of the current crop of Silicon Valley billionaires on the social media market just as it strengthened John Rockefeller's grip on the oil market 100 years ago.
Corbett makes a compelling case that the tech left has deliberately provoked conservatives in the hopes that they will react by calling for the one thing the tech industry craves: government regulation. And why do they crave regulation? It helps them stamp out up and coming competition.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of government regulation is that big business actually likes it. Established big businesses have the resources to cope with regulations in a way that start ups do not. Government regulations actually act as an entry barrier for entrepreneurs by imposing costs on them at a time when they are most vulnerable and perhaps lacking the legal sophistication and the money to comply with a complex set of laws.
In other words, Facebook and the others are scared of becoming the next My Space or America On Line, as well they should be, and see governmental regulation of the industry as a way to keep this from happening. And not only that, but they want to trick you into doing the job for them, first by creating a problem, thus provoking you to react, and then helping Congress write the laws that will regulate and protect, not you, but them.
Now you may be asking yourself, so what does any of this have to do with Christianity. The answer is, quite a lot. Christianity is a religion first, not of the deed, but of the Word. And that Word must be heard to be believed. If Christians cannot freely write and speak the truth of God's Word, then they are in for serious problems indeed.
It is not accident that it is Protestant West that pioneered free speech and where it to this day has the most support. But free speech is under aggressive assault today, and not just from the tech left. Lord willing, we shall explore this and other related issues in future installments of this series.
(To be continued...)