Social media were supposed to democratize speech, liberating the people of the world from the tyranny of gatekeepers. They failed. Seduced by vanity and ideology, they’ve become censors themselves, a Soviet-style thought police.
Once upon a time, Google’s motto was “Don’t be evil,” Facebook was all about connecting people, and Twitter executives proclaimed it the “free speech wing of the free speech party.” Fast-forward to 2020, and they’re all about ‘deplatforming’ voices the legacy media and the political establishment has denounced as unworthy of being heard.
“Who the hell elected you?” thundered Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, during Wednesday’s hearing, expressing frustration over the platform’s crackdown on a story about a major political scandal. In attempting to suppress the story of Hunter Biden’s dubious business dealings, Twitter has locked the account of America’s oldest publishing newspaper, and even gone after White House officials and members of Congress.
Yet anyone who didn’t see this coming in the months after the 2016 US election simply hasn’t been paying attention. The greatest irony is that Cruz and his fellow Republicans enabled it themselves, partly by preferring sound bites over legislative action, but also by validating the ‘Russian meddling’ conspiracy theories peddled by their political opponents in an effort to delegitimize the presidency of Donald Trump.
Make no mistake, ‘Russiagate’ is how Big Tech was pushed onto the path of censorship. By way of just one example, the Cambridge Analytica ‘scandal’ was used to bludgeon Facebook into hiring censors and partnering with outside ‘fact-checkers’. When it eventually turned out there had been no scandal and the whole thing was a manufactured outrage by self-serving ‘whistleblowers’ and the media… there wasn’t so much as an apology, and the mechanisms stayed in place.
Silicon Valley has been more than eager to go down that path, too. Public records show the vast majority of their employees donate to Democrats, while their executives have poured millions into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden this year.
Nobody needed to pressure Google into embracing the role of the ‘good censor’, its executives and employees did so themselves. Not surprisingly, the president of their parent company at the time, Eric Schmidt, had been fully invested in Clinton’s campaign.
It took a mere suggestion of a crackdown by an influential Senate Democrat for Twitter to ban all RT advertising and overhaul its entire advertising policy, back in October 2017. Not surprisingly, the proposal by Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) went nowhere, but its purpose had been accomplished.
Like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled, the pressure to censor ‘objectionable’ content steadily rose over the course of the Trump presidency. It marched on regardless of the revelations that ‘Russiagate’ was a scam and that the real ‘collusion’ was between the spies, police, prosecutors, media, and the political establishment.
Things almost boiled over when the platforms started deleting any mention of the alleged ‘whistleblower’ who kick-started the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings against Trump – even those made by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).
The Covid-19 pandemic the very next month saw an expansive effort to ban ‘misinformation’ about the virus – meaning anything not coming from ‘authorities’, even as those very authorities kept changing their line over time! That was probably when the ‘frog’ first began noticing the boiling water.
By then, however, Twitter had begun openly censoring Trump this spring. Condemning riots? “Glorifying violence,” restricted. Putting rioters on notice they can’t set up a lawless “autonomous zone” in Washington, DC? “Abusive behavior, threatening harm,” restricted.
Oh, granted, the same insane standard was later applied to a metaphorical statement by a self-identified socialist, but whether that was the exception that proves the rule or an effort to ‘both sides’ the issue, at the end of the day, Twitter had appointed itself arbiter of acceptable speech – and that was the point.
How can this happen in a country where free speech is the very first enumerated in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights? Because, as both Democrats and libertarian-minded NeverTrump Republicans have been quick to argue, the First Amendment applies only to the government, not to private companies! This is manifestly absurd, but hasn’t been challenged in the courts just yet.
This sophistry has enabled the champions of corporate thought-policing to argue that technically, the US doesn’t have the kind of censorship of word and thought once attributed to the Soviet Union. Because it has Big Tech, it doesn’t have to! Meanwhile, some lawmakers certainly aren’t shy about demanding for more censorship, either.
If you think the comparisons to the KGB or the Stasi are too much, note Twitter’s insistence that the New York Post – founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 – needs to delete the “offending” tweet [linking to the Hunter Biden emails] before its account can be unlocked, but it will supposedly be free to repost it then, because the rules have since changed.
In order to truly work, submission must be voluntary. That’s why Americans still file their tax returns, even though the IRS has been withholding taxes from their wages since the Second World War. That is why in George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith couldn’t just be broken – he had to love Big Brother. That is why Twitter forces you to bend the knee before they will allow you to speak.
What started as anyone’s ability to compete with the New York Times, Washington Post, or CNN on equal footing has morphed into the neutral ‘platform’ choosing to promote their non-stories while shutting down legitimate lines of thought and inquiry under the guise of ‘protecting our democracy’ and fighting (phantom) ‘Russian disinformation’.
So Twitter is basically everything they claim Russia is: They’re manipulating what information people see to try to influence the election.
— Frank J. Fleming (@IMAO_) October 28, 2020
It didn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to stay this way. But it will take more than just strong words to make speech in America free again.
Nebojsa Malic is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic