We’ve always had media censorship, but we always could rely on social media to show us what we haven’t been allowed to see elsewhere. Times are really changing.
Censorship has always been a big issue with popular media, but social media brought about a revolution where we could now see all the sorts of views that conventional media wouldn’t touch. Social media is supposed to be a forum for the people to speak their minds without the intrusion of censorship, the sort of thing that Americans pride themselves on compared to what is allowed in totalitarian regimes such as Communist China.
While China’s censorship is famously blatant, the kind that goes on in the United States is much less transparent, and the reason is that people just don’t have a reference point to compare with. When you are under a regime of censorship, you don’t know what you aren’t being told.
We know that the Chinese are being censored because we are able to see some of the things they aren’t allowed to see, but don’t really have that much of a reference to be able to tell what we aren’t allowed to see.
Enter social media, which allowed the sharing of information and ideas outside the scope of normal media censorship, at least for the most part, and at least until lately. Social media allowed the discussion of any topic, even the most outrageous ones, and while there are always two sides to any discussion, those who end up being right or wrong, the public was at least allowed to decide and social media maintained the degree of neutrality that is necessary in order to promote the discussion of topics that affect our lives.
Elizabeth Warren and others have railed against social media companies, claiming that they are simply too powerful and must be broken up, or at least regulated more tightly. From an anti-trust perspective, these claims do not have any real merit, as there is healthy competition among these companies in spite of the small number of major players. You only need two to have competition, provided that they don’t collude, and there’s no evidence of that right now.
Even though they might not be colluding in the strict sense, we also need to be wary of them acting in concert in a way that is not in the public interest, and acting together to promote censorship goes against the basic fabric of the goal of a free society that the United States was founded upon. Free speech was a vital component of our constitution, which fiercely promotes this freedom.
We don’t normally think of companies as being required to preserve the right of free speech, as this normally only applies to the public domain, but these companies are conducting themselves in a manner that serves to stifle free speech in a way that we may wish to protect against anyway, having us re-think just now much power that we wish to allow these few companies.
Americans pride themselves upon their right to speak out, and do enjoy the protection that the Bill of Rights provides, but the constitution does not apply to private enterprise. There is no right to free speech in the media, including social media, who like all businesses can decide freely what and what not to publish.
Social media companies have argued successfully that they are not publishers and should not even be subject to litigation surrounding their content, and if they actually did not do any editing, it could be successfully argued that they do not play a role in their content and holding them legally liable would go against free speech and actually promote censorship, where they may restrict publication of issues and ideas that are controversial enough to worry about such things.
This immunity from liability is an essential feature of a free social media, but is now in doubt. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed a lot of things, including the degree of social media censorship. It’s not that we didn’t have any of this, but censorship in social media has exploded since COVID-19 hit our shores, where they now restrict whatever they don’t agree with, including some tweets from the President about the riots in Minneapolis.
This new landscape of censorship in social media has been mostly focused on preventing people, even experts in the field, from questioning health officials, anywhere from local ones to the CDC to the WHO, and anyone who questions the official views become deemed as acting contrary to their community standards and either marked as false information or taken down.
This occurred mostly well out of the public eye, where only those who were familiar enough with what the landscape really looks like apart from the censorship understood what was really going on. However, when two doctors that questioned the wisdom of the economic lockdown had their YouTube video re-broadcasting an interview by a local television station got taken down, the reach of this censorship became more exposed to the public.
This weren’t even opinions that could even be considered hard-core, as all the physicians wanted to do is have us think a little more about what we are doing, but questioning public health officials is not being allowed now, even in social media, which used to be the last bastion of media freedom that we had.
We are left to guess at what inspired this change of heart, as social media is neutral legally due to the protection that they enjoy from this, and this might boil down to the issue being politicized, with having this topic debated more perhaps seen to help the Republican stance on this, and keeping things more under wraps helping the Democrats.
It is bad enough that regular media outlets take a one-sided approach to journalism, which has now been taken to the extreme, and we can see just how extreme when we compare the majority of major broadcasters that have lined up on the left side of the political spectrum to stand off against Fox, the only major news outlet that stands on the right side of the field.
The differences in their “reporting” is simply breathtaking, with left-wing broadcasters such as CNN, MSNBC, and others unabashedly promoting the Democratic party and looking to bash President Trump and the Republicans at every opportunity, with Fox promoting the more right wing views of President Trump and the Republicans while denigrating left wingers at every turn.
This battle has really been escalated lately with the lefties standing for the shutdown, with Fox strongly supporting efforts to re-open the economy. Social media have chosen now to side with CNN and the gang, as a lot of Fox’s reporting wouldn’t even be consistent with their “community standards” which require us to not dare question authority or be subject to their censorship and biases.
We might think of this as reasonable and balanced, and need to remember that the goal of all this is actually to entertain, and the more people you entertain, the more money you make from selling advertising. For those who are made happy by joining in unison in clenching their fists against Trump, and calling anyone who disagrees with them murderers, they can get their fill, 24 hours a day. People who disagree with these views have a home as well, where they can enjoy all the bashing of Democrats and the other media outlets that they can handle from the other side at Fox.
There isn’t anything really wrong with this, although even Fox has its limits, and there are just some things that no one talks about, where we can question Trump’s authority on CNN all we want, and question the authority of the Democrats on Fox, but even though Fox presents guests and viewpoints that question our handling of this crisis, there is still quite a bit left out.
When We Can’t Question Authority Any More, They Hold Us Prisoner
Robert Kennedy Jr, son of RFK and nephew of JFK, tells the story of a conversation he had with the head of Fox News at the time. Kennedy is an activist who spends his time suing government agencies to seek more transparency, including a recent lawsuit against the CDC asking for evidence backing their claim on their website that “vaccines are safe,” and to see the “mountain of evidence” that exists to support this conclusion.
He found out why the CDC kept refusing his requests when he won the suit and the CDC had to show their hand, and the best they could do was cite a meta-study, looking at all the data and concluding that there is no real evidence to support the safety of vaccines since no studies exist.
The head of Fox News told Bobby Kennedy that if one of their hosts ever had him on, the host would need to be fired on the spot, and if not, within 10 minutes, Rupert Murdoch would be calling to fire him instead, all for just asking questions they don’t want to be asked. The message that the CDC is lying to the public wasn’t going to be a story that they would be telling on their channel, yet the CDC are the people that everyone is putting their faith in now and opposing views aren’t allowed, even in the social media now.
When you put this together with the fact that social media is replacing content questioning our response to COVID with links to the CDC and the WHO, this should indeed scare us. Whatever their motivation, we at least need to be able to have a scientific debate on their response to this outbreak, to be able to at least question their strategies and even ask that they be justified. If we’re not allowed to ask these questions and we do not even require them to justify their actions at all, this is not the path to truth, and is as dangerous, at least up there with the censorship that the Chinese practice, what we love to hate and consider ourselves well above.
They tell us that the science behind their recommendations is clear, but they don’t show us the science, because like with vaccines, they don’t have any. We are just expected to obey. Many leading scientists are either confused about this or even appalled, but we aren’t allowed to see the other side of this debate because it is against their interests, our interests be damned.
As an example, Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi. Germany’s most esteemed microbiologist, considers the response of health authorities to COVID-19 as “grotesque, absurd, and very dangerous.” He goes on to say that “the horrifying impact of this on the world economy threatens the existence of millions of people.” We aren’t allowed to hear these things though as these voices ring hollow, like a tree that falls in the forest with no one around.
That’s certainly not an endorsement of the practice like it is all supposed to be, as we’re led to believe that the science is all lined up on the side of the CDC and WHO. Many other eminent doctors and scientists stand against this, with many of them simply puzzled at all of this since they aren’t relying on science by any definition to support these approaches. All you have to do is censor people questioning you, even experts, and it’s clear sailing from there.
This is a perfect example of the dangers of censorship, and if even the gentlest of questioning such as that of Drs. Ericsson and Massihi, the two California physicians that merely asked us to think a little before we do all this, end up being censored by social media, we will never hear the more serious questioning of Bhakdi and others. The two California doctors said in an interview later that many of their colleagues feel the same way, but if we just do our best to block their voices from being heard, this can be prevented from impacting the mission.
What if Dr. Bhakdi is right about this and this does end up being as grotesque as he believes? Who is left to protect us from this grotesqueness when everyone has been silenced? We already have a good idea of the pain this has caused and the usual cost-benefit analysis is not needed if you just stifle people like they do in China. The Chinese might even be able to learn from us now, as our censorship is at least more sophisticated, so much so that the people don’t even know that things are being withheld from them.
There has to be somewhere where people can question and debate the people who have us under their control, and if they were actually trustworthy, they would not have anything to hide and not require the debate be so tightly censored. The need for censorship in itself requires dishonesty because otherwise there would be nothing to try to hide.
When even experts in the field are not allowed to join the debate, we are in real trouble, especially with the stakes this high. When public forums designed to promote discussion end up using censorship, there is nowhere left to debate, aside from those who are motivated to do a lot of digging, something that very few people have the time for or foresee the need for.
Twitter Takes on President Trump, Not a Good Idea for Them
Twitter raised the bet when they took it upon themselves to censor President Trump, who did not take it well. Somehow, threatening police action against rioters and looters is contrary to Twitter’s community standards as well, and Trump’s threatening to send in the National Guard to preserve law and order in Minneapolis was seen as glorifying violence.
It turns out that the editor that took such exception to the President’s call for an end to these riots has a history of publishing strongly anti-Trump tweets, and those who oppose Trump have a way of seeing everything he says as lies, without even needing to provide an explanation as to how he is allegedly lying.
Not surprisingly, Trump has seen this as a step too far, and lashed out by threatening to remove the legal immunity that social media has enjoyed for years, pointing out that censoring content qualifies them as publishers not just a forum for people to express their views.
Google has rightly pointed out that this would increase censorship, not decrease it, and it would only decrease it if the big social media companies agreed to play ball and stop censoring. If not, and it’s hard to imagine their agreeing to this, they will have to censor anything remotely controversial, and we’d have an even bigger problem.
Twitter did light a fire under the issue though, and really should not have gone as far as to upset Republicans, the party that at least used to be in their corner. Democrats already want to break them up, and now that we have them acting in concert to censor, this could be interpreted as a defacto monopoly, at least in terms of the distribution and control of social content.
Defacto monopolies usually arise from agreements to fix prices or to restrain from competing, but if they all are practicing censorship in a similar way as they are now, this can be seen as a real issue, especially when you are incited to anger.
This actually takes us to a whole new place when it comes to continuing the laissez-faire approach that the federal government has taken toward big social media, and the notice that they have just been given is one that may indeed come back to haunt them.
The prospects of greater regulation have already spooked the market a few times, and while imposing regulations would be the logical approach, politicians don’t always take that route. In the past, we were of the view that it would be difficult to defend the use of whatever anti-trust claims that could be brought against them in court, but now we’re not so sure, as this has really upped the stakes.
When the Democrats already don’t like you, and you upset the Republicans this much, you don’t have any friends anymore and this does not bode well.
The only sensible approach to this would be to not ask these companies to stop censoring, but to instead require it as an end in itself, not just a punch that can be easily sidestepped like taking away their legal immunity. If actions can be taken against them, and the fines for non-compliance are stiff enough, this may be the only way that they will listen.
There is a bigger stick than the one Trump swung at them though, the one that the harder core socialists on the other side of the aisle are eager to use, and all the Republicans need to do is stand with them on this issue and there will be actions. This may even bring companies into the fray that are outside their sector, the other big technology companies that have gotten too big for their britches according to some at least.
When you become so emboldened and so immune from consequences as Twitter has in their daring to censor the President for remarks that were not a glorification of violence but a threat of applying the law, it’s obvious that their hubris has gone too far. They have now galvanized the opposition to their business practices with both parties now.
Nothing good can come out of such a thing, and this does at least elevate the risk of action toward them, a risk that already was substantial enough to merit a lot of discussion. While social media may believe that they are not acting as arbiters of truth, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is claiming, yet it’s clear that they are, as plenty of people will attest to being clearly censored by Facebook as well, statements like this further illuminate their level of lack of honesty.
When they turn around and plead that they are only acting in the public interest, they need to realize that they don’t get to decide this, and whatever mistakes they make will have us all paying for them. They might be scared that people will die if they show how much disagreement about this lockdown among the scientists, but we have to ask if this is even a good idea in the first place and at the very least require evidence to support their views before they use their mighty hands to silence those who dare question them.
Big brother is supposed to be the government, but we have a new band of big brothers now. Social media needs to be classified as a public good, with companies being entrusted to be guardians of it, and can make plenty of money doing so. If they really mean that they do not wish to be the ones decide on what and what not should be discussed, they should have no problem submitting to the requirements not to censor that we really need from them.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, the tree did indeed fall anyway, and on our heads if we are not allowed to hear it fall.
Social media stocks have performed tremendously, but we now have another reason to wonder if they can continue on the same pace after this confrontation, where this may come back to bite them later to some degree. No matter how much they may hate him, it’s not a great idea to try to wrestle a bear as ornery as Donald Trump, which they may soon learn.