Censorship Won’t Work

Alexander Panetta, editor of Politico Canada, writes Twitter ban on Trump signals escalating debate on online speech that will be one for the ages. I agree with his headline. What does he have to say on the subject?

Moves to regulate social media are swiftly taking shape in what could produce a generation-defining policy debate with consequences extending beyond the United States. The obvious catalyzing force for this intensified discussion is the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday that illustrated how unfiltered conspiracy theories might threaten even the oldest of democracies.

Conspiracy theories are a symptom, not the cause, of the MAGA protests. The cause is distrust of the establishment. Will establishment regulation of social media improve trust in the establishment? Certainly not. In fact, it will only increase distrust.

At pro-Donald Trump rallies this week in Washington, a common thread among participants was universal distrust in mainstream news and a desire to find information elsewhere. One rally-goer fumed that she had to seek out her own information when news organizations failed to cover stories about Democratic president-elect Joe Biden’s son’s laptop during the campaign — and, in her view, they’re still ignoring, along with most politicians, allegations of election fraud.

And she is correct. The corporate media completely failed to report on these stories, instead poo-pooing them as “unfounded” over and over again, without deigning to back up the claim that they were unfounded. This makes them look as though they are covering for the establishment. Why don’t they debunk claims of election fraud with facts, rather than smearing those who made the claims? Ad hominem attacks indicate that the attackers don’t have the facts on their side.

“They’re asking for a civil war. Why? It all started with the media,” Tina Hewitt said in an interview. “[They say], ‘There’s nothing to see here,’ ‘Don’t look,’ ‘Don’t ask,’ ‘Shut up,’ ‘Look away,’ ‘Sit down.'”

And Hewitt is correct. The corporate media do exactly this. Take the fact that when my Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, gave a speech laden with the globalist rhetoric of the World Economic forum, but went on to claim that their “Great Reset” was a conspiracy theory, the media uncritically ran with his claim. A simple look at the WEF web-site reveals that the Great Reset is in fact their policy, and not a conspiracy theory. When people see the leader of a county openly lie and the media cover for him, is it any wonder that they don’t trust the media?

Members of the Ohio group cited unfounded theories about impossible 140 per cent voter turnout rates or ballot-stuffing caught on video, and when it was mentioned that these claims had been debunked even by Republican officials who control swing states, one scoffed: “Traitors.”

I follow the news closely, yet I haven’t seen anyone debunk any of these claims; they merely assert that they are untrue. The fact that the MAGA crowd don’t trust Rebublican party watchdogs shows how far their trust in the establishment has fallen.

It goes beyond politics. A speaker at one pro-Trump rally this week called the coronavirus scare a hoax and demanded that members of the almost entirely unmasked crowd hug each other in order to prove it.

This is the same phenomenon. Whenever anyone claims that the media’s narrative on Covid-19 is flawed, rather than bringing the facts to bear, the media simply claims dissenters are anti-vax conspiracy theorists. Today, Dave Cullen, an Irish anti-vax YouTuber, was banned from the platform. Do you think that will make his fans believe that the vaccine is safe? Do you think the Streisand effect won’t make his channel on Bitchute and other platforms even more popular than his YouTube channel was?

This was on Wednesday, right after the Capitol riot had cost the life of one of the people involved. Ashli Babbitt, a San Diego veteran, was shot and killed by police while charging into the building with other rioters. The immediate fallout has already triggered consequential debates — about corporate liability, free speech and regulation in the Wild West of online communication. 

And yet when the BLM riots led to the deaths of innocent bystanders, the media largely failed to report on them, and did not condemn the protesters for them. This double standard unsurprisingly feeds the conspiracy theories.

Twitter suspended the personal account of the president of the United States; the platform where Donald Trump launched 1,000 controversies now says it’s worried about some violent chatter it’s seeing on the upcoming presidential transition and fears Trump will stoke it.

This is a foolish move on Twitter’s part. They have gone from being advocates of free speech to banning the sitting president of the US. As recently as May, media pundits were claiming that Twitter was not violating Trump’s freedom of speech. It’s pretty hard to argue that now. And when “conspiracy theories” have such predictive power, they become more believable.

Meanwhile, a rival social media company, Parler, that prides itself on being a free-speech alternative and is awash in calls for violence, has been deleted or threatened with deletion by Google and Apple, the dominant phone-app stores.

Parler has now been removed by Apple, and their service shut down by Amazon. While Google has removed them from it’s app store, the Parler app can still be loaded from alternate sites. In Apples case, Parler uses will have to resort to a web interface, which may require some development effort by Parler and will likely deliver an inferior user experience. As for Amazon’s ban, if Parler are not prepared to move to another host, they are fools indeed.

That has prompted a free-speech outcry. Republicans say these companies should be stripped of legal immunity that helped them flourish and be treated like traditional publishers, such as a newspaper, which can be sued for an editorial decision.

And this is a sound argument. Twitter is not acting as an unbiased carrier.

The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, issued a warning on the website Politico that social media companies need to prepare for consequences after Wednesday’s events: “This is going to come back and bite ’em because Congress, in a bipartisan way, is going to come back with a vengeance.”

The establishment closes ranks and threatens more censorship. Big surprise.

“It’s like we’re talking past each other. It’s really hard to have common facts,” said Savannah Boylan, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations who now runs an Atlanta-based pro-democracy NGO and has written about news polarization.

All facts are common. Clearly Boylan is talking about beliefs.

Policing the online world risks having a whack-a-mole quality, where one crackdown effort leads to a resurfacing elsewhere. Take the case of pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood, whose social media feeds are cesspools of slander. He was kicked off Twitter after accusing Pence of being part of a child-abusing pro-China cabal and suggesting he be executed.

The appropriate response to such claims is to sue their maker for libel.

Another politician, a Republican lawmaker from West Virginia, was arrested Friday for allegedly invading the Capitol.

This statement seems out of place in an article about free speech.

A former Pennsylvania state politician who narrowly lost a U.S. congressional race and now traffics in online conspiracies was forced to resign his teaching position after posting on Facebook about storming the Capitol.

This is as it should be. The right to free speech doesn’t free one from the consequences of said speech.

Fox News has come in for verbal tongue-lashings at Trump events for not backing his false fraud claims enthusiastically enough.

So what?

The emerging celebrities at at a Trump speech in Georgia were people with hundreds of thousands of social media followers who accept donations on their personal websites and who are activist-commentators.

Again, so what?

They have been aggressively pushing false stolen-election narratives and threatening to end the career of Republican politicians not fighting on Trump’s behalf.

As long as they aren’t threatening politicians with physical harm, they have every right.

After this week’s events ultimately degenerated into a deadly debacle, the organizer, Ali Alexander, said he did not support the invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

Good for him.

But he made a defiant prediction that click-generating, pro-Trump activists like him will continue to exist in an inexhaustible supply. “If you hurt me, 1,000 more will rise up,” Alexander said in an online video statement. “I am not the king of the movement. I am simply the avatar for the spirit of 1776.”

And I don’t doubt him. It remains to be seen what will happen to the anti-establishment voters who swept Trump into power. They may merely serve to split the vote, keeping the Republican establishment out of office, which is no great loss IMO. On the other hand, they may unite behind a new populist leader before 2024. Trying to suppress them with censorship is unlikely to work. They will simply move from Twitter and Parler to Telegraph and Gab.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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2 Responses to Censorship Won’t Work

  1. Sarah P says:

    hi Jim
    How do you equate the difference between a private company like Twitter simply exercising their legal right to ban Trump from taking away his free speech? He’s an ex-president, he can do whatever he wants and be heard loudly, they just took away 240 character of tweeting to protect their platform for being used to spur a violent insurrection. He could just, you know, put out a press release, the way people can do. He has money, he can make his own service to broadcast himself.

    Another question, why do you insist on putting “conspiracy theories” in quotations, are you implying that at least of the MAGA conspiracy theories hold water? If so, which ones? Q?

    • jimbelton says:

      Twitter once claimed to be a platform for free speech. Free speech platforms don’t censor legal speech. The fact that they are private means they may censor but they cannot then claim to be for free speech.

      The label “conspiracy theory” is thrown around willy nilly by the media. For example, they claimed that world leaders’ use of world economic forum slogans was a conspiracy theory. Yet it is verifiably true. One can only conclude they were lying. I don’t know or care about Q. Veritas has some convincing evidence of ballot harvesting, so maybe that claim is not entirely “unfounded”. Since I’m not an American, I don”t lose sleep over their corrupt system.

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