Today in the US, just arguing with someone can get you banned from social media platforms. We have crossed into a parallel reality, the very Matrix dungeon, where tech companies police not only our thoughts but our behavior.
A strange thing happened on the way to this week’s Senate hearing on social media. As the masters of the tech universe were attempting to calm US lawmakers, assuring the stone-faced agents of Corporate America that they are systematically cracking down on Russia, fake news and anything that reeks of stinky people power, a verbal brawl was occurring just down the hall.
In an off corridor on Capitol Hill, Alex Jones, of InfoWars fame and notoriety, crossed paths with CNN ace reporter, Oliver Darcy. Things got ugly fast. In fact, had it been an MMA feature fight, the ref would have stopped the bout in a matter of seconds. Jones’ vicious verbal pounding – at one point he compared Darcy to “a rat” and called him “evil looking” – was so brutal it left the senior CNN reporter visibly stunned.
It was Jones’ second knockout in as many days.
On Wednesday, Jones traded barbs with Senator Marco Rubio, one of many US politicians who has appealed to the tech companies, almost to the point of coercion, that they crack down on the “bad actors” out there on the Internet. The question, of course, is who gets to separate the good apples from the bad.
Thus far, that unfathomable power lays completely with the tech companies. And given their “private” status, which they love to flaunt, they can determine who gets to use their services with total impunity, while sidelining powerful voices they dislike. In all too many cases, those silenced voices come from the right of the political spectrum.
🚨 Alex Jones and InfoWars have been permanently banned from Twitter https://t.co/rRoOQZep5p
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) September 6, 2018
Following his take-down of the CNN reporter, Jones had the fourth nail pounded into his social media coffin as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, following in the footsteps of YouTube, Apple and Facebook, banned the InfoWars founder from the platform, citing the company’s “abusive behavior” policy, in addition to previous violations.
Now for anyone who has ever snuggled up on the couch with George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Twitter’s reason for culling Jones from the social herd should send shivers straight down your spine and into your toes. Naturally, it would be perfectly understandable for Twitter to terminate accounts for “hate speech” and reckless calls for violence. But that was not the reason given for ‘disappearing’ Jones. They removed him for his “abusive behavior” against the CNN reporter.
This is not a defense of Alex Jones, of course, who is known for spewing conspiracy theories. The problem is that an individual has been silenced not for something he wrote or said on the Internet, but for an action he committed in the ‘real world.’ That should frighten any person with a soundly functioning brain.
The only “abusive behavior” that should matter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is the verbal content that is contained in the estimated 500 million Tweets published daily. Heck, even if the confrontation between Jones and Darcy had come down to blows and blood that should be a matter for the police and courts to settle, not Twitter. There is no place in civil society for any tech company – private or otherwise – to play overlord of the holy algorithm with people’s private lives.
Jones, a veteran media commentator who the ‘legacy media’ dismisses out of hand as a conspiracy theorist, is certainly repugnant to some people, but the fact is his message resonates with millions of other people. So when the Big Four social media companies snuff out the online presence of Alex Jones, they’ve committed a terrible injustice, to put it mildly, against the rights of countless other civilians, who should have a right to listen to what message they want, and separate fact from fake like mature adults.
What the tech executives, in direct collaboration with our government officials, really hope to achieve by all this banning and outright censorship, is to kill the message that people like Alex Jones are putting out on their platforms. As much as they may try, it is virtually impossible to separate the political views and objectives of the tech CEOs from their day-to-day operations. At the end of the day, they will want to promote their vision of what they believe is the perfect political world. Don’t believe me? Just ask former Google engineer James Damore, who is suing the search engine monster for its “intolerance of white, male conservatives.”
In other words, Americans enjoy the freedom of speech, so long as that speech doesn’t clash with the official narrative on ‘touchy’ subjects, such as war in foreign countries or critical elections on the home front. Has Jones got his facts twisted in the past? Of course he has. But then again, so has CNN, and possibly under more embarrassing circumstances.
Had Sherlock Holmes been a real living person today working as an investigative journalist, he’d be crucified like Christ for daring to postulate a ‘theory’ that was not first endorsed by the corporate media, or the social media sites, which seem to think they have the final word on ‘Truth.’
The First Amendment has no power or influence in the American marketplace, it seems. However, the argument that says tech companies are private and therefore free to treat users with total disregard lacks substance, especially when we consider the high level of government ‘intervention’ and outright coercion these companies are experiencing, all under the ruse of ‘Russiagate’.
There is also the question of the fiercely contested Midterm elections coming up in November. Many Republicans are convinced that left-leaning tech companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the real ‘Russian meddlers’ in the US political system. Last month, Donald Trump, strongly hinting at imposing regulatory measures, called out the tech companies, saying they are “treading on very, very troubled territory,” and warning them to “be careful.”
The writing is on the wall. The banning of Alex Jones and his media outlets is the clarion call for a massive culling across the social media platforms. And this move should not be confused as anything remotely connected to strength. Just the opposite. With audiences abandoning the leaking ship of the legacy media in droves, pressure is now being placed on the social media giants to remove the ‘dissenting’ voices.
Naturally, this is not the American way. From the time of the nation’s founding, prominent statesmen, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, bitterly fought over what sort of country America would be. There was no such thing as ‘political correctness’ to stifle debate, which was always robust, intelligent and combative.
Our tech titans and government representatives simply lack the foresight and courage of the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who famously proclaimed: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
That should be the motto of every social media company today that hopes to aspire to the demands of honest – and occasionally brutal – democratic debate.