It happened again on Tuesday: British activist Tommy Robinson was erased from Facebook and Instagram. The social media behemoth said it has to act “when ideas and opinions cross the line and amount to hate speech that may create an environment of intimidation and exclusion for certain groups in society.”
As online polemicists are fond of saying, “citation needed!” Yet Facebook offers none: no evidence of specific violations, not even a definition of “hate speech,” just an arbitrary standard – and a threat of further bans for people who “support… hate figures.” Whatever that means.
How did journalists – those paladins of free speech, the fabled Fourth Estate, the valiant protectors of values that would die in darkness without their intrepid efforts – greet this news? Did they object to a British citizen being muzzled and wax about the dangers to digital democracy? Oh no, they rejoiced: Finally, what took so long?!
The same process repeated itself later in the day, when Twitter banned Jacob Wohl. The self-described supporter of US President Donald Trump had reportedly boasted about setting up fake accounts to influence the 2020 election. That is regarded as the sin-above-all-sins by social media executives, terrified of Congress blaming them for Hillary Clinton losing the White House to Trump in 2016, even though 99 percent of US media considered it rightfully hers.
Here’s the thing, though: Twitter still hasn’t banned Jonathon Morgan, CEO of New Knowledge, a company that was proven to have set up thousands of fake accounts to swing the Senate race in Alabama to the Democrats, and later paid by the Senate to blame Russia for its tactics.
Let’s also remember the suspension of several Facebook pages belonging to Maffick Media, an outfit that partners with Ruptly, a RT subsidiary. After the “Twitter police” at the German Marshall Fund and CNN raised a fuss about these pages having “Kremlin ties,” Facebook blocked them until they agreed to put up a notice about being “funded by Russia.”So they did, even though there is no such rule that would be universally applied.
Surely it is entirely a coincidence that a CNN reporter went around actively badgering social media outlets to ban Alex Jones, way back in August 2018, and would not stop until they all did?
But wait, there is more! It was confirmed on Tuesday that retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley, known as a crusader against “stolen valor,” got his YouTube channel deleted earlier this month. There were no details as to why, but this was right after Shipley had exposed Nathan Phillips – the Native American activist who claimed he was victimized by Kentucky high school students, in what turned out to be fake news – as falsely claiming he served in Vietnam.
Columbia University researcher Richard Hanania offered an interesting analysis a couple of weeks ago, showing that of the 22 prominent figures suspended by Twitter in recent years, 21 were supporters of President Donald Trump, and only one – Rose McGowan – was a Democrat. McGowan had clearly violated the platform’s rule against doxxing, and was reinstated after she deleted the post. Many of those 21 Trump supporters were not so lucky, getting permanent bans from the platform. So he asked:
What are the odds? Astronomical, actually – Hanania showed that conservatives would have to be four times as likely to violate Twitter rules for even a 5 percent chance of producing the 21-1 ratio. Yet those who routinely cite statistical “disparate impact” to cry racism are perfectly fine claiming there is no bias here? Really?
But [insert social media giant here] is a private company! They can do what they want! So cry the sudden champions of capitalism and deregulation, who in their previous breath claimed Trump abolishing Net Neutrality rules would break the internet. Make up your mind, folks!
In the McCarthyite atmosphere whipped up after the 2016 US presidential election, the social media that once promised unprecedented freedom of expression have turned into the tools of censorship – and not on behalf of a governing party, either, but the bipartisan political establishment united in opposition to an outsider president and anyone who dares support him, or criticize their conduct.
By the way, the “terrible dictator” Trump hasn’t lifted a finger to stop this persecution, let alone sic the IRS or the FBI on his critics.
The idea behind free speech is not that all opinions are valid, but that they ought to be debated rather than imposed by force. Another fundamental principle of western civilization is that the law ought to apply equally to everyone.
One does not have to agree with Robinson, Wohl, Shipley, Maffick, Jones – or Trump, for that matter – to realize that a world in which there is one set of rules for “us” and another for “them,” in which it doesn’t matter what is done but Who is doing it to Whom, is not a land of liberty but something quite different.