Politics

Question Authority

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Well, I’m about to touch the third rail. You know the rail that supplies the current for subways and such. In other words, something too hot or dangerous to touch. Not to sound like some social justice warrior, but when I see something I feel is wrong I’m not going to sit quietly. If I feel like it’s something important I’m going to voice my opinion – loudly.

Having said that, I’m very concerned about recent censoring on Twitter and Facebook and the canceling of the ability to utilize the app version of certain social medial platforms like Parler. I’m not a Trump fan. I never have been. I’m not on Parler or MeWe. This censorship does not directly affect my ability to communicate. However, censorship worries me. If the President of the United States and a legitimate business can be censored by media giants what’s to keep media giants from censoring anyone they deem a menace. The answer is nothing. Not one damn thing. They can censor us all and for no reason other than we hit their algorithm for a shutdown.

I’m no poly sci major and I’ll admit parts of our Constitution are fuzzy in my memory. I realize free speech isn’t necessarily covered when it comes to social media. However, social media and the internet is the main form of communication for the under 50 crowd. The internet is where we talk to our friends and family, where we network, exchange ideas, and get the majority of our news. If you cut off a person’s ability to communicate you are censoring free speech. However, one could make the case that Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Google are utilizing their right to free speech. What they are doing is not illegal but could be considered wrong. This slope is so slippery a mountain goat couldn’t even keep its footing. I fear if big tech continues to impede people’s ability to communicate the mess we saw in D.C. on January 6 is just a taste of what’s to come.

Speaking of D.C., that place is effectively being shut down. Roads are closed. Bike shares and scooters are shut down. The Metro has shut down 11 stations near the city center. The National Guard has occupied the area. Hotels and Airbnb have canceled reservations in D.C. and surrounding areas. Aren’t all these closures and the occupation by the National Guard an infringement of our right to move freely and assemble? What if you happen to live in that area, work in the area, or were already there on vacation or visiting family? What if you are a contract worker in D.C. and living in an Airbnb as temporary housing. I realize this is a lot of what ifs but it is not out of the realm of logical possibility.

Ironically, censorship, closures, and occupations are touted as a means to keep the public safe. Safe from irrational, crazy hate speech. Safe from lunatics hell bent on hurting our elected leaders and property. Safe from domestic terrorism. Yet, to me, it feels a bit like putting a frog in water and setting it to boil. The frog doesn’t realize it’s in danger until it’s too late. Our constitutional rights are possibly being trampled and no one seems to care because we just want to be away from the crazies. The only problem is we are letting others tell us who is crazy and who isn’t. Question Authority.


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2 thoughts on “Question Authority

  1. (I apologize in advance for an inexcusably long comment on this topic, which you have framed quite well in this post.)

    I have always considered myself a civil libertarian, but I am starting to feel genuinely conflicted about all of this. And I have honestly never felt conflicted about free speech. I have always been on team “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

    I feel like I understand social media better after having deactivated all my accounts and then grudgingly returning to Facebook when we moved. I loved having a social media-free existence and not having all that noise in my head all the time. I highly recommend it to everyone. However, our daughter is homeschooled and I needed to find ways to connect to other families in our new town. So I joined to be able to participate in local homeschooling groups and meetups. Being able to reconnect with my family on the west coast was another plus.

    In my social media past, I had never really participated in political groups. I joined groups related to my various hobbies and homeschooling, and that was it. But last year, a Boomer social media connection started adding me (without my permission) to various conservative political groups because she thought I would fit in. Oh man, was that an enlightening experience….

    I was the only person in my social ecosystem who was completely unsurprised by what happened at the US Capitol because I had a front row seat in these Facebook groups to Q Anon’s collective psychotic break from reality. It turns out there are essentially two versions of social media for politically active users – the stuff they put in their news feeds (which they keep tame, because they don’t want the hassle of being reported to the censors by angry acquaintances) and the stuff they post in like-minded private groups (which are shockingly open-kimono). Facebook was clearly monitoring what was being said in these private groups, and even started sending the admin a weekly report on the amount of fake news members were sharing (which they all laughed at). But Facebook let it continue, because there was no good argument for censoring content that was not being publicly shared, right?

    After the election, the stuff that was being posted in those groups took an extremely dark turn. There was lots of talk on the logistics of a modern civil war, which at first had an Antifa-ish “this is all just a video game” feel to it. There was a lot of “if you disagree with me, you are a traitor,” lots of talk about arresting people who spoke against Trump, and then chatter started getting into talk of outright violence directed at specific people. (I 100% believe that Trump was aware that this sort of chatter was dominating these groups when he started singling out specific people for not “following the plan.” The people being identified as scapegoats by Sidney Powell and Lin Wood in these groups became his scapegoats and he was calling attention to them in the days leading up to that infamous rally.) These folks genuinely believe that a totalitarian government is coming their way, and total war is justified to stop it. I would guess that DC is under total lockdown right now because the FBI credibly believes these folks are going to attempt to assassinate policymakers on Inauguration Day. Having seen all this, I don’t think it is melodramatic.

    I left these groups when they really started to go off the rails and I could not take seeing it anymore. I tried to tell friends and family members who were ideologically adjacent to these folks that they were becoming unhinged, and one actually hung up on me. I did set up MeWe and Parler accounts to observe this stuff for a while, and what I describe above is pretty much the entire landscape on those platforms. But more interesting than seeing how far down the rabbit hole these folks are is seeing how their language and nutso theories quietly manage to make it into fairly mainstream news outlets. At this point, I think all media clear across the spectrum is awful. Right or left, most of what is reported as “news” now is just stuff that has caught fire in someone’s social media bubble, and it usually never had any evidence to begin with. So in a weird way, offering protection of speech to the media above and beyond the average Joe doesn’t make a whole lot of practical sense anymore. The media isn’t sending anyone out into the field to figure out what is happening, so much as hijacking the conversations of trolls and sticking their bylines on it.

    I am not sure how far I am willing to go on the issue of free speech anymore after seeing all this with my own eyes though. Should companies be forced to make space for such repulsive fantasies and conspiracy theories, that some folks will inevitably try to act upon? We tried this already, believe it or not, with ISIS and Al Qaeda. Social media firms let them run wild with content, because they were not centralized organizations and at least the FBI and CIA could monitor their open chatter. Within no time, they had converted so many people willing to die and kill for the cause – usually young men who (fairly and unfairly) feel disenfranchised in the modern world… sound familiar? – that they were able to seize land and infrastructure and turn Syria into a bona fide hell on earth, not to mention planning endless terror attacks. These little cults that exploit the truthiness of real discontent can turn into quite a force to be reckoned with.

    Furthermore, slippery slope legal arguments are all kind of alike. The Second Amendment protects your right to own a firearm, but who has a problem with preventing that from extending to mentally deranged people, felons, or people with a history of domestic violence? At some point, we have to stop making sweeping generalizations and start thinking concretely about the possibility of actual destruction. This is what the Founding Fathers expected the courts to do.

    The problem is, with tech companies that are run by freakish political ideologues themselves, you demonstrably cannot trust them to stop with the 1776 cosplay crowd or to apply any standard equally ever. In the above Second Amendment examples, the government, not private companies, decides who does and does not have access to a firearm, with the usual checks and balances on that power. Imagine explaining to James Madison that we outsource decisions about the exercise of individual rights to a corporation. He’d legit croak.

    But with the issue of social media, the government is not a good option either. During the election, tech companies actually wrote algorithms to immediately remove news articles that were true but unsavory to Biden, who is now staffing up his administration with people from these same tech companies. They banned a newspaper’s account for reporting that turned out to be accurate. They banned anyone who had contrarian opinions on how to treat the coronavirus, including practicing medical doctors. They banned people who questioned official data until the data became so laughable that even the traditional media started questioning it. But thanks to Trump, who turns everything under the sun into a referendum on his greatness, these highly problematic instances of censorship get lumped in with whether Q Anon should be able to post memes about killing the vice president. It’s a really frustrating issue, and our inability to deal with nuance is going to make the power grab much easier.

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    • What you said and more. This is a super frustrating issue. It’s not easily solved and in many cases probably too far gone. Too many people have been blinded by hate for Trump and too many have been radicalized on both sides. Add to that the two political parties we have are only interesting in furthering their power and not solving problems. It seems as though it’s just a matter of time before civil war takes place.

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