Facebook, Twitter, and a free speech watershed

I’ve been taking a break from commenting directly on politics, to better focus limited spare time on COVID-blogging and on my alternate history series.

Yet yesterday something happened that should scare the bejeebus/bemoses out of you, no matter what your political orientation.

In the last two days, the New York Post dropped two bombshell stories about Joe Biden, his never-do-well son Hunter, and bribery and corruption involving communist China and Ukraine.

Twitter and Facebook decided to actively block people from sharing these stories, as they were supposedly “unverified” and “based on illegally obtained information”. (That is, found on a waterlogged laptop that had been dropped off at a computer repair shop. The repairman tried to figure out from the laptop whom it belonged to so he could return it and get paid, saw the explosive [and in places extremely family-unfriendly] content, and contacted Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.)

I do not recall Facebook or Twitter ever stopping the sharing of damaging stories about Donald Trump or another conservative politician, no matter how obviously ridiculous or specious. [UPDATE: here are twelve stories they would have had to censor on the same grounds as the Hunter Biden story, but didn’t… all of which just happened to be hatchet jobs on Trump.]

Now I know that the Big Social-Big Mediatainment complex is so far in the tank for their guy that they are hitting gravel — that’s nothing new. But for quasi-monopoly social media companies to actively throttle the sharing of a story that is damaging to their favored candidate — this crosses a watershed. Larry Correia (warning: salty language) lays out at great length why: go read the whole thing , but let me just share some paragraphs (slightly edited for family-friendliness):

…these entities being the primary exchange of information for BILLIONS of people[…]it’s kind of hard to put this thing which didn’t exist before into historical context. Facebook has no real competitors, and it has something like 2.7 billion regular users. With the flick of a switch it can stop a third of the Earth’s population from seeing whatever it doesn’t want them to see. Humanity has never had that before.

That’s real [bleep]ing power right there. […] Communications law is not my area, and I’m not going to be a Dunning-Kruger[r]and talking about section 230 or whatever.

However, what I do know is that this is some seriously dangerous bulls[**]t, and if we keep going down this road it is going to lead to some very bad ends. Freedom of speech functionally ceases to exist when both sides speak, but only one side is heard. […]

From somewhere up there, Martin Niemöller nods in recognition.

Mark Steyn (hat tip: the BbESM), less salty but with plenty of black humor, also weighs in—go read that one too.

Look, I’m not a lawyer and am not going to be what Larry calls a Dunning-Krugerrand [heh], but at risk of belaboring the obvious: in plain English, social media quasi-monopolies are trying to have it both ways. Let me explain.

The archetype of a “common carrier” is the US Postal Service. What if the USPS suddenly decided it would not deliver mail from or to the Trump (or Biden) campaign — or from the GOP (or from the Democratic party, for that matter)? Misbehavior by individual employees aside, this does not happen.

In contrast, the New York Times or the Washington Post can be as nauseatingly yellow and partisan as they wish — as long as they don’t cross the line into actionable libel [and good luck securing a conviction for that] This is limited only by how many people cancel their subscription in disgust, or how many advertisers pull out. (Then again, some billionaire may decide that owning a pet newspaper is just the ticket: cough, Carlos Slim, cough, Jeff Bezos.)

Facebook, Twitter, and Big Social more generally are arrogating to themselves the freedom of content creators, like the NYT or the WaPo, to mold/pick/censor/highlight content, while simultaneously wrapping themselves in the mantle of “common carriers” to shield themselves from liability for content posted on them. (Usually, the liability is copyright—YouTube is filled with illegally “ripped” music and videos, though in many cases they have helped me discover music or documentaries I otherwise might never have heard or seen.)

More and more people rely on social media (and instant messaging applications owned by Big Social — e.g., WhatsApp owned by FB) as their primary means of communication and source of news. We can bemoan this trend (I find myself having to school college students on how to write a proper letter), but it is the reality on the ground.

For now, it seems Big Social have overplayed their hand and run into the Streisand Effect, with lots of us sharing the “doubleplusungood” stories: this one and this one and that one. (See also this. Ugh. And that. Yikes.)

Let me give the last word to Larry Correia:

[…]I don’t give a sh[*]t if you are liberal or conservative[:] the idea of some entity like Google determining what mankind is allowed to know or not know should terrify the sh[*]t out of you. Free speech becomes a meaningless concept if only approved speech is ever seen. And if you are cheering this sh[*]t on because right now it is helping your team score points against the other team, you are [a] fool. Because once they have that power it is only a matter of time until one of your beliefs ends up on the naughty list too.

PS: one more thing. If I were otherwise sitting on the fence on who to vote for in the US elections, this would sway my vote. We rely on a vigorous independent press to keep elected officials honest. The Big Social-mediatainment complex is clearly utterly incapable and unwilling to do that to “their” side of the spectrum, except perhaps to ‘cancel’ somebody for not being radical/hyperpartisan enough. That alone would make me pull the lever against the said side—even for Zeeba the syphilitic camel if that were the only viable alternative.

2 thoughts on “Facebook, Twitter, and a free speech watershed

  1. Reblogged this on Head Noises and commented:
    Long quote:
    PS: one more thing. If I were otherwise sitting on the fence on who to vote for in the US elections, this would sway my vote. We rely on a vigorous independent press to keep elected officials honest. The Big Social-mediatainment complex is clearly utterly incapable and unwilling to do that to “their” side of the spectrum, except perhaps to ‘cancel’ somebody for not being radical/hyperpartisan enough. That alone would make me pull the lever against the said side—even for Zeeba the syphilitic camel if that were the only viable alternative.

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