Anyone with siblings knows that trying to win an argument by yelling louder than your sister, or sticking fingers in your ears and filling your head with alternative noises (usually something like “blah blah blah I can’t hear you”), doesn’t really work. It may end the argument, you see, but it never wins it.
That is why censorship is so obviously a bad idea.
Most of us stop arguing that way by the time we are adults. We learn that not all arguments need to be won; it’s okay to disagree with someone and ignore them, or go separate ways, or even still respect them.
We also learn that the only situation in which an argument does need to be won, is when you need the other person. So it’s actually the person who needs to be won, not the argument, which is also why silencing them is so fruitless.
It’s not that speech can’t be wrong. We have many laws about speech, which have evolved over time. Laws against perjury, libel and slander all identify speech that is wrong. In every case, the speech must be false. Truth, even when harmful, is not illegal. To require civil remedy, the lie must cause harm. To require criminal penalty, the lie must be intentional and serious, or made under oath.
Speech can be wrong, but there are wrong ways to respond to wrong speech! Even when a case against speech is won before the courts, the courts are not stupid enough to believe they could prevent anyone from hearing the lie. Rather, the truth is presented in the court and used to prove the lie and to defeat it. The remedy provided by law is to counteract the harm and to tell the truth – to publish retractions, to compensate those who were harmed.
Lies can’t be contained once they are said, they can only be beaten by the truth, in the courts and in the public square.
Arguing for truth can be hard, and there are some people who will not be won over by it. Yet the fight cannot be short-circuited, it must be won! The moment you use the “blah blah blah I can’t hear you”, your opponent and any onlookers become more convinced that they are right, not less, otherwise why are you so scared of letting them talk?
Importantly, they also feel disrespected and disenfranchised. Censoring cannot be done among equals. The censor declares themselves to be truthful, and the person censored a liar. They declare themselves to be safe listeners, but all other listeners endangered and requiring protection from the lie. They declare themselves trustworthy, but that they trust no-one else. “I know more than you, I am better at being correct than you, basically, I am just better than you”. Even if true, its an unwise thing to say. The same censorious mindset fuelled Hillary Clinton when she called half of Trump’s voters a “basket of deplorables”, which arguably lost her an election.
All this reasoning (and history, for that matter) demonstrate that censoring is a bad idea.
Yet Big Tech companies – especially Google, Facebook and Twitter, have been increasing censorship for the past several years.
James Damore’s story is evidence that Google was internally censoring its own employees back in 2017 for having unacceptable views. James committed the sin of writing a well-reasoned internal memo about women in the workplace and why some policies work better than others. Rather than discuss the memo, or just happily disagree, Google fired him.
In 2018, a recording obtained by Breitbart news shed new light on internal Google bias. At a company-wide internal meeting just after the election of Donald Trump they openly mourned the outcome, offered comfort to their employees, and speculated on what they could do to prevent such a thing happening again. This flagrantly partisan response did not bode well for the future.
After that, Google definitely began manipulating search results to draw attention away from certain narratives. For instance in 2019 when the Jeffrey Epstein case was in the news, if you typed “Epstein Clinton” into Google Image Search, you were shown several images of Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump together, in every line of results. Whereas the same search conducted using DuckDuckGo would faithfully return images of what you searched for: Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Clinton in one another’s company. Though Snopes fact-checked this and claimed it was false, I personally conducted this experiment at the time and it was certainly true. Perhaps Google knows my propensity for sedition and returns different results for me than it does for fact-checkers!
Last year Breitbart News saw a significant reduction in referrals from Google search. You could paste the title of one of their articles into Google search, with quotation marks around it, and Google still wouldn’t find their article, though it would find other websites that had quoted or copied the article (I also verified this at the time the claim was made).
Facebook and Twitter often censor posts, add ‘fact-checking’ labels to them, and suspend accounts. In 2018, Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook basically removed Alex Jones’ Infowars from the cybersphere altogether. We should have reacted to that far more strongly than we did!
More consequentially, last year they censored a New York Post article revealing content from a laptop that Hunter Biden had owned, which incriminated not just him, but his whole family, in very shonky dealings with China. With the exception of Fox News, media outlets refused to share the story on the basis that it was unverified. Yes, the same news outlets who salivated over every unverified skerrick of the Trump-Russia collusion story, which was seldom fact-checked and never censored.
It turned out, however, that the story could be verified. The FBI confirmed that they have the laptop and have been investigating it, and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson interviewed a business partner of Hunter Biden’s who also confirmed several aspects. That interview and its implications are not conclusive, but should easily have been front-page news. Instead, they were not reported by any other outlets. Such censorship amounts to direct election meddling.
Before the election, President Trump questioned the security of mail-in voting and its significant expansion. Facebook actively took an opposing position, adding fact-checking comments to posts about the issue. Yet the fact checking itself was misinformation, because it misrepresented the issue. (The real problem was not mail-in ballots, but mail-out ballots sent to millions of people who had not asked for them, combined with the obvious truth that the chain of custody of a mailed ballot can’t be traced or scrutinised, making it the most vulnerable voting method.) Yet crickets chirped over the ludicrous viral claims that Trump was literally removing mailboxes to sabotage the postal service.
After the election, they began labelling comments questioning the validity of the results with similar fact-checks.
Then finally, on Wednesday, January 6, protesters rioted at the US Capitol building and provided some ammunition that Trump opponents had desired, but never had, for the last four years: violent Trump supporters.
(Of course, large democrat protests had also occurred after Trump was voted in, which we’re meant to forget. And Clinton’s rhetoric since then could be described as ‘perpetuating misinformation’. A Bernie Sanders supporter shot Republican congressman Steve Scalise, who thankfully survived, and Sanders never got banned for ‘inciting assassination’. Day after day in June and July last year, peaceful BLM protests transformed into violent riots which damaged property and killed police officers; they even killed a black police officer, whose black life, apparently, didn’t matter. Rioters occupied part of Seattle, established their own nation, and refused to admit US government services such as police and ambulances. This literal insurrection also led to death. It took the democratic Mayor four weeks to conclude that it shouldn’t be allowed… But none of these were Trump supporters.)
The argument of the left all year was ‘your speech is violence, but our violence is just speech’.
And yet at the Capital on January 6, the Trump supporters’ speech finally turned violent. This time they didn’t have to fabricate a narrative about a sneering student from Covington high – they had actual destruction of property. What a gift to the democrats! So at that point everything happened at once—the democrats raced to cement the narrative that Trump had incited insurrection and deserves impeachment. As with all good narratives it is almost true.
Yes, violence happened. Yes, they were (mostly) Trump supporters, and visa versa — Trump also supported them and encouraged them to go to Capital Hill and protest. The only little flaw is that President Trump literally asked them to do so peacefully. So he may have been quite unwise, but guilty of a “high crime”, some would argue, he was not (useful analysis here and here).
It is at this point—when the people of the USA are stretched tighter than a bowstring, when everybody is still shouting, when the ‘consent of the governed’ is teetering on a knife-edge—the Big Tech giants also pounce. They are daft enough to think that censoring will make things better, not worse.
Twitter permanently banned the President of the United States, and a further 70,000 accounts over the following week. Between them, Google, Apple and Amazon effectively removed Parler from the internet. Parler was a Twitter competitor who refused to surveil their members, and hence wouldn’t censor posts. The platform is not the only one, but it had recently been promoted by several Fox News anchors, which was why it was trending at number 1 on the Google app store. Parler was removed from every platform, and their contracts with several technology providers were terminated. There is zero evidence that Parler was used in any way to organise the riots at the Capital.
Perhaps they seriously think that a lie will end if they prevent people telling it? The lies, if indeed they are lies, are already out there! Censoring immediately suggests that what is being censored is actually not a lie, but is a threat to the real liars. As George R R Martin wrote, “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
This last week 100,000 enraged users bombarded the Robinhood Trading App with negative reviews, reducing it to a 1-star rating because it treacherously suspended trading of GameStop. Google deleted their reviews.
They need to stop this! The last two years are replete with examples of groups of everyday people seeking ways to communicate their upwards frustration. That frustration needs to be heard, not silenced! The pen is mightier than the sword, but if you keep taking away their pens, then what will they use?
The argument has been made several times that Big Tech people are private companies and thus can do what they like. This argument fails on three counts.
Firstly, this may be relevant to the current laws of the land, but it is not relevant to the argument of whether censoring is a good idea. If silencing people is a bad idea, then it doesn’t much matter whether it is the government or Big Tech who do it.
Secondly, we can ask, ‘what is the difference between government and the private sector?’ The key difference is that the Government is the entity with powers of coercion. Ultimately, this is the definition of government. Private entities can ask for your money and offer you goods and services if you give it. Government can take your money and offer you prison if you don’t give it. Government has the power of the stick and private sector has the power of the carrot.
The private sector is prevented from using coercive power except when granted by the government. If I want to collect a debt I must take my case to the government. I can’t visit your house with a baseball bat. This is why monopolies are banned, even though government itself is a monopoly. In a monopoly, a private organisation gains so much market share that they can exert coercive power over their customers who have no option except to pay them.
Big Tech are private companies, yet they are wielding coercive power, especially when they are matching their narratives to mainstream media and specific political parties. In the case of Parler, this is particularly egregious. Multiple companies colluded to remove a Twitter competitor from the internet by simultaneously denying service. They prevented disgruntled customers from moving to another platform! This is surely an anti-trust violation and those companies are most likely in breach of the law.
But thirdly, censorship, whoever it is done by, is the mindset of totalitarianism. I mentioned at the start of this article that there can be arguments that you don’t need to win, and people who you do need to win. Yet there is a third possibility: when you need the other person’s cooperation, but the argument doesn’t need to be won.
A parent doesn’t need to win the argument with their child that the time has come to get off the play equipment and come home. They can walk over and pick their child up and carry them home, kicking and screaming. The government, likewise, doesn’t need to convince you to pay taxes, and a police officer doesn’t need to convince you to do what he says.
Censorship is a form of coercion that doesn’t make sense except when accompanied by further coercion. The intent of censorship can only really be achieved if someone is completely silenced and controlled. The Soviet union practiced censorship: people who committed “political” crimes were stripped of all rights, contained, transported to prisons, and given decades-long sentences.
If you are going to win an argument through darkening, rather than enlightening, the darkness must descend until its blanket has covered and throttled entirely every source of light.
That is what we call a one party state.
Nick Kastelein is a Christian and a conservative who grew up and lives in Adelaide where he works for an engineering consultancy.
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