The Biden administration intends to notify Facebook about ‘problematic’ postings, such as questioning the COVID-19 vaccine. Jen Psaki, the White House spokesperson, suggests that if you’re problematic on one social-media site, you should be banned from them all. Big Tech, meet Big Sister. I suppose this is still America.
If Donald Trump had said he’d use extra-legal leverage over Big Tech, most of the media would be crying ‘fascism’. Brian Stelter would decry an unprecedented assault on the First Amendment. Jeffrey Toobin would bang one out about bypassing Congress and the law. Minor academics would op-ed in the New York Times about the classically fascist ‘collusion’ between government and big business. Some of the more literate ones might even reach for that line attributed to Mussolini: ‘Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, because it is a merger of state and corporate power’.
Fortunately for us all, it’s a Democratic administration that’s launching this repressive end-run around the law. This is progress, so the castor oil is for your own good. Really, what we’re seeing isn’t progress at all. It’s merely change, and it reflects the decay of the American agora as surely as a Visigoth riding into the forum at Rome. We all know it, and we all know that the price for saying it is rising.
The lawful public square has mutated into a private, virtual space controlled by a handful of manchild weirdos in Silicon Valley. They are, regrettably, within their rights to censor us as they choose, because Facebook and Twitter are private companies, not public utilities. They are, even more regrettably, monopolies so powerful that no new company can compete. It used to be the task of politicians to prevent this sort of thing from happening: remember the Sherman Antitrust Act and Glass-Steagall? No longer. Now it is the task of politicians, especially Democratic ones, to protect the monopolists against the people.
The Biden administration could have proposed new laws — withdrawing Section 230 protections from social media companies, for instance, and making Facebook and Twitter responsible for their content in the same way as publishers are. But that would have meant working with the Republicans. It would also have meant working against the donors. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 98 percent of tech company donations in the 2020 cycle went to Democrats. We cannot but conclude that Big Tech is getting the pols it pays for.
It’s also getting the news it won’t pay for. When the internet trashed the news business, the survivors fused themselves to the political parties in order to survive. The official, Democratic version of the news is about as real as a Kamala Harris laugh. The other team keep it real by affecting a pantomime of red-state, red-cap bravado. Tucker Carlson won’t say whether he’s been vaxxed or not.
We are trained to believe in reason, and to think of our kind of politics — liberal, lawful and democratic politics — as reason in action. But there is no reason now. Social media has unhinged the voters and bypassed both the rational mind and the rational systems it once created. And the politicians are delighted to be relieved of their obligations to the voters and their vestigial faith in democracy, equality, accountability, the rule of law and all that other Enlightenment crap.
Americans have arrived voluntarily at the kind of epistemological crisis that other nations only reach under dictatorship. A corrupt ruling class intimidates us with deliberate fictions about tractor production and the people’s heroic struggle against fascism. You have to dissect the news with the skills of a French literary theorist if you want to know what’s really going on. All we know is, if the Ministry of Truth says it, then it must be a lie.
It wasn’t communism that wrecked the informational environment. Only capitalism produces the obscene agglomerations and disparities of wealth that are sending Jeff Bezos into space and the rest of the country down the tubes. Only capitalism could have recycled the ludicrous and lurid dregs of Sixties’ campus communism into the regnant ideology of our time. Only capitalism could have convinced parents to pay $70,000 a year so their kids could learn this rubbish as their ticket to the professions.
Yesterday, from February to May to be precise, Facebook censored postings about COVID-19 being a manmade virus, created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Today, a government that won’t tell you what it knows about COVID-19’s origins will arbitrarily censor your opinions about the mass rollout of an untested vaccine that uses new technology. Tomorrow, it’ll be something else. And while no one willingly lets the government into their home, the digital snoops of social media are already there, ready to denounce us.
As usual, Marx, Groucho describes the American madness more accurately than Marx, Karl: ‘There ain’t no sanity clause.’ Liberal democracy also sounds about as real as the Tooth Fairy now. We are being turned into digital serfs. If we let it happen, then it serves us right.
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