Saturday, August 11, 2018
As Big Tech Silences Info Wars, It Threatens Free Speech For All
When we hear the word censorship, we think of dictators and their totalitarian governments who will jail or kill those who voice views in opposition of their laws or beliefs. We think of ignorant small-town librarians in America, who quietly do their best to limit certain books and materials from being accessed by patrons of the library. We also think of religious schools that censor the content of materials that disagree with the teaching of that religion. But what about our technology grants, the ones we rely on to usher in this new and unprecedented era of global communications, where everyone’s a publisher and everything can be accessed 24-7?
It turns out they are some of the biggest censors of what gets read by the masses.
Twitter has been cracking down not only on fake accounts, but accounts that it believes communicates content in opposition of its policies. Such policies are arbitrary, ill-defined, not consistently enforced, and seem to be in flux.
Google, which can impact society in the way things come up on a search, is looking to collaborate on mobile search in China. But to do so means Google would have to abide by that nation’s censorship policies, thus playing a significant role in oppressing 1.7 billion people.
Now you have Facebook, Apple, Spotify and You Tube teaming up to shun the controversial website, Info Wars, because they deemed certain speech “offensive.” Info Wars was accused of, according to FB, “glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims, and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”
So where does this leave us?
From a free speech vantage point, recent actions by these technology companies should deeply concern us. Do we want an edited Internet, one in which we don’t know what’s been filtered out, by whom? Do we want to shun debate and discussion, even when it involves topics and viewpoints that most people would disagree with? When the online world increasingly dominates where people are given information, can we afford to have a handful of self-appointed censors be entrusted to always do what is best for society?
From society’s perspective, those who believe Info Wars is a worthless site that only stirs trouble with its hideous claims like Sandy Hook is a hoax or that 9/11 and Oklahoma City bombing were staged by the government, we may say: “good riddance.” But censorship doesn’t happen in isolated situations. We can’t pick and choose who gets to say what they want to say. Today it’s Info Wars, tomorrow it could be CNN.
People don’t like to think about censorship because it often pits competing values to fight it out. No one wants to defend Info Wars (not anyone who is sane and well-informed), but we don’t want to see a bunch of tech companies decide who gets access to their platform and who doesn’t, for one day, depending on a company’s ownership and the political climate, that power can be abused to turn against something you believe in and support.
There are other laws to protect against those who defame, libel, or physically hurt others. If someone says something negative such as they hate Black people or Muslims should disappear, it’s their opinion, however repulsive, ill-informed, and shocking as they may be. If one says, as if a fact, Barack Obama is a bad person who killed my child, he or she can be sued on the grounds it’s a knowingly – made false statement.
However, those laws are hard to enforce and most people can’t afford to be tied up in expensive, years-long litigation. Truthfully our laws are inadequate to punish those who violate them, but the answer can’t be vigilante censorship.
The thing about free speech is that we expect people to employ it reasonably and in the right spirit, but all too often people take things too far. Perhaps they’re insane or they simply like to see people go ballistic over irrational commentary. Perhaps others profit, financially and politically, from saying outrageous things, and sadly, some just genuinely believe in what they say because they lack something – education, love, guidance.
So, what are we to conclude here?
We know the laws inadequately protect against liars, haters, and opportunists: We know that portions of society are intolerant and act out of ignorance. We also know that we can’t have people respond to speech with violence. But we can’t just censor speech either.
Society has to work hard at correcting those who are wrong and to constantly speak out on what it believes is right. In order for a quality minority viewpoint to win the majority over, it must have equal access to speech, even if it means giving a forum to those who are despicable and awful human beings.
It is not a victory to ban Info Wars from online media sites. It’s a threat to all speech when a handful of powerful people – whether it be businesses or governments – serve as final arbiters as to what should be deemed acceptable speech. We must battle against evil, speak out against what’s wrong, and take steps to fix the world and to help avoid new problems. Simply shutting off the mic doesn’t change the mindsets of millions of people – it may only embolden them and further escalate tensions.
If the Internet was to really scrub clean all that people find objectionable, little would be left. Some would argue religions represent discrimination, homophobia, and hate speech. Others would say any group discriminates against others purely by supporting one group to the exclusion of all others. Anyone can find sexism, racism, and any ism in people’s social media posts. Every comic would be banned. Millions of books would be stripped from being sold.
We simply can’t ban or censor free speech, but we can help others evolve and come to see alternate or better ways to view the world. But for the hardcore haters who end up committing crimes, they will need to be prosecuted for such actions – but not for their thoughts or words. Deeds are what matter most.
I don’t like to hear about Holocaust deniers, 9/11 hoax theories, or outrageous hate-filled views, but if that’s the price to have free speech to all, so be it. The other way – to censor and ban – is much costlier to society and the human soul.
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America and participated in a PR panel at the Sarah Lawrence College Writers Institute Conference.