If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear for everybody now; the ideological divide going on around the world is here to stay.
With the recent news that alternative media types like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Laura Loomer were banned off of Instagram and Facebook for good, tech companies have really showed their hand. After putting a lot of thought into it though, I’ve actually come to a different conclusion than I might’ve about a year ago.
When the last purge of InfoWars accounts occured last year on all sorts of social media platforms, it was clear that there was foul play involved. Like them or not, figures like Alex Jones should have a right to speak on a platform just as much as anybody else. If you create a tool that somebody just so happens to use very effectively in a way you didn’t intend, it’s a rather immature move to just tear that tool out of that person’s hand.
Ironically Alex Jones is banned so heavily on platforms like Facebook and YouTube, where a seemingly infinite amount of content can be posted, versus when he was merely on radio stations and public TV, where only a limited amount of space exists and his audience was much more specific. The fact that InfoWars is more popular than ever, and subsequently more banned than ever, is important to remember when studying this issue, especially when trying to analyze the conservative argument.
I also feel like it’s worth pointing out the hypocrisy going on with the banning of Laura Loomer, who objectively does more legitimate and useful journalism and reporting than any pompous TV anchor or coastal writer from CNN or Vox does. There’s an irony in the fact that while Loomer is attempting to uncover stories that actually pertain to scores of people, including holding authority figures responsible for investigating the still shady Las Vegas shooting to a standard of scrutiny, supposedly respected sites like The Atlantic and NPR spend their time trying to discredit Loomer, Jones and the “alternative media.” It’s actually worrying to me that papers like the New York Times seem to spend so much time fretting about whether or not new media is “alt-right” or “problematic” instead of doing the very job that the new media is so greatly outperforming them at, which is really damaging the world as a whole.
A Nation Divided…
That last point is actually really important in understanding this whole issue. While there are some alternative media figures out there that do an amazing job rooting out the truth, breaking important and crucial stories, and just generally being real journalists and reporters, there is a massive issue with exposure. With all the algorithms and programs that exist to try to filter and curate content to our eyeballs, it’s just impossible for everyone interested in conservative politics to be exposed to the newest episode of Tucker Carlson or the most recent Donald Trump speech. Not only are people able to limit themselves to just being exposed to their biases of choice, but they can also filter it down to the style and persona of content as well. No longer are the disparate voices coming from across red and blue divides, but also from a lack of shared culture and vocabulary which seemed to be the entire point of aligning with a particular side in the first place.
To explain further, in 2003, Cass Sunstein wrote about how a problematic element that arises from technology is the destruction of shared and common experiences in society, which he finds crucial to cohesion. This is undeniably true, America is very much a mixing pot of people and the binding glue really hasn’t been about faith or culture but rather a unified American experience that can be provided. Immigrants don’t risk life and limb to come to this country for the food or the music, but rather because of the promise of what American provides. But where does this near-utopian vision come from?
Certainly not from the top-down, constant political musical chairs is a sure sign of that. JFK’s in Dallas and Nixon’s resignation didn’t signal the end of freedom and democracy like it might’ve in some other nation, things kept ticking along as usual. Nor does it come from the bottom-up, as a constantly shifting population only complicates any understanding of composition and national identity, no matter what certain figures on the left or right try to imply. Instead, the only thing that’s clear is that America really is a team effort, and a huge part of that was the shared experiences in both the media and in life that we encountered.
Newspapers and television used to expose all Americans to a shared combination of content, and while small trades and subversive content have always existed, we’re at a point now where Americans are more segmented from not only their neighbors, but even those that they agree with. While the internet came out swinging with all sorts of niche domains and blogs, things have gotten even more segmented thanks to subreddits, Facebook groups, and more.
This is all to say that there is a real possibility that those that lead these tech giants aren’t malicious, but rather are genuinely just biased and ignorant. We all know that the Silicon Valley ilk worship at the altar of social justice and progressive politics, but to a certain degree the very tools that we all use to access information are only going to keep them in their bubble. As great as it would be if they all expanded their horizons, I really don’t blame the average tech worker anymore for not being exposed to anything outside of a progressive bubble.
Going from universities where Marxism and social justice drips from every inch of every textbook and lecture, to working in these environments where Christianity and Fox News are mocked regularly, to using search algorithms that will cater to these very tastes, I can’t imagine any opportunity to escape this cultural segmentation arising. This isn’t to be an apologist for big tech and ultra progressives, but instead to point out that both sides are suffering from this cultural isolation, and it’s playing a huge part in all of these conflicts. Do figures like Mark Zuckerberg really have any exposure to Alex Jones or Milo outside of highly doctored clips they might be shown by the mainstream press, and shouldn’t we take this into account when trying to explain our side to them?
Coercion and the Roots of Evil
With this last ban cycle, I wasn’t at all disturbed by the typical CNN and Vox puppets celebrating at the limiting of speech in the world. What I was surprised at, was how cowardly almost every single figure on the right or conservative media and politics were. Hundreds of people came out with tempered statements, wasting their Tweet characters condemning InfoWars for facile reasons before touching on the dangers of censorship. Even weirder were how the ones that did stand up to the media oligarchs continue their approach of somehow labeling this as a civil rights issue.
Aside from the initial absurdness of comparing social media use to the Jim Crow South, there is a clear distinction to be made that I will probably make a concise video about later on this issue. In terms of sheer numbers and clean business, social media services need to provide a good platform that can turn a profit for maintenance and growth, plain and simple. To compare them to a public commodity is not only ignorant of how technology and business work, but I think it is really dooming society to being stuck with some of the worst forms of communication, all on a childish argument that people can’t play nice so the government has to step in. In fact, comparing Facebook and Twitter to public commodities only aids in their side of things unfortunately. Let’s take a closer look.
For instance, I’ve seen many conservatives compare Facebook and Twitter to public and open forums, and I’ve heard them say that by curating unsavory people off their platform they are acting as a publisher and thus need to be regulated as such. What this argument ignores is that for a public forum to function, common courtesy rules need to be followed, which I think undoubtedly everyone can agree to. If I go to a public park and decide to express my political opinion, nobody would arrest me for doing such a thing. If I wore a bunch of pins and advocated against wars abroad that’s fine. However, if while doing that I started sexually harassing people who walked by, cursing at small children and holding up obscene imagery, I think we can all agree that the police and even other citizens have the right to ask me to leave this public space. I’m not being censored, I spoiled the fun so to speak and have to pay the price. It’s weird how broad the conversation turns to when talking about such things with social media giants then, because everybody is so quick to say that every single person should have the right to say what they want. This is ironic coming from conservatives, who don’t have a strong track record supporting free expression and unfiltered thoughts.
It’s incredibly important then to understand that not only is this at play, but these companies are still just that, companies, and they need to make a profit and they own and created these platforms. Unless conservatives are adopting Marxist thought, these tools don’t belong to the people, who pay nothing for them, but they belong to those that made them. When did they suddenly adopt Obama’s “you didn’t make that” argument?
Is it discrimination for a platform like YouTube to ban pedophiles, or anyone that might be making pedophile sympathetic content from the platform? This is a serious question. How about anti-Semitism, and the super broad area that can entail? That New York Times cartoon that was recently chastised for portraying President Trump and Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu in an anti-Semitic fashion certainly got a lot of attention, but will the New York Times be banned permanently on all platforms for such hate speech? Or do they get a free pass because of the mysterious prestige they somehow possess? Why is Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook faux-paux the ultimate crucifix to hang his entire platform on, but other platforms can make all the blunders they want? At the end of the day, does InfoWars or Milo actually create a negative net income for these companies, while massive media giants like NYT or WashPo provide some kind of benefit? If that really is the case, then why are we comfortable pretending like this is about free speech absolutism when none of us want the hypothetical pedophiles, rapists, abusers, and more on the same platform as us? Why aren’t we taking the time to explain to Facebook, Twitter and the others that InfoWars and Milo don’t actually fall into this category regardless of bias, instead of assuming malintent right away? This is the nuanced part of the conversation that isn’t being had, and it’s emblematic of an even bigger issue.
Ultimately, the lack of clear signals on this whole issue is that nobody is talking to one another anymore. Well some people are, like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, who sat across from Joe Rogan and journalist Tim Pool earlier this year and discussed the issues people had with his platform. Mark Zuckerberg constantly faces government and corporate scrutiny for Facebook’s actions, and talks about these things rather transparently on livestreams and in public forums. The tech world actually does a rather good job keeping us in the loop considering how opaque corporations tend to be, and with how large and global their audience is.
The people I’m really disappointed in this whole debate are conservatives, who continue to be hypocrites through all stretches of this fight. On one end, there’s the complete lack of any clear plan with their fight to “end censorship,” other than promises of government overreach that echo the vague promises of Trump’s border wall. Government intervention is universally a time proven horrible idea, and to use progressive tactics for this topic continue to baffle me. Further, conservatives continue to play the victim card, claiming censorship, yet continue to infight, continue to ostracize the real journalists and trailblazers, and continue to cannibalize their own.
This cultural divide is worse than ever, but in some ways, I think this most recent banning streak might be a blessing in disguise. The small trickle we’ve had is enough to keep people hooked on these platforms, more willing than ever to follow their unclear and progressive biased rules, while never reaching that tipping point that makes us all abandon ship. While this continues to happen, we’ll be subjected to consuming content from journalists and media types on these proven unhealthy and unbearable platforms. To force civil rights legislation onto Twitter will only have the effect of forcing us to consume Chrissy Teigen in 240 character chunks for eternity instead of letting the market create it’s new form of communication that fixes this segmentation rut we’re in. Communication itself is not impossible with new tech, rather we’re obsessing over systems that make it impossible to communicate properly. Don’t blame a shovel for being ineffective at anything but digging, and then pass legislation at the shovel companies. We should instead encourage the entrepreneurs to make the next great thing, and if conservatism really is an ideology worth continuing, they should be putting their skin in the game and creating systems that will help eradicate these bias issues we’re having, instead of just playing the perpetual victim shaking their fist at the world that continues to develop and grow around them.
While I always find it horrendous that people continue to pile onto Alex Jones and Laura Loomer, the larger cultural debate is much wider than this, and I think it’s worth looking at this in an optimistic light. It’s time we ditch Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all these other mind-decaying platforms and switch back to forms of shared cultural communication that benefit us as a society. Wouldn’t it be great if our local newspaper didn’t talk about President Trump unless absolutely necessary, and instead focused on actual local issues? Wouldn’t it be great to read profiles on new local businesses and inspiring athletes stories, and not just constant flag waving? We owe it to ourselves, and if we don’t quit now and continue to enable these behaviors, there might not be a chance to bail later.