Censorship by billionaires, applauded by the left

The Facebook boycott shows that the prospects for online freedom are bleak.

Tom Slater

Multi-billion-dollar companies are demanding that other multi-billion-dollar companies censor what we can say and read online, and liberals and left-wingers are applauding. If you want an insight into how deranged and unprincipled supposed progressives have become, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

This of course is the Facebook boycott, the decision of more than 300 advertisers, including corporate giants Unilever, Coca-Cola and Pfizer, to pause their advertising with the social-media giant until it does more to moderate content and, in particular, censor ‘hate speech’.

That so many people can’t see this for what it is – the mega rich demanding limits on what we all can read and say online – is remarkable. A headline on Axios refers to the boycott, with a straight face, as a ‘bottom-up revolution’, while also noting that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are involved behind the scenes. Because, as we know, all the best ‘bottom-up revolutions’ are launched by billionaires and literal royals.

That this was primarily sparked by two posts by Donald Trump is even more ridiculous. On 26 May, Trump posted about mail-in ballots in California, spreading baseless doubts about voter fraud in the state. A few days later, on 29 May, he posted ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ in response to the riots breaking out across the US following the death of George Floyd, urging tougher action by the authorities.

Twitter decided to flag the posts, fact-checking the former and posting a warning label over the latter. But Facebook decided to leave the posts up, without any additional flags or labels – arguing, quite reasonably, that social-media companies should not be meddling in how elected politicians speak to the public. This was met with fury among advertisers and even Facebook’s staff – who staged a ‘virtual walkout’ last month in protest against this refusal to take action on Trump’s ‘hateful rhetoric’.

That these people seem to think it is justifiable, or frankly even practical, to cancel a democratically elected president speaks to their remarkable moral arrogance. Facebook has now said it will effectively bring its policies on public figures who break the rules in line with those of Twitter – ie, leaving offending posts up, given they are in the public interest, but flagging them appropriately. But critics who had previously cheered Twitter’s response immediately said the changes ‘didn’t go far enough’. Perhaps they won’t be happy until Trump is handed a permanent ban.

Regardless of what one thinks of Trump, this really isn’t about him. Free speech is as much about the right of people to listen and decide for themselves as it is about the right of speakers to say whatever they want. Censorship is always motored more by fear of a supposedly gullible public than it is of a supposedly incendiary speaker. This was certainly clear from comments made by Rashad Robinson, of the organisation Color of Change, who criticised Facebook’s supposedly meagre rule change, saying that allowing the public to ‘judge for themselves’ whether a post by a public figure is false or hateful simply ‘won’t cut it’.

This will also not stop with Trump. The hysteria of recent weeks has turbo-charged a deeply illiberal trend whereby Big Tech is being encouraged to clamp down on offensive speech. Twitter recently booted far-right provocateur Katie Hopkins and trans-sceptical sitcom writer Graham Linehan off its platform. Meanwhile, Reddit has just purged ‘The_Donald’ Subreddit, as well as one devoted to the left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House, over allegations of harassment and hate speech among users.

That, amid all this, Facebook has been painted as hopelessly laissez-faire suggests online freedom is in real trouble. Because Facebook is hardly some bastion of free-speech fundamentalism. Long before this latest scuttle with advertisers it has had significant policies restricting hate speech. It has also kicked prominent hard-right people off its platform, often in quite shady circumstances: reports suggest it went looking for justifications to ban them, when existing rules proved insufficient. Now, in response to the boycott, its hate-speech rules have been broadened further.

Facebook has caught flak in recent years for refusing to fact-check political ads and ban conspiracy theorists. Becoming an ‘arbiter of truth’, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has often said, is not a line the company is willing to cross. Refusing to meddle in political campaigning or literally pronounce on what is and isn’t true is perhaps the least we should expect from a social-media company trying to maintain some semblance of impartiality.

That its attempts to hold this line have been so widely criticised, and that it is now beating a hasty retreat, in response to both the Black Lives Matter moment and the Covid crisis, shows just how bleak the prospects for online freedom are. That this corporate censorship – this empowering of billionaires to control what we can see, read and say – is being applauded by the left is nothing short of demented.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Dave Angel

13th July 2020 at 4:21 pm

I cancel corps that engage in cancel culture and the destruction of traditional British culture – BBC licence, Facebook account, various retailers and banks … all have lost my custom. It’s divisive but I’m not donating to causes I object to. They can go fund their revolutions from someone else.

Major Bonkers

3rd July 2020 at 7:09 pm

I dare say that Katie Hopkins is ‘extreme right wing’ in the same way that the BBC, The Guardian, and Polly Toynbee are ‘extreme left wing’.

Much easier to label her than engage with what she has to say.

Only such right-on luminaries as Lily Allen, Garry Lineker, and the weird siamese twits of Harry ‘n’ Megan should be accorded the right of free speech in order to lecture us unwoke extremists.

Steele Rudd

4th July 2020 at 8:14 am

But, but, the sensitive Left are so fragile that they need to have trigger warnings on everything.

Heaven forfend they might actually be exposed to normal intelligent discourse; they might have to learn (or more likely unlearn) something.

Jack Sprat

3rd July 2020 at 7:08 pm

How long before the IT witch finders block Spiked as though it didn’t exist? Is the future a free speech underground one step hopping one step away from the PC gestapo ?

Al Wilson

3rd July 2020 at 9:22 am

The irony of Spiked bemoaning lack of free speech, then a comment is ‘moderated’ because it mentions the Koch brothers setting Spikeds agenda

Al Wilson

3rd July 2020 at 9:19 am

They control the agenda for platforms, often via ‘donations’, Epstein paying college girls fees for ‘favours’, as with the Koch brothers and Spiked.

Vicki McKerrell

2nd July 2020 at 10:58 pm

We should take a leaf out of China’s social media control playbook. Let all social media be controlled and monitored by a governing body, I’d say with Harry and Megs as the CEO’s and all will be well in the world.

Dominic Straiton

2nd July 2020 at 8:04 pm

I think its great. Everyone with a brain, left or right can see ,in real time whats going on. Either people really are stupid or Trump is going to win by a landslide. We’l see in November. Judging by polls in 2016 and today the left as usual are fckd. Just goes to show Twatter isnt and never has been real life.

Mark Beal

2nd July 2020 at 6:23 pm

So all the people who went on for several years about the Russians supposedly meddling with the democratic process through social media channels to get Trump elected in 2016 are now completely on board with the social media companies themselves meddling with the democratic process in any way they can to ensure that Trump isn’t elected again. I’d like to say you couldn’t make it up, but it’s all too predictable.

Michel Houllebeq

2nd July 2020 at 4:20 pm

No doubt 1984 is here – but even with that dystopian novel of the future, it didn’t have identity politics and open borders to deal with.

Tolar Owen

2nd July 2020 at 3:02 pm

Reddit also banned “GenderCritical,” a 65,000 member radical feminist sub with 27,000 daily visitors, which was highly moderated and dared to question transgender ideology. No warning, nothing. They also cancelled the related subreddits, #thisneverhappens, and #itsafetish, for documenting thousands of instances online of women-identify males fetishizing transitioning and going into women and girls spaces, and documenting hundreds of crimes by transgender women that are never reported in the MSM.

GenderCritical had many international women members who went to this space to get support for dealing with male violence and control in their patriarchal countries, as well as women here who were dealing with past abuse. It was also a home to girls and women “detransitioning” from trans-ing through drugs and surgery, as well as a place where many young women fortunately came on the VERGE of making a terrible decision who were blessedly pulled back from the brink of harming themselves through this movement.

Why? No warnings. It was deemed “hate speech.”

Meanwhile, Reddit left up “GenderCriticalGuys,” a subreddit for men who are transcritical, which is a blessing–the Reddit staff either are afraid of men (which is usually why they go after transcritical women, since it’s punching down), or maybe they think it’s a porn site. Because they also left up their most offensive pornography groups that celebrate rape, incest, physical assault and dismemberment (I kid you not), and pedophilia. I will not post the names here as they’re grossly offensive.

The “trans” sites all over Reddit were celebrating finally getting GenderCritical banned. One person was honest–they said that if you’re a trans person or support transgenderism and you “read any of their arguments” you’ll start to go down the rabbit hole and question yourself too much. The solution is to “never read any of it.” Others on the trans-sites were, true to form, talking about being sexually aroused by having GenderCritical banned.

Think about that–survivors of Female Genital Mutilation, Saudi Arabian women, Pakistani women, and teens beginning to question taking dangerous puberty blockers–have all been silenced for participating in the “hate speech” of trying to keep women and girls safe from male violence.

And the men continue to groom teenage boys through their trans sites and ruin their sexuality through celebrating vicious violence against women and girls. THAT’s not hate speech.

As I’ve written elsewhere and I’m happy for the writers here to take and elaborate, racial discourse is BEING TRANSGENDERED. Transgenderism is the LITERAL fetishization of identity politics, and its silencing, destructive, invasive, narcissistic ideology is hijacking whatever was good in BLM.

John D Henry

2nd July 2020 at 6:40 pm

Great comments Tolar Owen, and your provided an insight on the far reaching effects censorship can have. History is littered with examples of the prevailing view being patently wrong (flat earth, earth centre of universe, homosexuals bad, McCarthism to name but a few). The prevailing view doesn’t necessarily reflect the majority, facts, logic, or even basic science. It strikes me that the bigger the lie, the more any dissent is shut down. As you intimated, the current vogue for identity politics is causing unsolvable contradictions which can lead to direct societal harm.

Ad Dam

5th July 2020 at 7:48 pm

Must be awful, to be censored like men standing up for men are. Who hurt you?

George Whale

2nd July 2020 at 2:36 pm

That multinational companies can so easily bypass the First Amendment shows where power actually resides in America and the West.

Matt Ryan

2nd July 2020 at 2:17 pm

Make them liable for content on their sites will fix this problem. The want the protection of “common carrier” status but also to selectively apply policies to posts. They can’t have both.

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