The draft of this post had been sitting in a folder for quite a while. I had been thinking that I had plenty of time to work out a detailed look at what I thought was a long term problem but “events dear boy, events” once again rears its ugly head and time’s up.
And honestly I should have known that I didn’t have much time. When putting together my yearly predictions for 2020, I had toyed with the idea of putting in a prediction that social media would stomp down on prominent conservative sites and users hard during the run up to the election and that certainly happened, with Twitter and Facebook joining forces to stop the spread of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story, mere weeks before Election Day. But this story is bigger than me missing what turned out to be a sure fire prediction.
Although the left is gleeful that Trump is banned from Twitter (and Facebook, Instagram, Shopify, Snapchat, Twitch, and so on…), the idea that multiple monopoly online platforms can coordinate to render the most powerful man in the world effectively a nonperson should be worrying to those of us with far less power and influence.
We’re in new territory. After half a century of civil society expanding access and opportunity, we’re now in an era in which instead of people boycotting companies, companies are boycotting people.
The sixty years since the start of the civil rights movement has resulted in civil rights and a reduced freedom of association. No longer could you have a public establishment and restrict it; if you owned a lunch counter, just because you owned it didn’t mean you could keep black people from your lunch counter. That has been the trend in law for decades, and accepted by all liberals and conservatives until social media platforms began banning conservative sites, personalities, and accounts. Then suddenly, liberals began saying, “build your own damn Facebook (or Twitter ect…)! They’re private companies! They can have whoever they want and ban whoever they want!”
Is it OK if the local grocery store bans me buying groceries because they don’t like the cut of my twitter jib? My bank or credit union? Or the local gas station? How about my power company and water & sewage?
Currently the answer is yes.
I honestly didn’t see the rise of woke capitalism and the use of its economic power to go after individuals that it disagreed with politically. For the entire history of capitalism, companies have followed the almighty dollar. That was the central critique of capitalism from the left, the relentless pursuit of maximizing profitability. All of our understanding of how economics works is based on the idea that companies seek profit. In fact for corporations, profit is their legal fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. How does capitalism work when the reward a corporation seeks is likes, re-tweeting, and some vague moral superiority at the expense of a broad customer base?
The frog has been boiling for several years, slowly so as to not cause much fuss, and it started with targets that virtually everyone could agree were nuts. So yes, I’m talking about Alex Jones. Jones is a conspiracy theorist who’s entertained the conspiracy of whatever nut job guest he had. Peak Alex Jones was probably the conspiracy that NASA was running a child slave camp on Mars. Jones was a good tryout for this sort of banning because Jones was not only unpopular on the left; he was unpopular on the right for promoting baseless and ridiculous conspiracy theories simply as a business model. He was one of the first ones to be banned and no one really stood up for him because his promotion of the Sandy Hook conspiracy was genuinely hurtful. Anyone can put themselves in the place of a mourning parent who then gets attacked by some nutjob claiming their child’s death was a fraud.
So what happened?
“For the first time, the major online platforms coordinated their efforts. Within a few days in early August 2018, Alex Jones “Infowars” was expelled from Apple podcasts, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube. On September 6th, Twitter followed suit. On September 8th, Apple banned Alex Jones InfoWars app from its App Store. Jones was virtually erased. He had 2.4 million YouTube subscribers, all gone; 830,000 Twitter followers, purged; his Apple podcast archives were deleted; his Facebook page, with 2.5 million followers, wiped out.”
And with apologies to Bertolt Brecht, First they came for the conspiracy nuts, and I did not speak out, because I was not a conspiracy nut…
Well we know how that ends. We’re close enough to see it on the horizon now.
That deplatforming went so well that the social media giants tried a few more test cases. Next up, “Sargon of Akkad.”
Sargon of Akkad, whose YouTube channel has over a million subscribers and has delivered 270 million views. “Sargon” (not the Mesopotamian King) is actually Carl Benjamin, a 40-year-old British political commentator and former UK Independence Party candidate who has been building his YouTube audience since 2010. In 2014, at the height of the Gamergate controversy, he attracted publicity for exposing efforts by progressive feminists to influence video game development.
Controversy has been currency for Sargon of Akkad, like it has for everyone on the IDW. But when it comes to big tech censorship, some controversies are more controversial than others. Benjamin criticized sacred leftist pieties surrounding, among others, feminism, white privilege, and fundamentalist Islam. With his provocative style, exasperating commitment to logic, and uninhibited use of his right to free speech, he’d made a lot of enemies.
Apparently, Patreon agreed, and on December 6, 2018, it banned Benjamin’s account. Overnight, the $12,000 per month he was making from subscribers supporting him through Patreon was gone. His offense was that Patreon had uncovered a video “off-platform,” meaning it wasn’t even on his own YouTube channel, where in a discussion, Benjamin used the “N-word.” It didn’t matter that he was only using the word in an abstract way to make a point—or that examples have been found of that word being used on other YouTube channels that are served by Patreon.
As reported by Tim Pool, when Benjamin went to an alternative member services provider, SubscribeStar, that competes with Patreon, leftist activists hounded PayPal to sever their relationship with it. In turn, that not only stymied Benjamin’s attempt to offer his supporters a new platform, it abruptly ended the cash flow for every preexisting client of SubscribeStar, and sent that service provider into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover.
I’m old enough to remember when companies banding together like that was considered collusion and was bad (and illegal). Now it’s considered a positive social good.
But Woke Capital is just getting started.
Laura Loomer, a controversial former GOP Congressional candidate, is an admitted Islamophobe, and conspiracy theorist, has been banned from just about everything. Her lists of bans include the (almost normal now) bans from social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to more specialized bans, such as Uber, Lyft, PayPal, and Venmo. But wait, there is more! She’s also banned from Chase Bank.
As I said, the typical leftist/libertarian response to this is usually along the lines of “go start your own Facebook” or some such. However as this continues to expand, it’s going to have to include “go start your own ridesharing service, internet payment system and Banking system.”
Loomer might as well be told to go start her own planet.
Well that all seems very small potatoes now, when Twitter and Facebook have banned Donald Trump, the sitting President of the United States. Why did they wait until this week? My guess is that once it became clear that the Democrats would control the Senate, and would lead the committees, they no longer had any fears of future regulation, particularly with Section 230. For the social media giants, happy days really were here again.
So what’s to be done? It’s a bit too late for that. Section 230 is the legislation that provides liability protection for internet companies over content on their site. Facebook and Twitter are treated as bulletin boards and are not really responsible for their content since it’s not “their” content. This is unlike actual publishers like newspapers who are legally liable for their content. However if Twitter and Facebook are banning their ideological enemies, they are really acting as publishers and not bulletin boards and should be legally liable. Trump wanted to make that change, but it’s unlikely anything like that could have gotten through the democratically controlled House. The Democrats like things just the way they are.
Another idea that might help conservatives fight woke capital:
The Office of Comptroller of the Currency is considering a new rule that would bar banks from denying service for non-financial reasons, such as a customer’s political views. The idea has a solid legal basis. It simply implements the language in Title III of the Dodd-Frank Act, which directs the OCC to “assure the safety and soundness of, and compliance with laws and regulations, fair access to financial services, and fair treatment of customers.”
The rule states that a financial institution may not “deny any person a financial service the bank offers except to the extent justified by such person’s quantified and documented failure to meet quantitative, impartial risk-based standards established in advance by the covered bank.”
This is certainly a positive move that would be beneficial…oh yeah we’re out of time for that. Biden will take office in less than two weeks and nothing like this will ever be allowed to slip by the Harris-but-also Biden administration.
From Poland comes a fairly genius idea:
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro announced a legal initiative on Thursday aimed at enabling internet users to file complaints against the removal of online posts as well as the creation of a special court for freedom of speech.
Under its provisions, social media services will not be allowed to remove content or block accounts if the content on them does not break Polish law. In the event of removal or blockage, a complaint can be sent to the platform, which will have 24 hours to consider it. Within 48 hours of the decision, the user will be able to file a petition to the court for the return of access. The court will consider complaints within seven days of receipt and the entire process is to be electronic.
If a special court rules in favour of the plaintiff and the internet service does not obey the ruling it can subject the internet service to a fine of up to PLN 8 million (EUR 1.8 million) imposed by the Office of Electronic Communications.
Again, not an idea that would ever get past a Democratic Congress and Administration, but it shows that there were options to have stopped this Woke Capital-tatorship we’ve found ourselves living under. Well it’s too late for the US but maybe not for the Poles so I wish them well.
You know, it really is the perfect dictatorship; no emergency decrees, and no dissolution of Congress. “The last remnants of the Old Republic” doesn’t need to be swept away. They can stay right where they are. We can continue to vote and none of it will matter. Our ideological compliance will be enforced not by a governmental Big Brother, but by a woke capital that will police the customer base, making sure we all parrot the right opinions and don’t get out of line if we want to continue to bank, get a job, shop, get a mortgage, use credit, or conduct any business whatsoever.
I would like to think there is some think tank or institution that is working on this, trying to come up with policies and plans to handle this seemingly intractable situation, but what is Conservative Inc concerning itself with? From National Review, The Cure for Trumpism? Reaganism.