The response to Wednesday’s chaos in the US Capitol, stormed by supporters of President Trump unhappy with the way the November election was carried out (in their opinion, fraudulently) to eventually give victory to his opponent – seems to be putting extreme strain on the country’s democracy, particularly on the way free speech on the internet is not only allowed, or banned – but also viewed and treated.
Is it an inviolable and extremely valuable asset of a democratic society, or a commodity that can be tossed aside when it suits a political moment, or whim, as the media would like to suggest?
These are some of the questions now coming to the fore as many mainstream websites are beginning to launch their “campaigns” to use the situation as a pretext and an excuse to push for even further stifling of free online speech, and introduction of even more censorship on social networks, who are now painted as the culprit.
This narrative is emerging loud and clear in a series of articles that appeared immediately in the wake of the Washington unrest, which is almost in unison deemed to have been “attempted coup, insurrection, domestic terrorism” – a situation that the some of these reports say social networks didn’t “create” – but have “helped.”
It seems that the main argument is that pretending that something doesn’t exist will make it go away, while further chipping away at online freedoms to make this happen is perfectly acceptable. Namely, social media “helped the coup” by allowing users to post a huge number of photos and videos from the event. When all’s said and done, this could also be seen as an act of citizen reporting about one of the most newsworthy events anywhere in the world on the day; but critics say this was “criminal content going viral” on platforms like Facebook and Twitter was, and should be impermissible going forward.
As events unfolded and were reported on these networks, so the language coming from the protesters’ opponents, also on the same networks, got more and more heated and continued piling pressure, including some accusing Twitter and Facebook CEO’s of having “blood on their hands” for not making sure their platforms were strictly policed and streamlined toward presenting not merely one narrative and “truth,” but also a particular version of reality, where bad or undesirable things are ignored.
Eventually, the pressure paid off for those mounting it, and Twitter went for the unprecedented move of deleting and suspending President Trump’s posts and account. Despite Trump’s distancing from the protests, and his calls for peace, many continued to seize on the opportunity to urge these giant centralized networks to ban him once and for all.
The broader and more important issue of everyone’s freedom of speech on social networks in a climate where the censorship level is being upped every day to the point where it looks like a runaway train – that’s something that seems to be completely lost, or of no interest to those focused on the political games of the day. In addition to seeking what “responsibility” Facebook, Twitter, and others have – despite being well on their way to deplatforming a president – websites such as The Verge issued fiery calls for this process to be completed, and Trump removed from big corporate social media.
But they also ominously manage to bring in the issue of open, decentralized, small competitors like Parler, accusing them of being much harder to “handle,” i.e., censor when free speech is concerned, unlike the giants that are well under control.
(All the while, the theme that pervades these reports are calls to protect US democracy, but allowing only speech they like or approve of; yet that’s something that goes directly against the fundamental principles of that same democracy.)
The mention of Parler was no coincidence, as it cropped up again in other places, with far more direct nods at censorship: the question that is asked is repeatedly was – why is this app still in Big Tech app stores? – as if signaling for Google and Apple to make a move.
Here, too, it is recognized that Facebook and Twitter can be successfully pressured and controlled, and purged of most dissenting voices; but this “revolutionary” zeal also wants to prevent those leaving these platforms from being able to communicate elsewhere, heaping accusations of “right wing extremists and white supremacy” on these apps – to bolster the argument in favor of eventual total control over social media.