Social Media: Ground Zero for the War on Ideas
By Julian Glassford: Earlier this year I cautioned that “major search engines and social media platforms … have transformed into data swiping ‘attention merchants’, relentless marketeers, social engineers, and unelected arbiters of truth”. Sadly, tech sector activity in the time since has done little to dispel this notion and the last point in particular.
Twitter’s leadership held out for some time in the wake of the multi-platform deletion of InfoWars, maintaining that they strongly believe the platform “should not be the arbiter of truth”. This would represent a laudable commitment to freedom of expression, and the free flow of ideas and dialogue, if only it were true. In fact, the Twitter Gods have taken to (shadow) banning untold numbers of interlocutors, including political representatives, without due warning, justification, or any clear means of appeal.
Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify, on the other hand, appear to have adopted a rather different approach in recent months. These multinational corporations are said to have dispensed with the pretence of tolerance of intellectual and ideology diversity altogether, in conspicuously censoring/banning apparently mostly right-leaning users from their networks outright.
Just as contemporary technological trends have moved the average consumer of news away from traditional, reliably on-message mainstream media outfits, those who have historically set the news agenda have rallied and are now seeking to neuter the new media domain.
All of a sudden, Big Tech firms are not even bothering to hide the fact they have a monopoly on information, and a related ‘responsibility’ to play the part of judge, jury, and executioner regarding the legitimacy of every single digitally recorded action we take; that is, extending the reach and remit of moderation beyond ordinary recourse to law, and indeed their own rules and guidelines. This should ring alarm bells.
Whatever we may think of infamous ‘Info Warriors’ such as Alex Jones and Tommy Robinson, the reality is that very many more ‘digital citizens’ are finding themselves subject to increasingly Orwellian measures online. It’s not just controversial conservatives affected either. Indeed, censorious interventions and associated protestation aren’t in fact limited to the right side of politics at all.
What we appear to be witnessing is the start of a concerted attempt – on the part of an oligopolistic transnational cabal of social networking and information sharing giants – to squash those who dare challenge the norms and narratives of the (increasingly illiberal) ‘liberal elite’. Whatever our particular political leanings and identity, this ought to concern us all.
Free speech and plurality, the very cornerstones of a healthy, functioning democracy and vibrant society, are under threat. Furthermore, in the context of increasingly widespread (political) censorship and effective exclusion from (digital) discourse, the very real prospect of (further) distrust, disenchantment, polarisation, and radicalisation, cannot be ignored.
As the infamous American cult comic and activist, Bill Hicks, once said: “the next revolution is going to be a revolution of ideas”. That revolution arguably began in earnest in 2016, with shock defeats for neoliberal globalist front-runners in two main races: the British EU referendum and the US presidential election.
The political and “economic nationalism” of Farage and Bannon on the right, and the “21st century Socialism” of Corbyn and Sanders on the left, represent potent, growing threats to ‘business as usual’; liabilities that must be nullified, whatever it takes. Die-hard defenders of the established order clearly care little who, or what (e.g. values), gets caught in the crossfire: clinging to power and influence is paramount.
Whilst awkward public figures may invariably be bought, blackmailed, or bumped off, what cannot be so easily eliminated are our freely held thoughts, and associated sociopolitical phenomena. In fact, it is our freedom to independently interrogate and disseminate all manner of facts and concepts, and associated attitudinal dynamism, that continues – for the time being at least – to represent the main systemic buffer against mistruth and injustice.
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Evidently, the ‘post-truth’ premised fightback against contemporary political emancipation and scrutiny has now begun in earnest. The only question that remains is: will folks on social media be cowed into submission (divide and conquer), or will “we, the people” make a collective stand in defence of decentralised, democratised information sharing, and finally see real change?
Julian Glassford is an independent researcher and social entrepreneur with a keen interest in economic, social, and environmental sustainability