A few for-profit entities with immense power over global speech and politics have brought us closer to an Orwellian nightmare
.The way that the Russian and Chinese governments demonise, gag and imprison their own political opposition and dissidents is often reprimanded by Washington through the prism of human rights, invariably reinforcing the idea of American exceptionalism; its model of democracy to be envied and imported worldwide, where free speech and political dissent flourishes and considered indelibly American.
It is somewhat ironic then that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Putin’s Russia, when hearing of Trump’s social media ban, thought it was a bridge too far. “In my opinion, the decision was based on emotions and political preferences,” Navalny
wrote in a twitter thread.“Of course, Twitter is a private company, but we have seen many examples in Russia and China of such private companies becoming the state’s best friends and enablers when it comes to censorship.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel too found the move and its implications for free speech of concern. headtopics.com
That these tech companies are private companies, and are not bound to adhere to free speech rights is true on one hand. But on the other, these platforms have become the primary publishers of news and present the façade of a public domain even though they are not held accountable by any democratic mechanisms.
Put bluntly, at a time when public spaces to gather and debate have been under attack by neoliberalism and the drive to privatise the commons, Facebook and Twitter have consolidated their monopolistic power to provide billions of users with the only available outlets for public expression. That a few for-profit entities have such power over global speech and politics has brought us that much closer to an Orwellian nightmare.
The idea that these companies can now be expunged from scrutiny for their roles in enabling conspiracy theories to bubble up into real-world violence is troubling to say the least; whose algorithms and filter bubbles reinforced ideological rigidity and fanned the flames of discord, making them complicit – not immune from responsibility.
As Jonathan Tobinwritesin Newsweek: “the response to the riot has enabled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the arbiters of what may or may not be said in the nation’s virtual public square in a way that any would-be American dictator would envy.” headtopics.com
It’s not like these companies were ever principally devoted to preserving democracy in any way either. They instead swim with the tide of public opinion, cynically maneuvering whenever their bottom line is at stake.Yael Eisenstat, a former Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations for political advertising at Facebook, puts it
: “It is hard to view this decision, and the timing, as anything other than trying to cozy up to power, as opposed to some form of responsible stewardship of our democracy”.Meanwhile, journalist Glenn Greenwald notes thecomparisonsbetween the overreactions to Capitol Hill and 9/11 and how attacks on civil liberties were justified in their aftermath.
The growing chorus of demands across the spectrum from liberal politicians to celebrities that Silicon Valley act to stop enabling Trump and his cohorts could spell murky waters for what lies ahead. Does one really inhabit a democracy if those with enough cultural capital and institutional influence can pressure platforms to bend towards wherever public opinion is swaying and, in the process, quash unpopular political expression?
Take Michelle Obama, whosaidTrump supporters are not only being shamed by connection to the actions of a mob, but essentially as accessories to an insurrection. If Trump’s electoral fraud nonsense and those who acted upon his insurrectionary rhetoric are deserving of the digital axe, does that mean over 70 million Trump voters are guilty by proxy as well? headtopics.com
If all Trump supporters are a pariah to democracy and warrant their avatars being eternally scrubbed from cyberspace, how do Americans plan to share the same country with millions of disillusioned, so-called seditionists in the real world? If that’s the divisive lens through which US political discourse takes shape under the Biden years, then civil war might not just be hyperbole anymore but a worrying reality in the post-Trump era.Read more: TRT World »
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