“Who guards the guardians?”
Generally, this is a warning spoken about the threat of tyranny in the form of security agencies, secret police or military units that might take political power in a free society. But today, we need to amend the original quote to reflect the growing threat of social media to free speech and to democracy itself: “Who guards the guardians of information?”
Because for the past few months, Twitter, Facebook and Google have shown they wield more power individually and jointly than any political party, any media corporation, or any member of Congress or president. Yet they operate without regulation and without oversight as the virtual worldwide directorate of information.
We saw those companies suppress information prior to the November presidential election regarding Joe Biden’s connection to his son Hunter’s business interests in China, Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere. We have watched as conservatives have repeatedly been deplatformed or demonetized by these same social media giants. Videos are also regularly banned because the point of view expressed is different from the official Democratic Party line.
Now, in the wake of getting their desired result in the Electoral College, the Big Tech oligarchs have been emboldened and are going even further to restrict speech. President Trump has been banned by Facebook and Instagram until at least after Joe Biden’s inauguration. Mark Zuckerberg posted a statement explaining that “President Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden.”
How exactly does Zuckerberg know what the president intends to do? This has all the earmarks of “pre-crime,” as depicted in the science fiction movie “Minority Report.” Intention is something God knows, but (thank God!) Facebook doesn’t. Zuckerberg’s statement is, of course, also inaccurate since it was issued after Trump publicly promised “an orderly transition on January 20th.” Trump neither condoned nor incited “violent insurrection,” as Zuckerberg also alleged, but it doesn’t matter because the president of the United States is powerless against the monolithic power of Facebook. There is no appeal, no higher authority, no recourse. You are just supposed to shut up and take it.
Not to be outdone, Twitter later “suspended” Trump’s account permanently “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” If they can do that to the president of the United States, you can imagine how little chance the rest of us have if we dare to speak out on behalf of him or other conservatives. Former Democrat Brandon Straka’s WalkAway movement was erased from Facebook with the flip of a switch, and Google-owned YouTube has now banned outright all videos posted after Dec. 9, 2020, that discuss the possibility of voter fraud in the recent presidential election.
“As we shared previously, we do not allow content that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election,” YouTube’s statement reads.
How outrageous! The only difference between this and the suppression of free speech in China is that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t bother with an explanation.
What else will be purged out of existence by the social media giants? Alternatives to the Warren Report on the JFK assassination? Information about Chinese slave labor that could be embarrassing to U.S. companies that have ties to the CCP? Proof that the Deep State spent four years trying to sabotage the presidency of Donald Trump — and finally succeeded?
Fact is, we won’t know what they are keeping from us because “He who controls the media controls the minds of the public.” That’s not my original thought. It’s attributed to leftist philosopher Noam Chomsky in that form, but it’s not original to him either. As long as there has been mass media, the sentiment has been well-known.
One of my favorite iterations comes from Malcolm X, the iconic civil rights leader who seized back his identity from the malignant media by writing “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” with Alex Haley. According to Malcolm:
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. ... If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Damn right, and that statement is 1,000% more true if you elide “newspapers” and substitute “social media.” Face it, the power of Zuckerberg at Facebook or Jack Dorsey at Twitter has no rival in the history of information monopolies. The folks who brought you the Tower of Babel gave it a good try, but they were pikers compared to the digital demons who now seek to dictate the nation’s narrative.
Of course, defenders of these monopolies point out that they are free-enterprise success stories. Whatever power they have resulted from hard work and ingenuity. They provide a valuable service and do so for each customer on a voluntary basis. Take it or leave it, right? But more and more, you can’t take it or leave it. The social media footprint is so big that it has left an impression on every part of the globe. If you try to avoid it, you’ll be like an ant kicked out of the colony or a bee banished from the hive.
That’s what gives these particular monopolies such a dangerous power. Increasingly, to a growing number of people, life itself seems impossible without their technological concoction. Google puts the world at our fingertips. Twitter and Facebook embrace us with the comfort of community. YouTube is an endless encore of entertainment and diversion. What more could we need?
So the very idea of restricting these social media giants — or breaking them up — is a terrifying concept to many. Yet our growing dependence on them has reached a point where we either seize back power from them or risk losing our independence all together.
President Trump and a few other hardy souls have contemplated removing the so-called Section 230 protections from Internet behemoths, but that would not likely accomplish much. Essentially, Section 230 absolves Internet-based media from responsibility for the writings of individuals posted thereon. Protection from lawsuits is based on the concept that a company like Facebook is not a publisher so much as a platform, a blank slate where others can come by and scribble anything they desire. The owner of the blank slate is deemed to be without responsibility because he neither invited nor encouraged any particular behavior, but just stood by as an impartial silent witness.
Of course, that description no longer fits the activist model of Facebook, Twitter and Google. They are neither silent nor impartial. And unlike the government, they have no First Amendment prohibiting them from shutting down viewpoints they disagree with. They dictate what content is acceptable and what content is not. They control who can access the blank slate and who can’t, just as a magazine controls who can have a story printed and who can’t. That is the very definition of a publisher.
But even if Section 230 were repealed, it is too little too late. By now, the social media giants have gotten used to wielding huge power and they are unlikely to surrender it just to avoid a lawsuit or two. Big Tech sits on a treasure of unimaginable proportions and will continue to use it to buy the silence of the government and the consumers whom they control.
No, pulling the plug on 230 is not the answer. Which brings me to my not-so-modest proposal — nationalizing the social media industry in order to protect free speech and save the republic. It may be too late, but maybe not, and the Constitution is worth saving if we have any chance at all.
The first argument against such a move is that we don’t want to consolidate more power in the hands of government, but that fundamentally misunderstands the problem. The government is constrained by the Constitution whereas Twitter and Facebook as private entities are constrained by nothing. Nationalization would ensure that social media would be subject to the First Amendment just like the rest of the government. Big Tech could no longer ban individuals or movements simply for having a different point of view.
Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Of course, nationalization of any industry is a desperate measure, and not one to be taken lightly, but it’s been done repeatedly during our history when the emergency required it, and unless you want to go the way of Communist China, then the emergency requires it.
Yes, it would be expensive, but let’s put it in perspective.
Facebook is worth just under $750 billion. Google, in the form of its parent corporation, is worth a cool trillion. Twitter is the baby on the block — with a current valuation of under $45 billion. Uncle Sam could nationalize the whole bunch of them, plus three or four other platforms, for $2 trillion, which as we now know is just the price of doing business in a dangerous world. Heck, the CARES Act, the first COVID relief and stimulus bill, was worth $2.2 trillion.
To my mind, it’s a small price to pay to ensure that all of us — even conservatives such as myself — have a guaranteed right to influence the public debate and, perhaps even more importantly, a guaranteed opportunity to be exposed to any and all points of view so that I can make up my own mind.
That can’t happen now, but if the government were to nationalize the social networking industry, then Facebook and Twitter would be subject to the same rule as every other public square in America — the right to free speech shall not be abridged. Not by Mark. Not by Jack. Not by nobody.