Op-Ed by Gunnar Ulson
The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union are fond of passing judgement on nations around the globe regarding “free speech.”
While it is increasingly clear to a growing number of people that this “concern” is disingenuous and aimed at merely defending agitators funded and directed by Western special interests in these targeted nations, the West still likes to fashion itself as a sort of champion of free speech.
Yet, back home, the Internet has been taken over by social media and tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Their platforms clearly serve as online public squares where everything is discussed and even election campaigns play out. Yet these companies have, over the years, begun to eliminate voices of dissent against a notion known as “consensus.”
If you are speaking out against “consensus” you are in real danger of disappearing from these platforms. Some of these platforms, like Google-owned YouTube, serve as the livelihood to people who have for years built up their audiences, produced hundreds of videos and when their accounts are deleted for speaking out against the “consensus,” they have their livelihoods destroyed.
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In the wake of these incremental “purges” is a chilling effect with content creators self-censoring or even withdrawing entirely from Western social media.
It is the sort of very real censorship the West has crusaded against in fiction around the globe for decades.
Consensus or Else
A more recent example is Google’s decision to ban ad revenue for those going against the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) “consensus.”
CNBC in their story “Google will ban ads from running on stories spreading debunked coronavirus conspiracy theories,” would claim:
Google next month will ban publishers from using its ad platform to show advertisements next to content that promotes conspiracy theories about Covid-19. It will also ban ads that promote those theories. In cases where a particular site publishes a certain threshold of material that violates these policies, it will ban the entire site from using its ad platforms.
Those “conspiracy theories” might include questioning the official death rates of COVID-19. Yet even the British government itself has been recently forced to investigate its statistics regarding death rates, vindicating the very sort of people who would have been either forced into silence or forced to give up ad revenue.
The London Guardian in its article, “Matt Hancock orders urgent review of PHE Covid-19 death figures,” would admit:
The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, is ordering an urgent review of the daily Covid-19 death statistics produced by Public Health England, after it emerged that they may include recovered former sufferers who could have died of other causes.
False reporting over deaths to hype COVID-19, induce greater public panic and pave the way for billions in government handouts to pharmaceutical giants is at the very core of many of these so-called “conspiracy theories” Google seeks to silence through its campaign of financial coercion.
Imagine if this chilling effect was achieved sooner. Would the British government have even bothered investigating its faulty statistics if there weren’t people suspicious of them?
The chilling effect this has over openly discussing something as serious as COVID-19 considering its socioeconomic impact is truly alarming and much more so because it is happening in the so-called “free world” overseen by its self-appointed arbitrators in the US, UK and EU.
A similar campaign was carried out to purge Google, Twitter and Facebook of anyone allegedly connected with “Russia” who also so happened to be anti-war and anti-NATO for waging those wars.
Entire lists are compiled by Western government-funded organizations which are then submitted to these tech giants for purging. The Western media writes accompanying articles announcing, justifying and spinning the purges… but also sending a warning to those left about what is and isn’t going to be tolerated on these platforms.
Social Media Transforming Back into Programmed Media
Content creators are faced with two decisions; to either self-censor themselves to protect their work, their audiences and their livelihood, or to accept the possibility they will eventually be “purged” (censored) and need to rebuild their audiences from scratch on platforms with far fewer potential readers, viewers and patrons.
Social media, of course, is no longer social media in this sort of environment, but more akin to the sort of programmed media giant Western special interests built their power on over the course of the 20th and early 21st century.
Private Public Squares?
Of course the defense is that Google, Facebook and Twitter are “private companies”and can do as they please with their platforms. In reality, these companies work in tandem with Western governments whether it is fomenting political destabilization abroad or creating “consensus” at home.
The notion that censorship is “OK” because the US, UK and EU governments launder it through private companies ignores the close relationship these companies have with the government and how their platforms have been transformed into defacto public squares and critical channels of public communication and participation.
The West’s growing overt censorship leaves it with a choice; to either accept that it is in reality as guilty of censorship and manipulating the public as it has claimed its opponents are, or continue pretending it isn’t but at the continued cost of its legitimacy upon the global stage.
There is a very good reason the West is in decline around the globe and why its attempts to leverage notions like “human rights” and “free speech” against nations like China or Russia are increasingly impotent. That reason can be found, at least in part, among the growing number of purge lists, censorship campaigns and calls for “consensus” across Western social media.
Finally, the increasingly overt nature of censorship and controlled narratives promoted by tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter should have them facing restrictions and bans around the globe. Why should any nation host a “public square” where discourse is entirely controlled by interests oceans away? Why shouldn’t a local alternative be created instead where the revenue is kept locally and if narratives are to be controlled, controlled in a way that best suits people locally?
It is ironic that, China for example, is condemned for not allowing Google, Facebook and Twitter to operate freely within their information space because it is a violation of “free speech,” even as Google, Facebook and Twitter cudgel free speech on their own respective platforms.
How much longer will the world tolerate these double standards? How long until individuals, organizations and even entire nations begin creating alternatives to Google, Facebook and Twitter to at the very least balance out the lopsided power and influence they have collectively accrued and abused?
Gunnar Ulson, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
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