Left-wing activists aren’t going to stop with social-media networks, or with nibbling at the soft right-wing fringe of discourse.
Michael Brendan Dougherty:
“…Silicon Valley’s behemoth companies are incapable of steering through the cross-pressures pushing them to censor more. These pressures come from social activists working on them through threatened boycotts, it comes from activists among their own employees and on their boards. These pressures come from centrist and liberal-leaning governments, which increasingly blame social media companies for their electoral failures. And surely these pressures also come from corporations who want to buy advertising on these massive platforms.
Several stories from the last week highlight the sheer variety of these pressures. The health-and-exercise movement Crossfit has recently seen one of its diet-discussion groups suppressed on Facebook. And the group subsequently urged the withdrawal of its members from the platform in stark terms, effectively alleging that Facebook is part of a larger corruptive force in social life:
Facebook is acting in the service of food and beverage industry interests by deleting the accounts of communities that have identified the corrupted nutritional science responsible for unchecked global chronic disease. In this, it follows the practices of Wikipedia and other private platforms that host public content but retain the ability to remove or silence — without the opportunity for real debate or appeal — information and perspectives outside a narrow scope of belief or thought.
Last week YouTube also took down a new documentary, Borderless, produced by right-wing activist Lauren Southern. The documentary features interviews with human traffickers, and undercover recordings of workers for non-governmental organizations who are assisting migrants. Southern is one of the many “alt-light”-style YouTube stars who have emerged there. YouTube’s decision to take down her video is renewing an argument on the right that access to digital platforms should be a right. This argument is being made vociferously in the renewed Human Events, by Will Chamberlain:
Southern has over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube. Those subscribers belong to her, not the company. She should be able to count on those subscribers seeing a film that violated none of the YouTube terms of service. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that Southern would have embarked on this project had she not assumed she could show the end product to her audience.
Southern didn’t simply rely on her platform to justify all the time and energy spent making Borderless; she relied on YouTube’s previous commitments to content neutrality to justify building up her platform in the first place. And yet YouTube is utterly flippant about deleting her content.
It’s not just a matter of being careless over its own commitments, of course. YouTubers could make an argument that not only the near-monopoly position of YouTube in social video but the fact that digital platforms like it were, because of their viewpoint neutrality, privileged over traditional media companies in the law, has allowed it to capture and profit so much of the public square, and so government has a compelling democratic interest in guaranteeing greater freedom of expression on these platforms.
Finally, Canada seems to be giving Silicon Valley a warning ahead of its upcoming elections. The current government, under Justin Trudeau, announced that it had come to “an agreement” with Microsoft and Facebook to “boost security.” It also happens to be the case that the government is currently underwater in the polls.
Canada’s government claims that bad actors, including Russia, could try to interfere with their election. Though this is something that is rumored or feared in all big elections. You may recall that ahead of the last presidential election in France, there were wild reports of Russian interference on behalf of populist nationalists; Russia had hacked Emmanuel Macron’s email. News reports flew out with the heavy implication that one would be carrying out the Russian interest to vote for the nationalist Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Oddly, the defense against election hacking took on an international character. America’s National Security Agency announced that indeed it had evidencethat the Russians had hacked France’s democracy. Months later it was admitted that there was no evidence to suggest that Russia had hacked Emmanuel Macron’s email. In other words, by suggesting falsely, that foreign actors were interfering in French elections, security agencies had in reality tarred domestic political enemies as dupes and patsies…”