The banning of right wing controversialist Alex Jones from multiple social media platforms last week was a cause of celebration for many liberals, but should those on the left really be so complacent about creeping censorship?
So far, the evidence suggest that there is indeed plenty for the left to worry about when it comes to corporations like Facebook and Twitter and their alliances with government censors.
In May, Facebook partnered with the Atlantic Council in an effort to weed out “inauthentic content” on the platform. This organization is funded by various NATO governments and a slew of arms manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Its board includes names like Henry Kissinger and former CIA director Michael Hayden — and it has consistently lobbied for regime change in Syria and, you guessed it, Venezuela, where it has funnelled large amounts of money into pro-opposition groups for years.
So, it’s no surprise that weeks after Facebook partnered up with this less-than-objective group, it deleted from its platform the page belonging to top English-language, left-leaning Latin American news outlet Telesur without any explanation at all. The page was restored two days later, with Facebook citing vague “instability on the platform” as the cause of the block.
Telesur just so happens to be one of the only major outlets reporting on events in Venezuela in a manner that goes against the US government position and US mainstream media perspective — so obviously, out with Alex Jones it must go.
It wasn’t just Telesur, though. Facebook deleted the pages belonging to independent grassroots Venezuela Analysis and Haiti Analysis, which are also leftist websites highly critical of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean region.
Facebook’s shuttering of @telesurenglish ‘s page comes days after it did the same to @venanalysis page w/o explanation. The latest outgrowth of FB’s Orwellian partnership w/ the Atlantic Council. ICMYI, @MaxBlumenthal discussed it w/ me on @TheRealNews : https://t.co/3XayXXpg34 https://t.co/ZgTaJv0rdU
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) August 14, 2018
Last year, journalist Glenn Greenwald reported that Facebook met with Israeli government officials to determine which Palestinian activists should have their accounts deleted. The Israeli government threatened to enact laws forcing Facebook to comply with its deletion orders if it did not do so voluntarily.
Of course, Facebook capitulated immediately and set about deleting accounts owned by Palestinian activists. Of some 158 requests submitted (over just four months) by Tel Aviv to Facebook asking for the removal of Palestinian content, 95 percent of them were granted. According to the same Intercept report, Facebook hasn’t been overly concerned about what Israelis themselves are saying on Facebook and even calls for murder can be ignored by the social media giant.
The World Socialist Web Site reported last year that changes to Google’s algorithms had seriously negatively impacted left-wing socialist and anti-war websites. An analysis by WSWS found that 13 such websites had seen their traffic plunge by a whopping 55 percent in the six months since Google had changed its algorithms. WSWS itself experienced a 74 percent drop in traffic between April and July last year. The changes also affected sites like Alternet, which saw its traffic plunge by 71 percent between April and September, Democracy Now (50 percent drop) and Truth-out.org (49 percent drop).
Similarly, Police the Police (a page dedicated to exposing US police brutality) and the Free Thought Project (which focuses on government transparency) also saw their Facebook page traffic tank in 2018 after Facebook made changes to its newsfeed and search algorithms in an effort to combat “fake news”. PTP traffic dropped from between 12-15 million people per week to about 4 million — and the website had to fire its writing staff as a result. “The left is cheering this on, when historically the left is usually the side cheering for free speech,” PTP founder Jason Bassler told Mic.
Amidst all of the celebration over the banning of Jones, some on the left cautioned that in fact, the left may indeed be the“real target” in all of this — and that those celebrating while people like Jones are banned are in fact being “conditioned”into accepting further censorship down the road.
As we have been trying to tell you the real target for neoliberal corporate censorship was always the left. Now that they have conditioned public to accept it as a result of Russiagate, the left is in their crosshairs. https://t.co/zt2oMIbtDC
— Ajamu Baraka (@ajamubaraka) August 13, 2018
A particularly strange example of Facebook’s commitment to banning “fake news” and promoting a nice, cozy atmosphere for everyone online is its decision to delete event pages for anti-racist and anti-fascist protests happening in Washington D.C.
The “No Unite the Right 2-DC” event (a counter-rally against a previous white nationalist event in the city) was taken down after Facebook decided it displayed some “coordinated inauthentic behavior” (the kind of random phrase that can no doubt be arbitrarily applied to anything without explanation).
The event organizer said in a statement: “This is a real protest in Washington, D.C. It is not George Soros. It is not Russia. It is just us.”
Twitter has come under fire recently for “shadowbanning” conservative accounts, making them harder to find on the platform and having their tweets appear less prominently in people’s feeds in an effort to limit their audience. But again, it’s not just the right.
Twitter recently suspended the accounts of Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the libertarian and antiwar Ron Paul Institute and Scott Horton, the editor of the AntiWar.com website. Explaining what happened, McAdams said that he and Horton were suspended after defending former US diplomat Peter Van Buren who had just been banned permanently from Twitter after heated exchanges with journalist Jonathan M. Katz over what Van Buren said was his “unwillingness to challenge government lies”. In one of his tweets to Katz, Buren sarcastically commented: “I hope a MAGA guy eats your face”. Katz reported him for “promoting violence” and Twitter later caved and removed Buren’s account.
— Scott Horton (@scotthortonshow) August 6, 2018
In explaining his suspension, Twitter told McAdams that he could not “promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease” — none of which he accepts that he did.
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Perhaps the really amazing thing about all of this is that it is happening in front of our eyes and the powers that be are not even bothering to lie about it. Elected US officials are openly promoting this kind of censorship as a way to prevent the“sowing of discord” among populations. At a Senate Judiciary Committee last year about “Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online,” Democratic Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono called on social media platforms to prove their commitment to preventing “the fomenting of discord” online.
Working hand-in-glove with governments, corporations like Facebook have been handed enormous power to decide what constitutes free speech and which opinions are worthy of being heard. How long will it be before people realize banning Alex Jones wasn’t really a victory at all?