What do Disdain for Plebs, the Straight White Capitalist, The Church of Mogg, Lauren Southern, Sargon of Akkad and Markus Meechan have in common with one another? Not a great deal, apart from perhaps coming from the same very, very broad political persuasion.
However, what they definitely do have in common is that they have all been ‘no platformed’ on social media at some point. In particular many have been ‘Zucced’. A term used to describe your Facebook site or profile being removed because of your political views. An event that appears to be happening with increasing regularity. In the case of Markus Meechan and the Church of Mogg, this has come with the added bonus of unwarranted police involvement. Police Scotland (or Poileas Alba as they are to be henceforth called) are obviously more concerned with an anti-Semitic pug on YouTube than criminality.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been a member of some closed political groups and they frankly appalled me. They dealt not with politics, but unadulterated hatred and abuse. Not only were some of their members utterly racist, homophobic and xenophobic but for some reason, a sizeable number seemed to enjoy images and videos of animal cruelty. A video of male chicks being fed into an industrial shredder was met with rapturous applause from the comment section from a bunch of cretins who think they are being ‘edgy’. Another member posted an image of 14 ‘varmits’ that he shot. Another shared a picture of a young girl who had broken her leg and was on her phone at the time. Quite what either of these had to do with being ‘Anti-SJW’ that the group professed, was a mystery to me.
I make no apologies for reporting these images and then leaving the groups. They had nothing interesting to say, added nothing of relevance to the discourse and frankly gave anyone with centre-right views a bad name. However, no matter how repulsive the opinions on these sites they still have the right to exist, just as I have the right to leave.
However, there is very real issue underneath all this. The specific sites and people mentioned above have been banned and/or taken down in the virtual equivalent of being ‘no-platformed’. Their only crime is having an opinion that goes against the grain of the current cultural and political paradigm that the social justice left has foisted upon us all.
Even though they are a diverse group they perhaps don’t support mass migration of people from a totally different culture who aren’t really willing to assimilate certain aspects of the native culture. They may believe in small government. They don’t believe that you can be ‘gender fluid’ and that sex is biologically determined. Some of these views are completely reasonable and are supported by the mainstream population and further reinforced by empirical scientific evidence, but this isn’t necessarily enough to ensure their survival in cyberspace.
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These phenomena of removing dissenting voices is not only unique to social media platforms. Amazon has reportedly removed negative reviews from What Happened by Hillary Clinton. In some cases, this may be reasonable as those leaving reviews clearly have a political and social axe to grind or may just be ‘trolls’ looking for a fight. It’s better known in services such as Netflix, Amazon video, and Steam as ‘review bombing’, where a mass of negative reviews appear in short succession because consumers don’t like the content.
YouTube can demonetise videos that contain ‘controversial or sensitive subjects and events’, ‘Inappropriate language’ and ‘sexually suggestive content’. This leaves a rather insipid and bland roster of subjects left. (Minecraft? Puppies?) It also targets a lot of content creators with no political intent.
The crowdfunding site, Patreon, has removed Lauren Southern from its website because of her involvement with Defend Europe. On the other side of the political spectrum, they also removed the far-left news site It’s Going Down. YouTube has apparently been removing dislikes from its #ProudToBe: Celebrate Brave Voices this Pride. Such actions have a strong political element to them.
It should be noted that democratising and opening debate via social media has not always led to a greater quality of intellectual output. Indeed much of the discourse on the internet is a mile wide and an inch thick or descends into two opposing sides yelling profanities across the electronic ether.
But the sheer scale of removing what they perceived as ‘right-wing’ (and occasionally left) should be worrying for those of us who believe in the free exchange of ideas and the ability to come up with solutions to our societal problems.
Mark Zuckerberg has stated that to counter anti-globalisation movements we need ‘smaller communities’ and ‘intimate social structures’ that meet people’s ‘personal, emotional and spiritual needs’. This is to be facilitated by Facebook, of course.
Apart from the creepiness of the above statement (do you really want your ‘intimate social structures’ tended by a for-profit corporation?), what if you’re an anti-globalisation movement? Or consider yourself just a normal conservative? Well, to Facebook, even this in unacceptable. According to a former Facebook staff member, the tech company was leaving out trending news from right wing sites in 2016.
I expect, before the internet, it was relativity hard to shut down an entire ‘old media’, analog distribution system. There could be more than one printing press. It would require the consent and entire apparatus of the state; police, courts, army etc. Before the Iranian revolution, they used to smuggle VHS tapes with speeches from Iman’s, into Iran. Illegal radio broadcasts could be picked up by anyone
Now, you switch off a few servers or change a few algorithms on social media and because of our utter reliance on new media, an entire segment of the population is given a certain ideological viewpoint or none at all. Considering that two billion users log into Facebook and over 320 million people use Twitter this puts a lot of political power into the algorithms of social media platforms.
Ironically, the original idea of many US West Coast tech entrepreneurs and proponents of the ‘California Ideology’ of creating a virtual community where ‘all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace’ has gone awry, or at least only applies to those of a more left-leaning persuasion.
Regardless of my, or anyone else’s opinion, social media is now here to stay with us. Apart from a few anarcho-primitivists, no one is advocating significant change and we usually acquiesce to social media despite the issues.
Social media is now as ubiquitous as the TV or internal combustion engine was in the latter half of the 20th century. An integral part of our social lives and work. Because of its ubiquitousness, which far exceeds ‘last century’ media, it’s more important that it is free and open to all opinions even if we disagree or even find them abhorrent. Perhaps if the tech companies and platform holders treat us like adults who can sift out information on social media ourselves and deal with challenging ideas, we might start to act like it.