On Silencing, Censoring, and Banning

Photo by Judeus Samson on Unsplash

It’s crazy that Parler was removed from the internet; a billion-dollar company, gone, just like that. And although the reasons for its removal are understandable (and maybe even valid), its removal is nevertheless troubling: this event confirms the godly (but unholy) powers of tech companies to control information, businesses, and lives, and it sets a precedent for intervention that should disquiet all of us as participants in and contributors to the global digital enterprise; indeed, that Google, Apple, and Amazon maintain the beliefs and values that they do is arbitrary, and although they may have our backs now (if they have our backs), there’s no guarantee that they will have our backs on the next issues, or that the companies that replace them after winning lawsuits against them will have our backs, especially if such companies are led by people who were previously removed from the internet.

Of course, by saying all of this, I’m implying that Parler’s removal from the internet was based on Google, Apple, and Amazon’s beliefs and values, and not on Parler’s behavior. And of course I’m implying this, because this is implied; Parler’s behavior was fine, and it’s removal from the internet coincided with President Trump’s removal from social media as well as the siege of Capitol Hill by red radicals, so it’s difficult not to interpret the move by the tech giants as political. Indeed, the motivations of Google and Apple in removing Parler from their app stores, and of Amazon in denying Parler services, are questionable given the companies’ explicit biases and in light of (1) Parler’s decision to allow the president to remain active online and (2) Parler’s insistence on free speech. What’s more, Parler’s removal from the internet follows a years-long, unabashed snowballing of conservative censorship by liberal “Big Tech” companies. So, yeah, the politics and the censoring are implied.

What’s crazy, though, is that Google, Apple, and Amazon didn’t just silence one company; they silenced one company and the millions of people who used its services (not to mention the potential future users). And this is just nuts! At the time of its removal, Parler was the number one app in the App Store — meaning, a lot of people were either curious about the app or found value in its features and services (all of whom, I should mention, are Apple customers too — meaning, Apple sells phones to conservatives and Nazis, so is Apple going to cancel themselves too? Or how about we get a bigger fish to swallow Google on the basis of some of Google’s users sending emails to, say, coordinate sex trafficking?)

What is the justification for removing Parler from the internet? That a handful of posts by, not Parler itself, but Parler users “incited violence”? Um, have you seen Twitter? Have you heard of Facebook? Have you watched the news or been to a Black Lives Matter “protest”?

There’s no way that twenty million people (or whatever the number is) are red radical racists, and that they all just happened to congregate at Parler unprovoked, and that they’re all out for blood and searching for whatever social-media platform will enable them to…post about it. It is more likely that these people became fed up with being criticized, insulted, and manipulated by YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and benignly sought a more positive, genuinely liberal outlet for their creativity and expression. So why not just let them have it? There are a few bad apples in every bunch. So what? Let Parler and its users take care of it. Or let the courts (which you are not).

What I don’t understand is, not why people would silence those who disagree with them, but why people would want to silence those who disagree with them. Silencing those who disagree with us disables us from learning, growing, and evolving — from recognizing the errors of our ways and thus being enabled to correct such errors and, as a consequence, suffer less. But of course, silencing others who disagree with us (or, better said, silencing others with whom we disagree) is a tenet of Equity — indeed, Equity entails monotonizing; it is the absence (or removal) of difference: a symphony of noise, an image of perfect gray.

The worst part about all of this silencing, censoring, and banning is, not that good, virtuous, well-meaning people are punished for inoffenses, nor that their lives and the lives of their spouses and children are impeded or even destroyed by arrogant, hysterical ideologues intent on stripping dignity, thwarting credibility, and restricting access to certain unalienable rights; no, the worst part is that those who censor do so because they think they’re righteous, and that, as a consequence of their righteousness, they know what is best for the public. And they just plain don’t.

When YouTube bans a conservative channel, or Twitter or Facebook shadowban non-liberal voices, or Google or Amazon or Apple refuse service to upstanding defenders of US constitutional values on the basis of their political beliefs or affiliations — or when political parties cheat in elections, or governments pack courts, or news organizations curate facts and spin stories to suit their selfish agendas — what all of these parties are doing is asserting before the public that they know what is best for the public; that they know what information is in the public’s — in our, your and my; we, the American people — best interest to encounter (which best interest, of course, conveniently aligns with their own). When they tell us what and how to think, they are asserting that they are the arbiters of truth — that they are wise to what knowledge we should acquire, what ideas we should espouse, and what goals we should sacrifice to attain. Indeed, the worst part about all of this nonsense is that Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and — it hurts me to say it, because I trust this company — even Apple believe that we, the people of the world, are stupid and incapable of thinking for ourselves.

This arrogant, insulting, naive, demeaning, and immoral belief about humans is simply garbage. Regardless of our varying or even conflicting beliefs, we humans are all capable of reasoning. Despite what we are told — by others or ourselves, explicitly or implicitly — we are all capable of discriminating virtue and value, engaging in productive discourse, and managing our emotions. Despite the radical ideas that plague our minds and societies and deceive us into believing that we are weak and helpless and afraid, we are strong, competent, and courageous. Despite the idiots and nihilists who insist that we are a selfish, hateful, destructive, defective species, we share, love, and build, and we are evolved. We are smart enough and have lived long enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong, what produces suffering and what produces fulfillment, what leads to failure and what leads to success. And we’ve all had enough experiences with assholes to recognize when we are being slighted, manipulated, and betrayed.

All of us have engaged in the social-media experiment long enough now to know that the Big Tech companies that develop social-media technologies do not have our best interests in mind; they are not interested in enabling connection, encouraging discourse, sharing knowledge, or spreading ideas; they are not interested in preserving our time or energy, facilitating our evolution, or otherwise relieving us of meaningless and unnecessary suffering. No, they have only their own interests in mind; indeed, they care only about themselves, and have demonstrated time and again that they are willing to silence, sacrifice, and even sell us — all of us — to achieve their aims.

As farfetched, conspiratorial, and apocalyptic as it sounds, it should be clear by now that the fundamental intention of Big Tech is to control humanity, which they do by collecting data and controlling the words we say to each other and the information that we encounter. And this fact is self-evident; why else would Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and now Apple (damn you, good people) prevent us from receiving certain information or seeing or hearing certain ideas? Mind you, pornography is readily available online, and our children take advantage of this fact with astounding voracity; ISIS beheadings are only a few clicks away; Mein Kampf is published in every ebookstore; gang rapes, recipes for bombs, methods of suicide, anything related to the Catholic Church — all of this remains freely available for all of us to encounter, contemplate, and engage in, without consequence. We’re just not allowed to follow the president of the United States on Parler.

Nobody should want this. Nobody should wish for censorship, even if the voices and ideas being censored are the ones that we despise. And that anyone does — in tech, politics, academia, or otherwise — is shameful and disgusting, and unbecoming of an evolved species.

It is the greatest irony of all — although it should surprise none of us to know it — that those in our society who signal their virtue loudest are the least virtuous among us; that those who protest racism and discrimination are those who most practice them; and that those who claim to stand in defense of democracy are the greatest threat to it.

My god, what have we become?

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Mitchell Ferrin

Mitchell Ferrin

I write about writing and editing and also share occasional thoughts on things. mitchellferrin.com