“The question is,” Humpty Dumpty tells Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “which is to be master—that’s all.” In the debate over national sovereignty—where the answer to that question is never more important—Twitter and Facebook have declared themselves the master.
The social media giants dropped the ban hammer on the New York Post after the paper broke a story about Joe Biden’s murky family matters. In brief, Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at an energy firm in Ukraine just months before the elder Biden strong-armed Ukrainian government officials into firing a prosecutor who was investigating that very company.
Facebook and Twitter reacted swiftly to the news.
“While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be [sic] clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners,” tweeted Andy Stone, policy communications manager at Facebook. “In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.” Linking to Facebook’s “Helping to Protect the 2020 U.S. Elections” initiative, he assured the move is part of the company’s “standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.”
Stone gave no reason for alleging the Post’s story amounted to misinformation. And before anyone could press the question too hard, Twitter locked the Post’s primary account. The platform also blocked users from sharing the link to the original story, deeming it “potentially harmful” and violating the company’s policy against the “distribution of hacked material.”
Users interacting with an existing link on Twitter encountered a warning that the “link may be unsafe.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also lost access to her Twitter account for sharing the Post’s story.
As of October 17, Twitter refused to unlock the Post’s account unless the outlet deletes six tweets about the Hunter Biden story.
“Anyone who looks at The Post’s Twitter feed can’t even see the tweets about the Biden stories, which have been replaced by messages saying, ‘This Tweet is no longer available,’” the Post reported on Friday.
No such extraordinary measures prohibited the distribution of “potentially harmful” material when President Trump’s confidential tax information was leaked to the New York Times. Though the Justice Department is investigating that incident as a possible federal crime, the story is still online, just as distributable as the Times’ follow-up story published a week ago.
Nor did the censors swoop down to squash stories published by Yahoo, Mother Jones, Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, and the New York Times on the salacious and unverified Russia dossier. Indeed, in circular logic fashion, the FBI attempted to use those stories to corroborate the allegations of the dossier.
But the recent censorship streak did not end with the Biden story.
Over the weekend, Women’s March and Black Lives Matter activists hospitalized a young Republican woman named Isabella Maria DeLuca. While attending a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., two women from the opposing camps attacked DeLuca, leaving her battered and bruised in a cervical collar due to her head and neck injuries. The next day, DeLuca tweeted that Facebook took her account down after she posted about the attack. Her account had vanished under the pretense that “it was account fraud and the account really wasn’t mine,” DeLuca told American Greatness.
Twitter ended the weeklong streak “by banning tweets regarding the efficacy of masks from Dr. Scott Atlas, a member of the White House scientific team battling the coronavirus,” The Federalist reported. Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk also lost access to his account after posting about potential voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
By October 19, an analysis in the Washington Times concluded that in the last two years, Facebook and Twitter censored President Trump and his campaign accounts at least 65 times, while interfering with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his camp not once.
Calling this a double standard would be to miss the point. The Silicon Valley masters of the universe are merely enforcing their standard, which is the only standard.
Nor should the Right be celebrating the potential demise of the Left’s credibility. The fact is that the media-political class doesn’t lose “credibility” when its members move to censor and crush disruptive narratives. Credibility in this instance presupposes an objective standard of fairness acknowledged by all. We no longer have that.
The masters of Silicon Valley do this because they know they can. Censorship is a show of force, an enforcement of hierarchy. When a story is quashed, the act creates its own credibility.
“I think Twitter’s response to the actual article itself makes clear that these purported allegations are false and they’re not true and glad to see social media companies like Twitter taking responsibility to limit misinformation,” said Jamal Brown, Joe Biden’s campaign national press secretary.
Got that? The allegations are false because they say they are.
Biden’s got powerful friends in all the right places. Before she became Facebook’s legal expert leading efforts to ensure election integrity, Anna Makanju served as Joe Biden’s senior policy advisor for Ukraine. Power is credibility enough. Facts alone don’t matter in our current culture, and the side with the power to make its facts matter owns the narrative.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter insist on enjoying the protections of private businesses while acting as self-appointed arbiters of truth, like a public utility opening and closing the flow of information but not even attempting to feign neutrality at the valve. Facebook and Twitter employees overwhelmingly donate to the causes and candidacies of the Democratic Party. That bias is evident.
Efforts to rein in these companies fail because, as private entities, they are subject to little oversight and have vast resources to engage in protracted legal fights. They have the best lawyers money can buy and, unlike our Republican leaders, they are serious about fighting.
One solution for Trump or his political successor, therefore, is nationalization.
The argument that such a move is unprecedented fails in the first place. “On its face, this seems absurdly radical and improbable in the type of capitalist system that exists in the United States,” writes Thomas Hanna, director of research at The Democracy Collaborative. “However, the United States actually has a long and rich tradition of nationalizing private enterprise, especially during times of economic and social crisis.”
Former presidents Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and even Ronald Reagan engaged in nationalization. Hanna notes that “this approach has often been deployed when private companies are hindering national efforts to address a crisis (either through obstruction, incompetence, or incapacity).” Hard to think of three nouns to better describe the Republican Party’s current approach of grandstanding during tech hearings as a substitute for meaningful action.
Second, the argument against state intervention into private businesses fails because they no longer operate as mere “businesses,” but rather act more like nonstate actors who have become as a “state within the state.” The Copenhagen School of Security Studies defines political threats as challenges to the legitimacy of the political unit relating to ideologies that define the state. In other words, threats that undermine an existing or desired political order, like a news story informing Americans of a certain presidential candidate’s history of corruption.
Treating these platforms like “private corporations,” given their hyperpartisanship and the amount of power they hold over political discourse, is insane.
An additional benefit to nationalization is that the revenue can be used to finance social programs, helping taxpayers by lowering their tax burden. Consider that while Facebook’s profits are in the billions, it owes billions more in taxes because of its practice of routing overseas profits to low-tax countries. In turn, Facebook uses those profits to drive left-wing policy outcomes through political donations that result in increased tax burdens and lower wages for everyday Americans. Silicon Valley favors and lobbies for foreign visa workers to keep wages down.
Incident after incident has also shown Twitter and Facebook are irresponsible with user data security. They are, however, very good at exploiting users by playing on consumer habits and biases, enriching themselves while polarizing the country.
“Dumb f–ks,” is how Mark Zuckerberg once described Facebook users for entrusting him with so much power over their lives. There is no normative political solution to this problem, no amount of tinkering to be done to Section 230.
While it’s doubtful that the Republican Party in its current form will make the likes of Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey eat their words, it ought to be a goal of whoever follows Trump to nationalize—if not to control, then to dissolve—the holdings of our unelected masters, because only power restrains power.