Philosophers have long debated whether humanity’s discovery of the means to split the atom might have sown the seeds of its own destruction. A different, disturbing question is now more pressing: whether a free society can survive the depredations of social media. There is growing reason for doubt as easy expression has proved even easier to suppress.
Censorship of online content has burst like a nuclear detonation with the concerted — and possibly coordinated — silencing of President Trump during the closing days of his administration. Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have all shut off the president’s access to social media, denying him the ability to speak to tens of millions of supporters who share his conservative values.
Twitter rationalized the ban Friday following last week’s rally and march that Mr. Trump launched in peace but soon devolved into a shocking melee at the U.S. Capitol: “We have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Other major platforms also quickly slammed shut on the president’s typing fingers.
The Founders gave free speech pre-eminence by enshrining it in the First Amendment. Social media censors, accordingly, have made it the first right to be canceled. “The left has decided this is an opportunity to destroy the right,” Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News Channel on Sunday. “So if you ever voted for Donald Trump, if you ever supported anything he did, you are just as guilty as the people who went into that Capitol.”
Technology itself, or course, is simply a tool. The Good Book urges swords to be beaten into plowshares, but human nature prefer repurposing tools as weapons. Technology giants have weaponized social media in an effort to shackle free minds, claiming no motive beyond the common good. Baloney.
Just as the president has been silenced, a new social media platform called Parler that conservatives have embraced has likewise been gagged. Citing a failure to police “egregious content,” Google deleted Parler’s app from its online store Friday. Ditto Apple. Amazon quickly withdrew its web service and — poof — Parler was gone. The platform’s owners have fought back, suing Amazon in federal court for breach of contract owing to “political animus.”
If only the masters of social media had been as vigilant in blocking Antifa and Black Lives Matter messages organizing flash mobs of looters and arsonists last summer.
The speech censors reveal their un-American aims by targeting voices on the right. With one foot soon to be planted in the White House and the other in left field, President-elect Joe Biden need not fear the Trump treatment during his upcoming term. Nor do dictators in China, North Korea and Iran launching globe-threatening diatribes worry they will be erased like Parler.
It doesn’t take a philosopher to conclude that technology credited with empowering social expression is now being used to suppress it. Sadly, free thinkers — mostly conservatives — are becoming an endangered species.