John Whitehead's Commentary
Empire of Lies: Are ‘We the People’ Useful Idiots in the Digital Age? [SHORT]
“Who needs direct repression,” asked philosopher Slavoj Zizek, “when one can convince the chicken to walk freely into the slaughterhouse?”
In an Orwellian age where war equals peace, surveillance equals safety, and tolerance equals intolerance of uncomfortable truths and politically incorrect ideas, “we the people” have gotten very good at walking freely into the slaughterhouse, all the while convincing ourselves that the prison walls enclosing us within the American police state are there for our protection.
After all, the alternative—taking a stand, raising a ruckus, demanding change, refusing to cooperate, engaging in civil disobedience—is not only a lot of work but can be downright dangerous.
What we fail to realize, however, is that by tacitly allowing these violations to continue, we not only empower the tyrant but we feed the monster.
In this way, what starts off as small, occasional encroachments on our rights, justified in the name of greater safety, becomes routine, wide-ranging abuses so entrenched as to make reform all but impossible: the government lures us in with a scheme to make our lives better, our families safer, and our communities more secure, and then once we buy into it, they slam the trap closed.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about red light cameras, DNA databases, surveillance cameras, or zero tolerance policies: they all result in “we the people” being turned into Enemy Number One.
In this way, the government campaign to spy on our phone calls, letters and emails was sold to the American people as a necessary tool in the war on terror.
Instead of targeting terrorists, however, the government has turned usinto potential terrorists, so that if we dare say the wrong thing in a phone call, letter, email or on the internet, especially social media, we end up investigated, charged and possibly jailed.
If you happen to be one of the 1.31 billion individuals who use Facebook or one of the 255 million who tweet their personal and political views on Twitter, you might want to pay close attention.
This criminalization of free speech, which is exactly what the government’s prosecution of those who say the “wrong” thing using an electronic medium amounts to, was at the heart of Elonis v. United States, a Supreme Court case that wrestled with where the government can draw the line when it comes to expressive speech that is protected and permissible versus speech that could be interpreted as connoting a criminal intent. The Court ruled in favor of Elonis.
The common thread running through Elonis’ case and others like it is the use of social media to voice frustration, grievances, and anger, sometimes using language that is overtly violent.
Despite the Court’s ruling in Elonis, Corporate America has now taken the lead in policing expressive activity online, with social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube using their formidable dominance in the field to censor, penalize and regulate speech and behavior online by suspending and/or banning users whose content violated the companies’ so-called community standards for obscenity, violence, hate speech, discrimination, etc.
Make no mistake: this is fascism with a smile.
The subtle appeal of this particular brand of fascism is its self-righteous claim to fighting the evils of our day (intolerance, hatred, violence) using the weapons of Corporate America.
Be warned, however: it is only a matter of time before these weapons are used more broadly, taking aim at anything that stands in its quest for greater profit, control and power.
This is what fascism looks like in a modern context, with corporations flexing their muscles to censor and silence expressive activity under the pretext that it is taking place within a private environment subject to corporate rules as opposed to activity that takes place within a public or government forum that might be subject to the First Amendment’s protection of “controversial” and/or politically incorrect speech.
Alex Jones was just the beginning.
Jones, the majordomo of conspiracy theorists who spawned an empire built on alternative news, was banned from Facebook for posting content that violates the social media site’s “Community Standards,”which prohibit posts that can be construed as bullying or hateful.
According to The Washington Post, Twitter suspended over 70 million accounts over the course of two months to “reduce the flow of misinformation on the platform.”
Curiously enough, you know who has yet to be suspended? President Trump.
Twitter’s rationale for not suspending world leaders such as Trump is because “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets, would hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”
Frankly, all individuals, whether or not they are world leaders, should be entitled to have their thoughts and ideas aired openly, pitted against those who might disagree with them, and debated widely, especially in a forum like the internet.
Why does this matter?
The internet and social media have taken the place of the historic public square, which has slowly been crowded out by shopping malls and parking lots.
As such, these cyber “public squares” may be the only forum left for citizens to freely speak their minds and exercise their First Amendment rights, especially in the wake of legislation that limits access to our elected representatives.
Unfortunately, the internet has become a tool for the government—and its corporate partners—to monitor, control and punish the populace for behavior and speech that may be controversial but are far from criminal.
Yet we would do well to tread cautiously in how much authority we give the Corporate Police State to criminalize free speech activities and chill a vital free speech forum.
Not only are social media and the Internet critical forums for individuals to freely share information and express ideas, but they also serve as release valves to those who may be angry, seething, alienated or otherwise discontented.
Without an outlet for their pent-up anger and frustration, thoughts and emotions fester in secret, which is where most violent acts are born.
In the same way, free speech in the public square—whether it’s the internet, the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court or a college campus—brings people together to express their grievances and challenge oppressive government regimes.
Without it, democracy becomes stagnant and atrophied.
Likewise, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, if free speech is not vigilantly protected, democracy is more likely to drift toward fear, repression, and violence. In such a scenario, we will find ourselves threatened with an even more pernicious injury than violence itself: the loss of liberty.