X Close

When will the online Thought Police come for you? Covid has escalated Silicon Valley's restrictions on speech

Big Brother is watching you from Silicon Valley

Big Brother is watching you from Silicon Valley


January 6, 2021   5 mins

Never let it be said that the plutocrats of Silicon Valley don’t have a sense of humour. Just before midnight on Monday, I appeared on Cristo Foufas’s show on TalkRADIO to discuss what has become known as “cancel culture”. We had a thoughtful discussion — though I fear a team of censor elves at YouTube, where it was being streamed, may have mistaken our discussion for an instructional video. For, as it turned out, it was to be the last show before the entire TalkRADIO YouTube channel was suddenly deleted for “violating community guidelines”.

The ban had nothing to do with me. Instead, it seems that YouTube — a subsidiary of Google — decided to “terminate” (to borrow the company’s chilling phrase) TalkRADIO’s account because some of its hosts and guests contradicted “expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization.” Given YouTube’s recent introduction of new guidelines that prohibit the spread of “medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities”, perhaps we should not be too surprised.

Yet as I know all too well, Big Tech censorship has become a common feature of every form of internet discourse. My satirical online persona Titania McGrath has been suspended from Twitter on at least five occasions, including a “permanent suspension” after she expressed her intention to attend a pro-Brexit rally in order to punch people in the name of tolerance. My assumption is that her detractors often team up and “mass report” her to the Twitter Police. Only the other day, an anonymous user posted an image of a copy of Titania’s first book, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice, after he had set it on fire. It’s a curiosity of our times that those who claim to be “anti-fascist” are so fond of burning books.

Equally striking is the fact that Silicon Valley’s social media giants are happy to embrace this climate. It’s a truism of online life that these companies operate with a sinister lack of transparency, deleting accounts or content at will. Their “Terms of Service”, for example, are purposefully nebulous so that anyone can be said to have violated them at any time. It’s a grim admission to make, but those of us who are repeatedly booted off these platforms often find ourselves accepting the seemingly arbitrary decisions of our overlords simply because it feels as though there is nothing we can do about it.

Occasionally, we might lodge an appeal, asking for more details on how precisely we broke the rules, only to receive an automated response referring us back to the very set of rules we were questioning in the first place. It’s rather reminiscent of Josef K. in Kafka’s The Trial, punished for an unspecified crime that he is not aware he has committed.

But for all of Titania’s alleged sins, I can’t help but feel that TalkRADIO is a rather different beast. It’s an Ofcom-regulated and licensed broadcaster which has accumulated tens of millions of views. Perhaps that’s why YouTube back-pedalled late last night and reinstated the channel.

Its U-turn hardly matters. The point has been made: if Big Tech doesn’t like what you say, it won’t let you say it. Especially when it comes to the pandemic. And yesterday’s TalkRADIO “cancellation” is just the latest example of how Covid has escalated Silicon Valley’s restrictions on speech. Even a Lockdown TV episode featuring Professor Karol Sikora was recently removed from YouTube, probably as a result of his claim that the virus was likely to “burn out” and that levels of public immunity had been underestimated.

You could be forgiven for thinking that a distinguished oncologist and former advisor to the World Health Organisation such as Professor Sikora has something to add to the current debate, irrespective of whether or not one agrees with his analysis. Fortunately, the video was re-uploaded after YouTube claimed that the deletion had been an error.

Even so, if there is one lesson to be drawn from last year, surely it is that Big Tech censorship is expanding into every aspect of our lives. This has manifested itself in a number of ways, but most notably during the US election when the New York Post’s Twitter account was suspended for publishing an unflattering article about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and users were prevented from sharing the story.

It’s hardly surprising that, as Douglas Murray notes in his book The Madness of Crowds, the people employed to monitor content on Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council” — a designation so dystopian in tone that it almost feels deliberate — are first tested in order “to weed out anyone with the wrong ideological inclinations”.

Inevitably, free speech sceptics have been making the same tired old arguments in response to the temporary TalkRADIO ban, most predictably the mantra that, thanks to the free market, “a private company can do whatever it likes”, including banning its users. Certainly this is true. But leaving aside the bizarre phenomenon of self-identified leftists calling for greater powers for faceless corporations, should this principle really be embraced? Should, for example, Facebook have the right to discriminate against gay people, or certain ethnic groups? Political orientation may not be an immutable characteristic, yet few of us would justify the suppression of political dissidents by the despots of history on these grounds.

In recent years, there has been a growing misapprehension that censorship can only be enacted by the state. But in reality, social media platforms are the de facto public square, and the companies that run them are effectively the arbiters of a substantial proportion of political discourse. This has generated uncertainty among libertarians whose fealty to the free market sits at odds with the fact that those of their persuasion are far more likely to be censored under these conditions. Meanwhile, the predominance of the identity-obsessed social justice movement in Silicon Valley has led to a self-contradictory phenomenon: an avaricious corporate oligopoly comprising those who nonetheless believe themselves to be ‘left-wing’.

And so these companies find themselves in a position to claim that they are platforms committed to the principle of free speech, while at the same time able to behave like publishers who seek to enforce limitations on the opinions that may be expressed. This has its perks, particularly as it means that whenever the likes of Twitter are sued for libellous material posted by their users, they invariably cite Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, which ensures that they are not legally responsible for content that they fail to remove.

The law was crafted out of an understanding that, given the proliferation of comment sections on news websites, it was always unfeasible to expect media outlets to be able to ensure that illegal content would not be uploaded. Yet now, this same law is being routinely exploited to enable tech giants to censor with impunity.

There are a number of potential solutions, few of which have been seriously explored. One would have thought that a discussion about a potential Internet Bill of Rights would be sensible, given that the Communications Decency Act is so obviously being abused for partisan purposes. Alternatively, the wording of the Act could be changed so that companies are not liable for specifically illegal material that appears, meaning that banning accounts for ideological reasons, or censoring posts simply because Silicon Valley staff find them offensive, would not be protected by law.

Failing that, we will have to resign ourselves to the solution that Titania McGrath suggested in her first book: “If you don’t want to be censored, don’t say the wrong things”.


Andrew Doyle is a comedian and creator of the Twitter persona Titania McGrath

andrewdoyle_com

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

99 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Yes, all true, but not news to those of us who have been following these things for some years now. It is not particularly ironic that the Left is against free speech. The Left is inherently opposed to free speech and democracy because they believe they know what is best for everybody, despite over 100 years of evidence to the contrary.

Anyway, the good news is that Talk Radio was allowed back on to YouTube last night. I made a special effort to listen to them as much as possible yesterday via the normal DAB or whatever it is on my laptop. Julia H-B had about three times as many people watching on YT than normal this morning, and right now Mike Graham has about twice as many as usual. In fact, they seem to have two YT channels – I’m not sure how that works. Anyway, it seems that the publicity is boosting the station and that can only be a good thing as they are the only mainstream broadcast TV or radio station that questions all the lies and propaganda disseminated from the government, NHS, PHE and BBC etc.

Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

They have launched a second channel with “highlights” (ie the short clips from their shows that they share on Twitter). As yet the only one on there is the clip which got them banned – a nice piece of trolling.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

A conspiracy theory for the tin foil left – maybe the point is to promote via censorship.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Well said. It is clear now that the left has nothing between its ears. It is resentment in search of an excuse, skilled in nothing but destruction. So why is it currently so powerful? Because as well as being a form of superstitious cult it is also a badge of elite identity, self-exempted from rational justification. Indeed, like all such mental poisons, it holds reason in contempt whilst – with truly magnificent hypocrisy – damning its opponents as ignorant and stupid. It combines towering snobbery with moral outrage, both carried to fanatical degrees.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

As an occasional reader of /r/PoliticalCompassMemes, I’d make a distinction here between the libertarian/authoritarian axis and the left/right axis.

Back in the day (I’m thinking late 90s and into the 00s, maybe), the main worriers about censorship on the Internet were left and right libertarians (American computer programmers who were either hippies or gun nuts, largely) worried about censorship from right authoritarians. The authoritarians cited the need to surveil and censor the so-called “4 horsemen”: drug-dealers, money-launderers, terrorists, and pedophiles. The govt was going to have our encryption keys and ban pr0n.

The remedy for this was always going to be decentralization. The slogan was “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. That avenue is still open but doesn’t allow someone to profit from running the social network by selling ads or harvesting information.

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago

Having read the Madness Of Crowds, which I would highly recommend, it eloquently highlights how Goggle is deliberately manipulating what we see and what we are offered. For example if you punch in History of European Art the images presented are overwhelmingly of black people, also type in White People and again overwhelmingly black images are presented. However, if you use a different language and search a browser in that language you get what you asked for – white people. These are just subtle examples of how we are being manipulated.
In other words brainwashing.
It’s not just the left wing BigTech companies that are manipulating us and shutting down debate. Our online newspapers, are very efficient in moderating out views/posts contrary to the identity obsessed liberal elite.
Free speech is being taking apart brick by brick and a fight back is badly needed NOW!

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

I did punch in “History of European Art” and did not find overwhelming images of black people. There were a couple of references to “people of colour in European art history” including a rather striking painting of a black man in Cavalier’s outfit. Could your location be a factor perhaps? I am based in London.

Using “White People” as a search term does bring up images mainly of black people. I guess, the search is slanted to show how white people are a problem to black people. “White Europeans” does bring up a lot of images of white people ““accompanied by lessons on racism.

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

So 5 out of the first 6 portrait pictures being black people to represent History of European Art or over 80% of the portraits may not represent overwhelming to you but then most people would disagree with you. If you use the same term in other languages you get entirely different pictures.
Wow you think putting in “white people” shows how white people are such a problem to black people, well that is just incredibly unjust isn’t it.
Anyway you have your point of view but I have mine and defending free speech and freedom of thought has never been more important to fight for.

patriciafonsecabr
patriciafonsecabr
3 years ago

I’ve done as you said and it’s true. Did it in English and in Portuguese. In English, most images were of black people, in Portuguese, on the other hand, all images were of white people.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

OK. Days later I have tried “History of European Art” again with the same result as my previous effort.

Here is my method:
1. Browser: Safari 13.1.2 on Mac OS High Sierra
2. Search engine: Google / advanced search with private window.
3. Search field: “Exact word or phrase”
4. Search term: “History of European Art” (About 524,000 results)
5. Click on link: Images for “History of European Art”

Results as follows:
1st row: images of “The Great Courses” book cover featuring Girl With Pearl Earring

2nd row: first image shows painting of a black servant girl or slave from “People of Colour in European Art History”
Second image: “The Great Courses” book cover featuring a Renoir
Third image: Painting by Flemish artist Willem van Haecht (not black)
Fourth image: detail from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
Fifth image: Art History Timeline

3rd row: first image, detail from Girl With Pearl Earring
second image: Vermeer interior
third image: slide from History of European Art and Musich Timeline (no blacks)
fourth image: room in The National Gallery (probably)
fifth image: a black man in cavalier’s outfit
sixth image: another “The Great Courses” book cover. White woman in the baroque style

4th row: first image, drawing of a bullfight; BW probably 19th C
second image, portrait of a white woman probably 18th C
third image, portrait of a black man from “People of Colour in European Art”
fourth image, “The Great Courses” book covers.
fifth image, link to a page of info on “People of Color in European Art History” a tumbler account.
sixth image, painting of a white girl lying in a meadow gazing dreamily at the sky (Skylark by PÃ¥l Szinyei Merse a Hungarian)

I could go on but I assure you I am not seeing large numbers of black faces. In fact I scroll through 13 more rows before I see another image of a black person ““ yet again it is from that same “People of Color in European Art History” site.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

I’ve just done it and what he said is true. The black people start on the second line of images and continue. Given the rarity of black people in Europe until comparatively recently it is over representation on a vast scale. Shows how we are being manipulated.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Yorks

I’ve done it too, and the observation is indeed true. It’s a bit of an odd way to manipulate us though. I put it that anyone would spot the obviously racially biased results. If anything it would likely provoke an anti-‘woke’ reaction, surely? For me it’s like reading the commentators on The Guardian. They’re the Tories best recruiting sergeants and sometimes that’s exactly what I think they are.

Bill
Bill
3 years ago

You are using the wrong Search Engine. Switch over to DuckDuckGo and you will get an unbiased result.
Tell your friends.

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Thanks Bill, I did change to DuckDuckGo when I first found out how Goggle are exploiting us

Robin Banks
Robin Banks
3 years ago

See my reply to Bill.

Robin Banks
Robin Banks
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill

DuckDuckGo does not have a search engine. It searches Google and Bing anonymously for you. Search for White People and you’ll see half the images are not white..

Bell Donna
Bell Donna
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill

I did just that before I came to this comment and the results were even more extreme! Many more black images

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

I think Google is Guilty, but not as charged. Apart two years ago, they modified their algorithm for images so that websites of topical relevance were given a higher ranking. This means that when you Google a particular term, you’re likely to get images from recent articles, and these are likely to follow recent debates.

So when I Google “History of European Art”, it’s not surprising that what I get is disproportionately slanted to the ideological fashions of 2020. A lot of the images that come up are illustrations from recent articles with titles like “People of colour in European art”. One suspects that these were the articles about European art that achieved widespread traction in the specific context of the last year; thus, they’ve been weighted up by the algorithm.

I think something similar is going on if you search the term “white people”. Recently there have been a lot of articles in left-leaning sources with headlines like “White People Know Racism Exists. Now They Have to Do Something About It” (to give just one example). If you click on the link, you find an article written by a black author whose photograph appears beneath her by-line. So when you Google “white people”, that article is weighted up by the algorithm, and the image that pops up is the photograph of its black author. In this case the trend is exacerbated by the fact that it’s pretty rare, in countries where a majority of people are still white, for anyone to write about white people in isolation from the concerns of how they interact with other races. So the majority of articles that reference “white people” are going to do so in the context of comparisons with black people. Again I think we have to assume that this is an innocent result of the algorithm, rather than a political gesture on Google’s part. Incidentally, contrary to the claim made by poster Bill below, the same phenomenon arises in DuckDuckGo, although the specific images and articles that pop up are different.

If this doesn’t happen so often when you search the same term in another language, that’s surely a reflection of the fact that Wokeness, and attendant media coverage, is predominantly a phenomenon of English-speaking countries.

We had a comparable conversation a few months ago on this forum about the fact that if you Google “straight couples” you get a lot of pictures of gay couples. But I think the explanation is similar: because it’s more common to be straight than gay, the term “straight couples” tends only to be used in writing when they need explicitly to be differentiated from gay ones. Thus Googling straight couples will lead to articles with headlines such as “What straight couples can learn from gay couples” and hence, logically enough, to pictures of same-sex couples. By contrast, Google “married couples”, and (although gay marriage is now legal in most Western countries), the images are overwhelmingly (indeed, on the first several lines, exclusively) of straight couples. The explanation is surely that articles referring to “married couples” are much less likely to reference “gay couples” by way of comparison.

Likewise, if you search for “cis people” you will find pictures of trans people – how could it be otherwise, for do you ever read the term “cis”, outside the context of articles about trans rights, likely to be aptly illustrated? (With due deference to UnHerd’s own Mark Corby, I admit that you might conceivably be reading about Cisalpine Gaul).

Richard Kenward
Richard Kenward
3 years ago

I think there is merit in what you write but I know Goggle manage what you can see and what is presented. For example, they ensured all searches for the Great Barrington Declaration were largely fruitless when searching. A highly “topical” Declaration that made all the media outlets, so I think they are guilty as charged.
I’ve also checked the images Google use in other languages since I speak other European languages and when you put in the History of European Art or white couple hey presto you get what you ask for. Those European countries also have strongly woke trends too.
Having worked in media and advertising I know how manipulative platforms and advertisers can be.
Thank you for your input and do agree to a certain extent but perhaps I’m more cynical than you.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago

Thank you in turn for your courteous reply. I’ve no doubt Google is manipulative in many circumstances, but I think the evidence is a bit thin for this one. For instance, try searching “Europe Art” or “Art in Europe” instead of “European art” – and you’ll get the Scream and the Mona Lisa, Vermeer and Van Gogh, i.e., exactly what you’d normally expect. If this was a Woke plot, surely it wouldn’t be tied so narrowly to very specific search terms. (And by the way, if you search for “Western painting”, you don’t get any of those depictions of black people found when you search for “European art”; but you do get a comical juxtaposition of Vermeer’s Milkmaid with cowboys on horseback; the algorithm can have unpredictable results!).

I did try to Google in a few languages, but as far as searching for racial categories goes, I wasn’t quite sure what to search for – especially in languages where the term normally used is identical to the name of the colour (i.e., without the need to add “people”), as in French or Spanish. But if you do get what you ask for in the other languages, why is Google France or Google Spain less Woke than Google UK or US?

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago

The Free Speech Union is fighting back. Join up now.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Windsor

Toby Young’s head wax won’t pay for itself. Please give generously!

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

The Daily Mail up vote down vote numbers are absolutely manipulated.
One article on 2+2 = 4 gets all posts agreeing and all up votes, the
same story on another page (and I mean Trump by this) gets all posts in
disagreement and all up votes.

Imaginary numbers include the sq root of minus one, and DM posting votes.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

Yes, but I must mention it also happens here on unherd, the odd missing post. Since my first Amstrad, Doss, computer I have eventually been banned from everywhere I have haunted (except the Daily Mail, for some reason they are anything goes) so am glad I am still here to have the odd post deleted.

I will not own a cell phone, never have, because I am a conspiracy loon somewhat, and do not like the tracking.

And so my two greatest fears for the future, tracked in every single aspect of our lives, and zero tolerance for anything ever said which is incorrect. You cannot win in that world unless your entire life is an act, or you have become utterly brainwashed from childhood. China’s Social Credit scores, I am sure the big social media companies have one in store for us.

The most haunting dystopia book for me is CS Lewis ‘That Hideous Strength’ which has a excellent bit where the director is explaining the rules of the institute to a new employee, a horror of a place where all live in constant fear. The Director says there are two situations which could be catastrophic to Mark, ‘The first is failing to take initiative if you see something needing addressing, but also it would be absolutely disastrous if you, in any way, overstepped your authority’, ‘and that if you stay between these two opposing situations you will be fine’. (The actual scope of his work has never been delineated.)

I see the future of one like that where we never can express ourselves less we fall to one side or the other of these vague, but absolute, rules. The dreaded Terms and Conditions that can mean anything at all, and only exist to be used against us.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

China’s Social Credit scores, I am sure the big social media companies have one in store for us.

They do. It’s coming from the Research-Education complex though. I’m doing a Doctorate in Education Leadership and am being educated in this. Social Credit scores will replace grades. This is being done in the name of social justice and educational equity. The idea is that attitudes and behaviors will be graded rather than academic achievement. Teachers who insist on tracking grades will be labeled ‘racists’. Now that we have a Democrat president, the Critical Theory that the Trump administration tried to roll back will be implemented. I’m seriously thinking of quitting Education altogether. I’m thoroughly disillusioned by it and worried for the mental well-being of upcoming generations. A growing body of research is discovering possible links between Critical Theory and student suicide rates.

Geoff Cooper
Geoff Cooper
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Wow! Are you serious? This is really happening, along with ‘equalities of outcome no matter what’? This is all starting to get seriously scary.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cooper

This was always going to happen, especially if Trump didn’t get back in. Thus the US – and the UK – will soon have people with no mathematical or engineering ability designing bridges and space rockets etc. Hold on to your hat!

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

When I was last in Europe, I noticed a growing number of Americans looking for EU citizenship. When an ideology takes over a nation, its brightest and best look for greener pastures where they can thrive and flourish. The USA is becoming a zombie state – its outward form is still there, but its innards are rotting.

Anna Borsey
Anna Borsey
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

EU citizenship???
The EU is most certainly NOT a Federal United States of Europe (mercifully not yet, anyhow).

Why do north Americans believe that the EU is a state, for heaven’s sake? It started out as a trading agreement between a few European nation states, initially named The European Economic Community or “the EEC” for short – called the “Common Market”, here in the UK. As the years and decades have gone by, several different treaties and the acceptance of the membership applications by a majority of European nations has caused the EEC to metamorphose into something giving profound cause for concern, where the end goal is clearly to convert the entire machinery into a Federal United States of Europe (ever closer union …). The UK has mercifully left the EU now, so we are now safe from this monster – at least for the time being.

Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Serbia are still NOT members of the European Union.

The EU does NOT, repeat NOT, offer or bestow citizenship to individual persons! It cannot, as it is NOT a state, merely a union of separate nation states for mutual benefit regarding trade and the movement of labour, money, services, and goods.

“The single market seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour, known collectively as the “four freedoms”.”

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

There are 35,000 US citizens living in Czech capital Prague!

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

I had an American colleague when 9/11 happened, we watched it on my wizz bang computer with a JANET connection.

When Shrub started his illiberal islamophobia she wanted not to have to go back there. I was one of her referees for her application for UK citizenship for that end.

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

Sadly, they bring their ideology and try to remake their environments. Because they are “good,” they cannot see their cultural imperialism.

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I knew a woman in charge of a city department that was there to help people with their affairs who had mental illness and addiction issues. Whenever you spoke with her she would tell you that she had two degrees. I mean, every time. She said that “she” felt good at her job when she could “help” them by asking the to say two positive things about their life. Good that up she felt good but these people needed shelter and getting their checks and so on. But she was a strong woman who had beat discrimination and had two degrees.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cooper

Chelsea FC have ”Unconscious” bias Online Seminar, for their ”staff” orwellian or ..?

frances heywood
frances heywood
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

sounds terrible. Could you give a link regards your last sentence ? thanks

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

It’s a curiosity of our times that those who claim to be “anti-fascist” are so fond of burning books.
It’s not a curiosity at all; it’s called projection and the would-be Ministry of Truth and its acolytes do it in massive doses just about every day. Like the Titania character, these totalitarians engage in “fact checking” of web sites such as the Babylon Bee that are clearly labeled as satire. When a person is too stupid to separate satire from real news – though admittedly, the line is getting more blurred by the day – perhaps that person has no business being one of society’s minders.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

No one has any business being “one of society’s minders.”

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

no they don’t but big tech has claimed that mantle and there’s not much effort to do anything about that.

Richard Lockett
Richard Lockett
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

Quis custodiat ipsos custodes
(Juvenal Satires VI, c.120AD)
There is little new in this except its scope in he internet age.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Not really Democratic Socialist Writer,Critic George Orwell noticed the 1930s ”left” are Unpatriotic to nth degree,(bearing in mind Rabid right are not ‘Perfect ‘ either)
Todays ”Anti-fascists” will be tomorrows ‘Fascists” ..He also based chilling Room 101 & Ministry of Truth on his time at ‘BBC’ so forget nostradamus; Orwell is A seer?

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

We need a serious discussion forum to explore what can be done to hurt twitter, FaceBook, YouTube and their ilk when they engage in censorship. Ideally, governments would intervene – make them pay dearly for the privilege of being censors. But that is unlikely, as it tends to benefit the lazy mainstream to leave them be.

Notably, Captain Kneel is asking for law to make the “social media giants” police “anti-vax propaganda.” Now, I think most anti-vaxxers are morons, but that isn’t the point. Maybe if we could co-opt Starmer’s foolishness and extend it to cover anti-Semitic organisations (using EHRC in a careful way) we could then get the same law applied to blocking the Labour Party.

Of course, I do not want the Labour Party blocked. I just want the dangers of the pompous Silicon Valley Millenials to be writ large.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Corporation Tax at REAL Rate? will Rishi Sunak bankrupt treasury have the Guts??..

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

It is not that simple. International tax law is complex. But, my understanding is as follows… and, as a physician/IT guy, you can guess how good my international law expertise is 🙂

If you set up a business to import widgets from a company in Gomboland, the price you pay per widget is strictly between you and the company. If the company also has an international reputation, they might also want you to pay a marketing fee. And a per-use fee for the implementation method for the widget, which the company in Gomboland owns the rights to. Consequently, you might end up only making a really tiny profit.

All this applies, I believe, even Megacorp US has a contract with Megacorp Gomboland to manage international IP distribution and that the UK company is called Megacorp UK. It means that the profits – and thus taxes – for Megacorp UK end up very low. It is frustrating, but as far as I know, entirely proper, and would require multi-nation cooperation to change it.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

> Ideally, governments would intervene

OK, comrade.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

Eh? You think it is good that Dorsey can prevent the circulation of links to an important story in an old, legitimate newspaper?

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

False premise: he can’t, he can only do so on Twitter, which he’s in charge of. What you can do to hurt them is use something else.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

I would do two things:
1.) Create a designation (called something like “strategic comms business”). Process for doing so TBD, but maybe designation is assigned by the FCC. Companies so designated may not censor or delete individuals unless they engage in speech that is illegal. Huge penalties for companies that breach this (like, 25% global annual revenues) per breach.
2.) Repeal Section 230. Facebook wants to exercise editorial policy? Great – it gets to be treated legally like a publisher, which is that if anyone is libeled or defamed on Facebook (or twitter) then the company is liable.

Ian Steadman
Ian Steadman
3 years ago

I would describe Titania McGrath as a “national treasure” were it not for the connotations those two words carry in respect of empire, colonialism and pillage.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Steadman

“national treasure” is fine, and as to empire et al-we are discussing in English-thankfully not German or Chinese.

grantspullings
grantspullings
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Steadman

Very witty.

Mike Ferro
Mike Ferro
3 years ago

It’s not ‘a curiosity of our times that those who claim to be “anti-fascist” are so fond of burning books’, it’s a notable feature of all times and places.
The bible has a story of a man who has a beam in his own eye but is unable or unwilling to see it and instead complains about the mote in his brother’s eye.
Those who shout loudest in denouncing a vice are so very often those who are themselves most guilty of that same vice

Dr Anne Kelley
Dr Anne Kelley
3 years ago

The censorship which is being wielded by the self-appointed arbiters of acceptable speak within social media is not that different from the selective reporting which exists in most broadcast media at the moment. Groupthink within these organisations determines which attitudes are morally acceptable for the populace to hold. Information is then presented in a way which promotes and endorses these attitudes and ignores or downplays alternative ideas.

Tim Diggle
Tim Diggle
3 years ago

Are these censorious platforms not the same organisations that a couple of years ago were claiming to be unable to recognise and remove content alllegedly related to, I believe, ISIS along with the claim not to be publishers …

David Sherman
David Sherman
3 years ago

Surely, there is a massive opportunity for a tech-savvy, non-wokist to start a genuinely free-speech platform? I really hope GB Radio is a success. Even the banal Times Radio is an upgrade on the BBC (OK, Radio Beano would be an upgrade).

Gary Greenbaum
Gary Greenbaum
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

Financing would be difficult, as would obtaining advertising, given that if it was perceived as any sort of threat, certain people would start vandalizing and threatening.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Gary Greenbaum

GB TV’s funding round has just been completed and was 50% oversubscribed. They launch quite soon with a platform that will reach 96% of people with TVs. They will have 120 newly hired journalists and Andrew Neil as a presenter and chairman. I can’t wait.

Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

Starting platforms from scratch is incredibly hard as users become stuck in their ways and won’t migrate from “where the action is”. In tech, this is why they say the first to become successful in any space (eg payments, online auctions, microblogging, social networking) usually “wins” the space and crowds everyone else out.

There is now also the issue of Big Tech/Big Media sliming new platforms to mould public perception. For example, Dan Bongino’s platform Parler is advertised as the “Free Speech Alternative” to Twitter but is now being portrayed as Alt-Right, fascist etc etc by the MSM (and to be scrupulously fair, some of the nuttier early users on there aren’t helping much).

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Jones

some of the nuttier early user …

Early adopter!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

there are some efforts in the US with MeWe, Parler, and some others, but it’s not like opening a competing gas station.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

It’s been tried. Any number of times. Those anti-woke platforms immediately get filled up with, well, the sort of people who comment on Unherd. That is to say, far-right lunatics that no one who isn’t a far-right lunatics want to go anywhere near.

You know what I think might actually work? For a while, at least? Setting up a platform that had woke-approved “love and tolerance” style rules, but actually enforced them equally. Where if you said women weren’t fit to be in the labour force, you got kicked out – but if you said that men were horrible evil rape-apologists, you also got kicked out. Because that would actually appeal to a lot of people who are sick of always having to argue.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
3 years ago
Reply to  David Sherman

Scott Alexander’s article Freedom on the Centralised Web puts it well:

HL Mencken once said that “the trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

There’s an unfortunate corollary to this, which is that if you try to create a libertarian paradise, you will attract three deeply virtuous people with a strong committment to the principle of universal freedom, plus millions of scoundrels. Declare that you’re going to stop holding witch hunts, and your coalition is certain to include more than its share of witches.

As Daniel Björkman says, sites with lax moderation policies fill up with witches, as is apparent from the comments section here.

Stephen Tye
Stephen Tye
3 years ago

If the companies like Google, Facebook etc are deciding what can and cannot be published on their site, are they not publishers and subject to the same regulation as other publishers?

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Tye

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? In fact, I would prefer to think of them (and all the tech giants) as analogous to the British East India Company – a massive entity with wide, sweeping powers, but ultimately funded by the state. It’s not a huge leap to make that comparison when you consider the internet was originally developed by the state for defence purposes (APRANET) and with intensive resrearch from the universities. Perhaps, like John Company, it’s time governments stepped up and took a more direct hand in controlling the people who have been making massive fortunes off suppressing taxpayers’ opinions.

If we simply designate these site “publishers”, they’ll just massively expand their army of drones to shut us down even more. A better solution is to define a very wide definition of free speech and then force the providers to allow people who wish to use the service to do so without interference, regardless of the company’s own stated position, provided they stay within the definition. So long as they do, no comeback on the provider. My own favoured definition would be, “anything you like so long as you’re not advocating violence”. And I would also make it clear that somebody somebody simply predicting violence is not advocating it, just to show how wide-ranging the right to free speech is.

Andy Yorks
Andy Yorks
3 years ago
Reply to  ard10027

The point is ‘big tech’ can’t have it both ways as at present. If they are saying that they are ‘utilities’ like the telephone company, electricity supplier or the gas board, then they cannot censor any content. If they want to censor and take things down by doing this they are ‘editing’ and are thus publishers. That should make them liable to legal action.

Taking down TalkRadio was a huge mistake because it confirmed their censorship and editing. Leaving aside its rapid restoration I think we should now make their lives a misery and let them be sued big time. We also need an alternative platform which is free and uncensored.

Robin Banks
Robin Banks
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Yorks

Alternative platforms – BitChute, PewTube, BrandNewTube.
Search DDG for Video channels like YouTube.

Robin Banks
Robin Banks
3 years ago
Reply to  Andy Yorks

Alternative platforms – BitChute, PewTube, BrandNewTube.
Search DuckDuckGo for Video channels like YouTube.

Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer
3 years ago
Reply to  ard10027

A better solution is to define a very wide definition of free speech and then force the providers to allow people who wish to use the service to do so without interference………….. My own favoured definition would be, “anything you like so long as you’re not advocating violence”.

Hmm. If you do that you will get a wave of people advocating paedophilia, nazism, satanism and socialism. I would have no trouble with that, since I believe that free speech means FREE speech, and cannot be limited. But without doubt your proposal will founder on those rocks.

‘Advocating violence’ is, of course, capable of almost any interpretation. The four topics I suggested above could all be considered ‘violent’. We used to have a simple sanction in law – ‘conspiracy to commit a crime’ – which is still on the books. Just apply that test. It works by requiring the activity to be banned to be exhortation to committ an IMMEDIATE SPECIFIC crime – so calling for the people to ‘rise up and overthrow Parliament’ would be acceptable, but ‘Turn up on Thursday armed with petrol bombs to throw at Boris’ would be grounds for investigation, and if the proposal was real, grounds for a charge of conspiracy to cause GBH…

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer

That’s actually a better proposal than mine. Damn.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

Here’s my poem on the subject written in cod 17th century style, though I wrote it yesterday, before reading your article:

http://www.readmypoems.co.u

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Very good, Alison, as always. Although I’m not sure that ‘freedom remains’.

Dr Anne Kelley
Dr Anne Kelley
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

That’s brilliant, thank you Alison.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Jolly good! “Steady the Buffs”.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

This is unerringly close to the seventeenth-century style. But (forgive the pedantry), if it’s “thou wouldst”, then why not “Thou mightst”? “Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair / Since lockdown laws restrain thee everywhere!”

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Is there anything less “liberal” or more “conservative” than an entity-be it a government, corporation, or political party-that sees the need to control all speech and ideas in order to conserve the prevailing point of view? In Woke-istan there is no freedom, except, apparently, from responsibility.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

there is nothing ‘conservative’ about such an entity. False equivalence for $800.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

Screwtube, Google, Fakebook etc are private firms, albeit with support from the UK/US governments including obscene tax breaks. So their business model only works if it works. If we want a load of censorious preaching we can use them, if not use some other offering. I went on screwtube yesterday and did a test: 1000s of vids of live dog fighting, many vids tutoring the manufacture of methedrine with no age limit, loads of BDSM sex vids that seemed to have age limits but are really NOT mainstream entertainment. That tells you all you need to know. If that’s not enough: In a bizarre case of corbynism run riot screwtube is known by another name in far left/far right circles, guess what? – an ancient race/religion who’s name in English rhymes with both “you” and “screw”. Its case of “physician heal thyself” IMO, as is the covid debacle.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
3 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

I did a test on YouTube. I made an anonymous account and logged in on Google Chrome. Went to an extremely politically correct video about native rights in Canada, and posted a negative (although very polite and reasonable) comment, as well as a thumbs down. Logged into my own account on Firefox the next day, went to the same video. Zero thumbs down, dozens of thumbs up, and no negative comments. Makes me wonder what “reality” is anymore…

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

We’ve done many similar tests here. Not just google and fakebook but NYT, UK Times, HuffPo, UK Guardian, etc. They will be in the bunker screaming “victory is within our grasp” to their echo chamber even when it all comes to a grinding halt. Censored opinions are like funghi, they thrive and spread in the dark and by the time they ruin your crop its too late. Iam surprised the lefties don’t figure this out: the more their “Gangster Rap” * buddies holler about drugs, rape, violence the more product they shift. Humans as a species are as curious as cats and as sharp as collie dogs. There will always be a push back against stupidity but it needs an edifice to push against, fakebook et al are building one as fast as they can. * Aside from a few exceptions most US “gangster rappers” are frauds who maybe sold a bit of weed or coke at college. Nothing like the suffah head and reggaeton artists who walked the walk in 70s Jamaica and 90s Central America to pay for studio time and equipment.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

I call bullshit. I have never once seen a YouTube video with no thumbs down. Or for that matter one with no negative comments… though it’s true that most commenters tend to be the ones who agree with the video and yell about how everyone who doesn’t are scum.

Speaking of which, if YouTube is so censorious, why do I keep getting suggested so many videos with smug neckbeards going, “hur hur, SJWs STOOOOOOPID!!!”? The censors don’t seem to be doing their jobs very well.

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Big Tech should be disrupted and broken up as it is anti competitive and anti democratic. An evil much greater than the oil barons of 100 years ago.

Real Horrorshow
Real Horrorshow
3 years ago

Part of the reason I stopped bothering with The Guardian was its’ “Community Standards” (another was Owen Jones):

https://www.theguardian.com/community-standards

As vaguely-worded a mine-field as Kafka’s prosecutors could wish for.
I fell foul of Rule 8 when I commented on an opinion piece. I quoted the piece, then linked to and quoted another piece by the same writer – also in The Guardian – and pointed out that they were incompatible if not downright contradictory. This was ruled “off-topic”.
Realising that I was dealing with people to whom reason was a stranger, I took my leave.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago

I still read it under the Sun Tzu “know your enemy as yourself” advice, but i do need to meditate afterwards. If anything its got worse since you last saw it.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

I had a similar experience with the Guardian. I was banned for linking one of their articles on transgenderism to a research article written by a transgender person who contradicted the Guardian narrative.

Richard C
Richard C
3 years ago

Thank you Andrew and UnHerd for your thoughtful piece. YouTube effectively has a monopoly which we all maintain for them, albeit grumbling from time to time. Unherd uses only Facebook and Twitter share-links, you have a YouTube channel, so is subconsciously reinforcing the power that you worry about. Whilst we look solely at YouTube where is their motivation to change?
UnHerd’s Mission Statement contains “UnHerd aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places” Perhaps you and everyone else with such unapproved thinking could encourage us to look to sources other than YouTube etc by publishing your material elsewhere. PeerTube, WebTorrent and many others are there waiting for your channel and for new viewers.
It seems to me that UnHerd is an ideal candidate for running parallel channels, assuming YouTube’s TOS permits it that is.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
3 years ago

Thank you for Titania McGrath. You did a great thing there.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
3 years ago

The big picture is that there has been an ever-growing alliance between Big Money and the ‘Liberal’ Left over the course of the past 20 years.

Both share paramount goals – in the short and middle terms. (After that they will be at each other’s throats and, other things being equal, the ‘Left’ – nominally Nazi, Communist or whatnot – will win.)

Those goals are: Globalisation, Mass Immigration, Making government unaccountable to the people it rules.

In the USA they – the totalitarians – have now won. Completely.

Their victory is not yet assured and total elsewhere in the Occidental democracies; but it is near.

David J
David J
3 years ago

Google is doing some weird things of late. It has updated the Blogger software, making it near-unusable for me. Now you cannot preview a linked video, and the typo controls have crashed and burned.

Jasmine Birtles
Jasmine Birtles
3 years ago

Excellent and well-argued article. For a while now I have thought that we needed an alternative to YouTube and when TalkRadio was taken down I decided to research it. I have now signed up to BrandNewTube and am looking at Bittube too. I suspect that there will be many more platforms coming along soon as developers realise that there is a growing demand for an alternative.

nick harman
nick harman
3 years ago

It’s usually the fault of automated systems which, of course, are literal and do not understand jokes, irony, sarcasm etc.

The principle is fine – clearly there are people out there who spread fake news in a dangerous way and who should be censored – but the technology to censor is still crude.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

Automated systems do what the people who program them say to do.

clearly there are people out there who spread fake news in a dangerous way and who should be censored
many of those people are in allegedly professional media and rather than threats of censorship, they enjoy legal protection.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

As 7882 fremic has noted Censorship also happens on UnHerd, which while disappointing is sadly, not surprising

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
3 years ago

To end the travesty of social media only 2 things are required.

1. Location of servers
2. A large bomb or 2

Result: Peace (well…)

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Nigel Clarke

Thats ”Incitement”?…Try silicon valley,Van nuys California?….As a Tourist when Lockdown ends in the Year 2525

Rather Not
Rather Not
3 years ago

If they aren’t publishers why are advertisers charged for using their platforms?

Peter Dale
Peter Dale
3 years ago

Andrew accepts the free-market mantra that ‘a private company can do whatever it likes’. Alas, it cannot. There are several distinctions to be made, the most important being between a private company that is privately held and a private company that is publicly held.

A private company privately held means simply that its shares are not publicly traded. It does not need to conform to listing regulations. A private company publicly held is one whose shares are traded in the open market. In order for a company to be listed so that its shares can be sold on the stock exchange, it must conform to certain government regulations. And there is no reason for a government, pushed by public campaigns, not to require these companies to adhere to the principle of freedom of speech.

As for public campaigns: I am surprised that an up and coming entrepreneur hasn’t started producing t-shirts and similar with the logo: ‘I was banned by youtube/google ( or whatever).’ Or ‘This is what they don’t want you to hear’. Or similar

This would create an interest that presently doesn’t exist. The Roman Catholic Church finally gave up issuing a list of prohibited books because, as soon as the list was published, every good Catholic bought and read what was banned. Similarly, at the turn of the last century, Boston Massachusetts was notorious for banning plays and shows its censors considered unsuitable. The producers then resorted to advertising their wares as ‘banned in Boston’, a tactic that increased their audience and expanded their purse.

It can work again and work very well indeed because no power-hungry group likes to be ridiculed and mocked.

Richard C
Richard C
3 years ago

Thank you Andrew and UnHerd for your thoughtful piece. YouTube effectively has a monopoly which we all maintain for them, albeit grumbling from time to time. Unherd uses only Facebook and Twitter share-links, you have a YouTube channel, so is subconsciously reinforcing the power that you worry about. Whilst we look solely at YouTube where is their motivation to change?
UnHerd’s Mission Statement contains “UnHerd aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places” Perhaps you and everyone else with such unapproved thinking could encourage us to look to sources other than YouTube etc by publishing your material elsewhere. LBRY, PeerTube, WebTorrent and many others are there waiting for your channel and for new reader/viewers.
It seems to me that UnHerd is an ideal candidate for running parallel channels, assuming YouTube’s TOS permits it that is.

Richard C
Richard C
3 years ago

Thank you Andrew and UnHerd for your thoughtful piece. YouTube effectively has a monopoly which we all maintain for them, albeit grumbling from time to time. Unherd uses only Facebook and Twitter share-links, you have a YouTube channel, so is reinforcing the power that you worry about. Whilst we use (driven to) YouTube where is their motivation to change?
UnHerd’s Mission Statement contains “UnHerd aims to do two things: to push back against the herd mentality with new and bold thinking, and to provide a platform for otherwise unheard ideas, people and places” Perhaps you and everyone else with such unapproved thinking could encourage us to look to sources other than YouTube etc by publishing your material elsewhere. PeerTube, WebTorrent and many others are there waiting for your channel and for new viewers.
It seems to me that UnHerd is an ideal candidate for running parallel channels, assuming YouTube’s TOS permits it that is.

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

LOL. *I* have been banned for years from The Daily Mail. Yes, with all the nonsense that gets written there…and *I* am the menace! I think because I don’t sound crazy when I make a point that isn’t mainstream. They print the views they can mock. The “post” button stays out of order. Sigh.

Alex Delszsen
Alex Delszsen
3 years ago

Good point made that Twitter completely canceled the historical record of a president when they cancelled his account.