Recently, in the comments underneath our LockdownTV YouTube videos, people have been saying that our videos are being ‘downrated’ on YouTube search. Type in Aella, or Michael Levitt, for example, and videos come above ours in the search results that are much older, viewed much fewer times, and come from channels that have much smaller followings. I hate the idea of being conspiracist, and feel it’s a bit rich to make accusations of censorship against a platform that has brought us so many views and followers, but could it be that heterodox channels like ours have found their way onto a blacklist of channels that should be ever so gently… suppressed?
This was one of the questions I put to Glenn Greenwald — one of the world’s better known free speech and civil liberties advocates. Talking from his home in the mountains outside Rio di Janeiro, his answer was unsettling: “You don’t need to be a conspiracist to believe any of that. They acknowledge that they are doing all the things that you just described.”
The pandemic has brought this issue to the fore even more visibly, with channels and videos regularly being taken down having been judged as dangerous to public health, and the YouTube CEO announcing earlier in the year that anything that fell foul of WHO guidelines would be removed (notwithstanding that organisation’s patchy, to say the least, record during this pandemic).
“It’s incredibly dangerous,” says Greenwald. “What competency do tech giants have to arbitrate over science and health policy? … How did they get into a position of some sort of philosopher-king to be able to sit in judgement as overlords of our discourse and decree not only what is permissible but what is true and false when it comes to highly complex questions such as how to manage a pandemic, or whether vaccines are safe and effective, or whether the balances of a lockdown are justified by their cost? These are incredibly complicated decisions that a society ought to be debating.”
It becomes even more concerning when it dovetails with party politics. Greenwald sees the merger of the Democratic Party and the tech platforms as a serious threat to free speech:
To me, that censorship episode involving the Hunter Biden reporting in the weeks leading up to an election was one of the most alarming and significant events to take place in politics in years. That one of the primary means that citizens have to communicate with one another was simply manipulated to prevent incriminating reporting about the candidate that the employees and executives and shareholders of those means of communication wanted to win the election. It was pure brute censorship of the most toxic and damaging kind.
The prognosis, according to Greenwald, is not good. Instead of being magnanimous in victory, he predicts that the Democrats are likely to use their influence to further shut down discourse they find unacceptable.
“It’s like a tide that keeps coming in. You hope that it doesn’t get to you. As long as it doesn’t you feel free on the beach, but you see the water inching ever closer.”