What is to be done about the Censorship Industrial Complex?
So I have been thinking about the “Censorship Industrial Complex,” that network of governments, corporations, NGOs, Intelligence agencies, corporate and state media, and self-appointed “disinformation experts” that are gradually, subtly, and often not so subtly, turning our world into an Orwellian dystopia.
I have been thinking about what is to be done about it.
I’m going to be in London again next week. I’m attending this event where Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Russell Brand will be talking about the Censorship Industrial Complex, and what is to be done about it. I’ll also be meeting with some colleagues in London (you know, like, for tea, or whatever), and we are also going to talk about it, and what is to be done about it.
So I’ve been trying to get my thoughts together so that I can make a semi-coherent argument for what is to be done about it, and offer something halfway practical for once instead of just depressing everyone by describing how dystopian everything is.
I’m not terribly good at making such arguments. My thoughts tend to be … well, not very practical. Keep reading, and you’ll see what I mean.
Before you do, though, if you’re going to be in London or the vicinity of London, and you can afford the ticket, consider attending the event on Thursday. It’s certain to be informative, and probably entertaining. Details on the event are here.
Michael Shellenberger, in addition to his groundbreaking reporting for his Substack outfit, Public, and his reporting on the “Twitter Files,” and his testimony with Matt Taibbi before that Kafkaesque US congressional committee, has also been thinking about the Censorship Industrial Complex, and what is to be done about it. Michael coined the term, in fact. You can read about some of his ideas here, or, if you can’t afford a Public subscription, you can listen to them in his interviews online. Which, you should. He’s extremely smart and knowledgeable.
I did that, and it started me thinking. It started me thinking about the nature of the problem, and the type of censorship we are dealing with these days, a lot of which is not old-fashioned censorship, but, rather, is “visibility filtering,” and other types of manipulation of our perception of the news, and facts … and reality.
I’m still developing and refining this argument, but I think I’ve gotten down to the core of it, or somewhere in the neighborhood of the core of it.
It is an argument about private versus public space.
And the capture of public space by corporations.
And our surrender of public space to corporations.
I think the essence of the argument is ...
We, the people, have a right to a public communications space on the Internet.
A space on the scale of major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
A space governed by the people, not by corporations.
Such a space does not exist.
In the absence of such a public space, corporate platforms have become that space.
Imagine a California or a Florida or a South of France with no public beaches, or a New York City with no public parks.
This is the territory we exist in on the Internet.
A territory in which we have no say about the rules.
Because the entire territory is privately owned.
We do not tolerate this in the physical world … yet.
Why do we tolerate it on the Internet?
Yes, I am aware that there is a deep web.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about “the Internet” that most people use.
The following is not a solution to the broader problem (i.e., the privatization of our public space), but maybe it’s a start in that direction. In our increasingly privatized, global-capitalist world, we are losing, or perhaps have already lost, our belief in our inalienable rights, and our power, and our very existence as “the people,” which is, after all, the foundation of democracy.
No, I do not trust governments any more than I trust corporations, but, as long as at least a semblance (or a simulation) of democracy exists, it is democratic government that represents us as “the people” and keeps alive the concept of the “public.” If we’re ever going to have a chance of taking back control of our governments from the global corporations, oligarchs, and other unaccountable entities that currently own them, we need to keep the concept of the public alive and not surrender to the inevitability of a completely privatized world.
That’s the logic underlying my argument.
I think it’s essential to make this argument, even if it doesn’t lead to any immediate practical results, because, basically, if we ever stop making it, and accept a world in which corporations own and control the entire territory in which we communicate, inform ourselves, and discuss and debate issues, democracy is pretty much over.
Anyway, here’s a draft of the argument … submitted for your approval, disapproval, corrections, questions, constructive criticism, and so on.
What is to be done about the Censorship Industrial Complex?
In addressing the problem of government/Internet-corporation censorship/visibility-filtering, what if, instead of focusing on governments, we go at it from the other end of the pipeline and focus on the corporations that are executing the censorship and visibility-filtering? (Of course, this would only be one component of a broader anti-censorship campaign.)
The simple message would be ...
Corporations have arrogated the right to censor and restrict speech, a right which belongs solely to the people, and which can only be exercised by their democratic governments. We need to strip the corporations of that right and return it to the people.
This can be achieved by enacting legislation prohibiting Internet corporations from censoring, visibility-filtering, and otherwise restricting content, but preserving their right to refuse service to anyone, within the confines of the law, which is the right of any private business.
An "Internet Free Speech Protection" Act?
This legislation would (1) prohibit corporations from censoring, “visibility-filtering,” or otherwise restricting user content, and (2) mandate transparency regarding users banned from their platforms, all third-party requests for the deplatforming of users, and all content "recommended" or "boosted" by the company. Internet corporations would be free to ban users for violating their rules, or for any other reason, as well as to "boost" or otherwise promote content, but they would not be allowed to censor, downrank, shadowban, label, or otherwise interfere with the content of individual tweets, posts, etc., or with the accounts of platform users.
This legislation would render the "Section 230/compelled speech" argument moot. Corporations would not be compelled to host unwanted speech on their platforms. They could deplatform any users whose speech they chose not to host. They would simply be stripped of the right to censor, visibility-filter, or otherwise restrict users' speech and/or the visibility of such speech.
Social media platforms will not cease to exist if Internet corporations are stripped of this “right,” which no one formally granted them in the first place. In the USA, many restaurants, bars, and other business display a sign that reads, "WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE." Private businesses have the right to refuse service. But this right does not entitle private businesses to control the lawful appearance or behavior of the patrons they allow onto their premises.
For example, a restaurant can refuse service to any patron who does not comply with the restaurant's dress code, and it can eject non-compliant patrons from its premises, but it is not entitled to force patrons to wear specific articles of clothing by physically putting articles of clothing on their bodies against their will (which would constitute assault).
Internet corporations could and should operate according to the same rules.
The sweetheart deal the Internet corporations have now is, once we become users of their services, they can violate the laws and constitutions of our countries, and censor and visibility-filter our speech and maliciously defame us with fake interstitial labels with more or less complete impunity on the pretext of “moderation policy.”
What other private businesses have the right to violate the law in this fashion?
Internet corporations should be prohibited from censorship, “visibility-filtering,” and all other forms of speech-restriction. Their range of options for action taken against undesirable users should be reduced to two … provide service or deny service.
Restrictions on speech are the purview of governments, not corporations.
If speech violates the laws of a country, citizens have recourse in the laws of that country, not in the policies of private corporations.
Sovereign countries can independently determine which restrictions they want to place on speech (hopefully through democratic processes). Corporations would be required to obey these laws like any other citizen or resident of these countries.
Internet users do not have a right to access to any given corporate-owned Internet platform. However, if granted access, they have a right to speech free of censorship and other forms of restriction by the platform owner(s).
That’s it. I’ll be grateful for any feedback in the replies. I’m neither a lawyer nor an Internet expert. I’m just … you know, a member of the “public.” If you happen to be knowledgeable about all this stuff, and I have gotten anything totally wrong, please feel free to educate me.
A word of warning to my trolls, however. Given my current legal circumstances, I’m extremely not in the mood for your trolling, so I will ban you from my Substack in a heartbeat. I, too, reserve the right to refuse service.
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