`Do you remember Google’s slogan “Don’t be evil”? Well, Google is evil. It is one of the biggest donors to Washington’s pay-to-play, feckless political class.`
Mitchell B. Feierstein
This is one piece of good news with the attempt to regulate the media giants amid numerous violations and interference in the country’s political affairs. In addition to the purely technical inconveniences of the media giants (censorship of posts, blocking of prominent figures, political advertising), the problem of censorship on social networks in modern times has extremely important philosophical aspects. In this article we will examine issues of digital censorship and potential alternatives.
A new dictatorship on Whatsapp
Turkey’s decisive action was prompted by the introduction of new rules for the use of WhatsApp in early 2021. On January 7, the company updated the user agreement and added a clause on the transfer of users’ personal data to Facebook, which owns the messenger.
“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”
WhatsApp explained that Facebook can obtain registration data (including phone number), data on transactions and interactions with other users and organizations, information about the device with IP-address and other information. However, those who do not accept the rules of the game will not be able to use the service starting February 8.
After the introduction of measures against such interference in the personal data of users, Erdoğan said that Turkey will not bow to the pressure of social networks, which see themselves as above the law. He stressed that the US election showed how far “digital fascism” can go.
Erdoğan himself switched to the BiP app, owned by local Turkcell. In addition, Turkey has already announced the development of a secure messenger, ileti, which will protect users from message interception.
Meanwhile, Facebook and Whatsapp are not implementing the same rules in the EU, fearing that sanctions will be applied to them, given that Europe has long been promising large fines and anti-monopoly measures against them. For example, France and the UK have previously prevented Facebook from using their citizens’ WhatsApp data.
The hunt for Trump
Let us return to the precedents for digital totalitarianism. After the Jan. 6 conflict, when disgruntled Trump supporters came to protest at the Capitol in the presidential election, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms unilaterally decided to block the president’s accounts. YouTube also suspended Trump’s channel for at least seven days. That’s not counting the many other instances in which Trump’s individual posts have been repeatedly blocked or flagged as untrustworthy.
The protesters (who were also severely censored) were even banned from buying American airline tickets – and it is likely that such measures are not over yet.
Trump himself stressed that the IT giants were making a catastrophic mistake.
“I think that big tech is doing a horrible thing for our country and to our country. And I believe it’s going to be a catastrophic mistake for them,” Trump told reporters.
Many prominent technocrats and politicians have responded to such unprecedented measures, even those who do not share Trump’s views.
Elon Musk has torn into the ‘West Coast high tech’ who have turned into the ‘de facto arbiter of free speech’ after Amazon scrubbed Parler from the internet.
As Mike Pompeo notes, “Censorship, wokeness, political correctness, it all points in one direction – authoritarianism, cloaked as moral righteousness. It’s similar to what we’re seeing at Twitter, and Facebook, and Apple, and on too many university campuses.”
British journalist Piers Morgan wrote: ‘It has been quite sinister to witness the speed in which the tech world has conspired to use the Capitol riot to silence not just Trump but entire right-wing social media platforms like Parler which has been effectively driven offline by Google, Apple and Amazon.’
The European Union also reacted to the situation: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman called it ‘problematic’ that free speech could be obstructed by ‘decision of the management of social media platforms’.
Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said: “The fact that they [Big Tech firms] can silence a sitting US president based on unclear criteria and without oversight can be dangerous for free speech.”
Australian acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has criticised Twitter for censoring US President Donald Trump, saying it shows double standards.
Already there are opponents of such radical blocking methods – for example, in protest against anti-Trumt hunting, the Internet service provider Your T1 WIFI in Idaho blocked Facebook and Twitter on its networks.
Why was Parler blocked?
John Matze founded Parler in 2018 as a ‘free-speech driven’ alternative to mainstream platforms, and amid Trump’s bullying, the app was removed from Google’s app store and blocked without warning by Amazon. Amazon explained the denial of access to its servers for failing to properly monitor violent content. Parler then sued Amazon.
Parler, headquartered in Nevada, was a popular social network in the United States among Trump supporters and conservatives. Parler initially identified itself as anti-Twitter because it opposed content moderation.
The social network’s popularity skyrocketed in November 2020, after the US presidential election when Democrat Joe Biden declared victory. Against the backdrop of severe censorship on the mainstream social networks, people were looking for alternative sources of information and actively connected to Parler. In just five days, 4.5 million new users joined the social network. The Wall Street Journal reported that in early November 2020, Parler became the most downloaded app on Android and Apple devices. As of early January 2021, the platform had 15 million users (by comparison, Twitter has 1.3 billion users and Facebook has 2.5 billion).
After the hard lockdown, Parler’s owner is skeptical about a possible reopening. Parler may never get back online, said its CEO John Matze.
Even globalists are horrified by BigTech totalitarianism
It has come to the point of absurdity: even some globalists, who are interested in the opacity of the internet and in bringing the ideas of liberalism to the level of a digital concentration camp, recognize the absurdity of measures such as blocking US President Donald Trump.
For example, the website Open Democracy, sponsored by the Rockefellers, Soros and others, suddenly writes the following:
“However, public institutions, and not corporations, should be the ones ensuring the preservation of democracy. In that sense, as pleasant and fair as it may seem to censor Donald Trump amid an instigation to a coup d’état, it is a dangerous precedent. It sounds obvious, but it is not superfluous to repeat it: Twitter and Facebook are political actors…”
Also, Open Democracy, in its criticism of Trump and the right, makes a surprisingly adequate point:
“Censoring the president of the United States is something else and involves opening a dangerous door. A door that seems to get lost in algorithms and the opaque immateriality of the digital world, and where some always decide when and where to activate the button.”
In a Letter on Justice and Open Debate designed to protect artists from excessive censorship, other neoliberals and democrats, including Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed once the End of history, also criticized the powerful censorship of social media and write the following:
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted… it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”
In their letter, they point out that in our world, editors are increasingly being fired for publishing controversial material, books and certain topics are banned, and professors are harassed in academic institutions.
“As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.”
Thus, the liberal ouroboros devours its own tail: if even some neoliberals and globalists are horrified by the possible consequences of the digital dictatorship of the giants – Google, Youtube, Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc. – the danger must be great indeed.
Modern censorship is more dangerous than open totalitarianism
Against the background of recent news about the totalitarianism of the media giants, the well-known left-wing philosopher Slavoj Žižek paints a truly frightening anti-utopia. He notes in an interview that in addition to the false choice in the background of Covid-19 (between Trumpism with relative freedom and strict Chinese control), a more dangerous option is shining through in the United States, aired by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Google chief Eric Schmidt, and Michael Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates. That is what some people are already calling “Screen New Deal.”
“Should the networks that are the lifeblood of our existence really be in the hands of private companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple, companies which, merged with state security agencies, will have the ability to censor and manipulate the data available to us or even to disconnect us from public space? Remember that Schmidt and Cuomo call for immense public investments into these companies…”
Thus, some wealthy and powerful groups are forming a wondrous new world in which everyone sits locked up and hopeless at home, under the complete control of BigTech, while the biggest tech corporations and elites get paid for it.
It turns out that Cuomo-Schmidt longs for a no-touch future in which there will be no cash, no need to leave home to spend it, where all possible services and goods are ordered online and everything depends on the big social networks, which essentially take over the function of the controlling state.
Modern censorship is more dangerous than overt totalitarianism, it is hidden and incorporated into our daily lives, Žižek concludes in another interview. The “false choice” between politically correct censorship and radical liberalism is a trap, he adds.
A bit of conspiracy (or is it not conspiracy?…)
Although the globalists from OpenDemocracy openly weep for the dying of free speech, behind the scenes the most interesting thing is that behind this superficial criticism of BigTech, the elites are likely trying to take over the big social networks.
Thus, amid the news that Roy Austin (one of former President Barack Obama’s right-hand men) has joined the Facebook team, discussions about the secret power of Skull and Bones, a community of elites founded at Yale University in 1832, have resurfaced.
Facebook Inc named Roy Austin Jr. as vice president of civil rights effective Jan. 19.
Groups like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, backed by concerned advertisers, pressured Facebook to create a civil rights leadership position.
Austin is one of the members of the club mysteriously named Skull and Bones, whose father diplomat Roy Leslie Austin was on close terms with George W. Bush. The organization may include people from different parties, but the interests of the elites are the same.
Many believe this reveals a strategy of the American establishment and its elites, who may quarrel in the political arena, but in fact combine financial and political potential against a manifestly multipolar world. As an example: in September, the World Federation of Advertisers and Global Alliance for Responsible Media joined brands and social platforms to create clearer definitions of hate speech. They released a slate of policy proposals to ensure more accountability in the digital ad industry.
One of the most realistic ideas of such elites is to try to revive the course of globalization, suspended by Trump, by enlisting the power of the media giants. And then social media will not long rejoice in their power and independence in this feast of disobedience…
Technology giants have weaponized social media
To facilitate the creation of this global digital slavery, the globalists try to deprive people of the notion of their own culture and roots – as Jacques Attali wrote (L’homme nomade), modernity is based on the principle of nomadism – the abolition of borders and the fusion of cultures that create a utopia of laissez-faire. In Attali’s nomadic world, if he triumphs, companies will have no nationality – it will be a world of consumers who do not even notice the pressure of BigTech.
Then, as the Washington Times writes, “social media censors… have made it the first right [the First Amendment] to be canceled”, and “technology giants have weaponized social media in an affordable way to shackle free minds, claiming no motive beyond the common good.”
Due to the strengthening of the position of media giants, many experts suggest separating the concepts of power and the state, since large commercial companies are able to unilaterally take over the functions of the state – including the use of force, prohibitions and the definition of laws.
Are there alternatives?
There are many alternatives, which vary in both convenience and security.
WhatsApp users have been migrating en masse to Telegram since the policy update, including in the US. The increase in users also activated amid the banning of Donald Trump’s Twitter account and the blocking of the social network Parler, which was used by his supporters.
As a result, Telegram climbed to No. 2 in downloads in the U.S. App Store and No. 4 on Google Play, the capitalization of Facebook and Twitter decreased by $ 44 billion after Trump’s blocking. With more than 200 million active users, Telegram is a really popular alternative to WhatsApp: the cloud-based app works on multiple platforms, messages are encrypted, and the functionality is much more convenient and broader – there is an opportunity to lead and read channels, use technical bots, and more.
After Parler’s blocking, alternatives for Trump supporters besides Telegram immediately emerged: The social network Gab benefits from the suspension of several Twitter accounts – including Donald Trump’s – and the departure of rival Parler, its CEO Andrew Torba said Monday.
Gab registered more than 40 million unique visitors over the past week. Torba said he contacted Trump’s team about opening a real account on Gab, which the platform had already prepared. According to Torba, the platform is no longer at risk of suspension because it hosts its own servers.
Like most other messaging apps, Signal is really easy to use. It also offers voice and video calls, is secure and similar to telegram in many ways. Each message is encrypted, so only the sender and recipient can read it. Users can let messages disappear by setting a time interval for automatic deletion. This ensures privacy even if someone else has access to your phone.
The Turkish messenger is already gaining serious traction far beyond the country’s borders: launched in 2013, BiP is used by millions of users in 192 countries, most of them in Europe. The most active EU users are in Germany and France.
“At the moment, there is serious demand in Europe and the Middle East,” Turkcell General Manager Murat Erkan said.
Contact lists and group information are stored exclusively on your phone, not in the app. Messages are deleted as soon as they are delivered. Contact between users can take place with an 8-digit Threema ID instead of a phone number, contacts can be checked using unique QR codes.
Session does not require your name, phone number or email. The app creates a Session ID that you must share with your contact to start chatting. Private group chats of up to 20 people are possible.
We’ve written about other alternatives (real and in development) to the big media giants before:
– MeWe (called the AntiFacebook)
– Revolutionary, but so far extremely inconvenient Diaspora and Mastodon (based on the principles of decentralization and federation).
– Ello (not as developed as Facebook, but a potential worthy competitor).
– Vero (not a bad app, free of advertising).
– Vkontakte (a worthy alternative to Facebook, in many ways, more free and functional, in different languages, with services for movies, music, etc.).
The new power
Some technocrats, who are not against digital totalitarianism, claim that large companies are private, and therefore can do what they want on their platforms. Perhaps this is true – as long as it doesn’t affect the internal political situation in a single country in which there are still real people, real power and a real economic situation.
Let us not deceive ourselves: political censorship was, will be, and is defined by its limits within each individual state. But if the state imposes it, it is at least responsible for the stability of the country, and if it is imposed by a private platform, which is not responsible for anything, it will not take responsibility for the massacres and destabilization during these or other protests.
The problem is that social media, unlike the state, deprives us of free thinking. Search algorithms, targeted advertising, faceless moderators, and the sorting out of unwanted posts is a much harsher approach than the state’s individual bans. It is, in fact, a ban on thinking this way and not that way.
What is happening on the internet today can safely be called a digital civil war, in which there are revolutionary heroes, sacred victims, shadowy rulers and powerful capitalists. Anyone who does not fit into the new world will be disconnected from online shopping, unable to take credit and get a job, trampled on the political field. Many criticize China’s censorship system with its alternative social networks and social ranking – but are we not seeing more dictatorship in Google’s politics? And with a fundamental difference: while in China the payment for good behavior and Internet restrictions is a government guarantee of life and health, Google as a private company is not responsible for your problems.
No wonder people are increasingly fleeing corporate censorship. Either it will be a fragmentation of the global network (creating in each region or country its own Internet security system with alternative applications), or switching from one popular application to another – as long as they feel safe there (as in the case of switching to Telegram today). One thing is certain: staying in the world of Google and Co. is dangerous, humiliating, and unpromising.