The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Political Authoritarianism

It's very important to be able to hold two or more thoughts in your head at one time. Far too many Democrats and a few Republicans seem unable to do that. They are consumed (obsessed?) with the destruction of Donald Trump, and now that the debacle at the Capitol (a.k.a. the Capitol riots) has given them a legitimate reason to question Trump's judgement and his leadership, everything over the past week—and I do mean everything—is viewed through the lens of "Trump's coup attempt." 

But there are things that are happening that are ominous and are only peripherally connected to the events of January 6th—although the Left would have you believe that those ominous things are justified by their Captain Ahab-like obsession with Trump. 

There are thousands of biased, dishonest and unprofessional left-leaning journalists. But Glen Greenwald is NOT among them. Greenwald, a progressive, is one of the few who have maintained their professionalism. He has the courage and the sense to note that the social media de-platforming of not only Trump, but a wide array of conservative voices, along with the forced shutdown of a new social media site, Parler, competing with Facebook and Twitter (both social media platforms run by left-leaning tech oligarchs) represents a serious threat to free-speech. Greenwald writes:

Critics of Silicon Valley censorship for years heard the same refrain: tech platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter are private corporations and can host or ban whoever they want. If you don’t like what they are doing, the solution is not to complain or to regulate them. Instead, go create your own social media platform that operates the way you think it should.

The founders of Parler heard that suggestion and tried. In August, 2018, they created a social media platform similar to Twitter but which promised far greater privacy protections, including a refusal to aggregate user data in order to monetize them to advertisers or algorithmically evaluate their interests in order to promote content or products to them. They also promised far greater free speech rights, rejecting the increasingly repressive content policing of Silicon Valley giants.

Over the last year, Parler encountered immense success. Millions of people who objected to increasing repression of speech on the largest platforms or who had themselves been banned signed up for the new social media company.

As Silicon Valley censorship radically escalated over the past several months — banning pre-election reporting by The New York Post about the Biden family, denouncing and deleting multiple posts from the U.S. President and then terminating his access altogether, mass-removal of right-wing accounts — so many people migrated to Parler that it was catapulted to the number one spot on the list of most-downloaded apps on the Apple Play Store, the sole and exclusive means which iPhone users have to download apps. “Overall, the app was the 10th most downloaded social media app in 2020 with 8.1 million new installs,” reported TechCrunch.

It looked as if Parler had proven critics of Silicon Valley monopolistic power wrong. Their success showed that it was possible after all to create a new social media platform to compete with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And they did so by doing exactly what Silicon Valley defenders long insisted should be done: if you don’t like the rules imposed by tech giants, go create your own platform with different rules.

It's worth noting that Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook, have relatively no problem with leftist voices that have advocated violence toward Trump or his supporters. Those progressive voices have not been de-platformed, nor have virulent anti-Semites like Louis Farakan or Iranian leader, Ali Khamenei, who advocates "Death to America and fantasizes about the annihilation of Israel." Their Twitter and Facebook accounts remain untouched.

That latter is as it should be. These demagogues should be able to communicate their views (no matter how objectionable) to those willing to follow them, as long as they can be called out, refuted, and labeled as the scum they are. 

But two sets of rules have evolved—one for voices that oppose the progressive/socialist narrative and another for those who advocate that narrative or speak for the "oppressed."

Greenwald continues:

If one were looking for evidence to demonstrate that these tech behemoths are, in fact, monopolies that engage in anti-competitive behavior in violation of antitrust laws, and will obliterate any attempt to compete with them in the marketplace, it would be difficult to imagine anything more compelling than how they just used their unconstrained power to utterly destroy a rising competitor.

The united Silicon Valley attack began on January 8, when Apple emailed Parler and gave them 24 hours to prove they had changed their moderation practices or else face removal from their App Store. The letter claimed: “We have received numerous complaints regarding objectionable content in your Parler service, accusations that the Parler app was used to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the illegal activities in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 that led (among other things) to loss of life, numerous injuries, and the destruction of property.” It ended with this warning:

To ensure there is no interruption of the availability of your app on the App Store, please submit an update and the requested moderation improvement plan within 24 hours of the date of this message. If we do not receive an update compliant with the App Store Review Guidelines and the requested moderation improvement plan in writing within 24 hours, your app will be removed from the App Store.

The 24-hour letter was an obvious pretext and purely performative. Removal was a fait accompli no matter what Parler did. To begin with, the letter was immediately leaked to Buzzfeed, which published it in full. A Parler executive detailed the company’s unsuccessful attempts to communicate with Apple. “They basically ghosted us,” he told me. The next day, Apple notified Parler of its removal from App Store. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content,” said the world’s richest company, and thus: “We have now rejected your app for the App Store.”

It is hard to overstate the harm to a platform from being removed from the App Store. Users of iPhones are barred from downloading apps onto their devices from the internet. If an app is not on the App Store, it cannot be used on the iPhone. Even iPhone users who have already downloaded Parler will lose the ability to receive updates, which will shortly render the platform both unmanageable and unsafe.

In October, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law (controlled by Democrats) issued a 425-page report concluding that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all possess monopoly power and are using that power anti-competitively. 

But in the aftermath of the debacle at the Capitol, all of that concern seems to have been jettisoned in the effort to utterly destroy Trump. As long as voices who have and will oppose the narrative of the new Democratic party are the only ones that are silenced—no problem. Again from Greenwald:

... the dominant strain of American liberalism is not economic socialism but political authoritarianism. Liberals now want to use the force of corporate power to silence those with different ideologies. They are eager for tech monopolies not just to ban accounts they dislike but to remove entire platforms from the internet. They want to imprison people they believe helped their party lose elections, such as Julian Assange, even if it means creating precedents to criminalize journalism.

World leaders have vocally condemned the power Silicon Valley has amassed to police political discourse, and were particularly indignant over the banning of the U.S. President. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, various French ministers, and especially Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador all denounced the banning of Trump and other acts of censorship by tech monopolies on the ground that they were anointing themselves “a world media power.”

... Even the ACLU — which has rapidly transformed from a civil liberties organization into a liberal activist group since Trump’s election — found the assertion of Silicon Valley’s power to destroy Parler deeply alarming. One of that organization’s most stalwart defenders of civil liberties, lawyer Ben Wizner, told The New York Times that the destruction of Parler was more “troubling” than the deletion of posts or whole accounts: “I think we should recognize the importance of neutrality when we’re talking about the infrastructure of the internet.”

Yet American liberals swoon for this authoritarianism ...

So much of this liberal support for the attempted destruction of Parler is based in utter ignorance about that platform, and about basic principles of free speech ...

Greenwald goes on to note that Parler is no more a stronghold of white supremacist thought than Twitter is a place where anti-white, anti-Semitic thugs like Louis Farakan rein. The difference is that Parler doesn't censor or de-platform views it disagrees with.

As the new Democratic party ascends to power in less than a week, our country's dominant concern shouldn't be the fever dream that a disgraced, 74-year old Donald Trump will rise from the ashes to become a 2024 political force. Rather it should be the gnawing concern that hiding behind the mask of "unity" and "moderation" worn by Joe Biden is "political authoritarianism." The censorship that has occurred over the past few months has demonstrated just how powerful that authoritarianism can be and provides a frightening preview of what it can become under the new Democratic party.