There’s a fascinating clip from 1964 of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke essentially predicting the internet in the not-so-distant future. Like some modern-day Nostradamus, he states with calm authority that by the year 2000, it will be possible to be…
“…in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on earth even if we don’t know their actual physical location.”
Indeed, the internet’s initial promise was one of connectedness, of shoring up and celebrating the ties that bind, no matter where or how far away. We would be able to be in touch with friends or loved ones without using the postal services, paying for expensive travel, or logging long-distance phone calls. We would have access to information without visiting the library and grappling with the dreaded Dewey decimal system. The “World Wide Web” would be a leveler – even the voiceless would have a voice. It would free us to speak our truths and to be our best selves.
But as Robert Burns memorably wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men, gang aft agley.”
In some respects, social media has become the hell-spawn of the internet, creating divisions where none existed, ending as many friendships as it helps nurture. The internet now appears a Faustian bargain made without foreshadow of what it might become – a vast e-scape of accessible worlds, run by mere mortals inebriate of the idea of controlling those worlds. And without any restrictions on their vaulting ambitions – a carve-out gifted them by Congress? Well, you know what they say about absolute power.
This week, the internet’s story took a dark turn with the news that two of the most prominent social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, decided to block their users’ access to the biggest bombshell story in America – the Hunter Biden email scandal. Within hours of the media debut of The New York Post’s report, the wagons were already circling.
Twitter and Facebook justified their unprecedented blackout as warranted because the story was unverified – a shapeshifting adjective depending on to whom or what it’s applied, and laughable when one considers how many thinly sourced or “unverified” stories about Trump and his administration were greenlit in the last four years.
But no one in the Biden campaign even attempted to assert that the computer wasn’t Hunter’s nor challenged the authenticity of his emails. They likely knew it was an indefensible position to take, and like a smoke signal that can only be seen by Democrats and their media enablers – the talking point messaging went out. Quick – pivot to the tried and true! “It’s a Russian disinformation campaign!”
The shell game hustler’s stock in trade is to distract: Don’t look there – look here! And that’s what the media tried to do. But a funny thing happened on the way to trying to firehose the flames of a highly incendiary story. The operatives in question may have succeeded in shifting attention away from the sad story of a man in the grip of drug addiction who may or may not have “influence peddled” by selling access to his famous father, the vice president of the United States. But Twitter and Facebook almost instantly made the story about them and their metastasizing power and control over free speech on social media – an unintended consequence of power madness.
Any Republicans in Congress biding their time with their heads in the sand until a potential changing of the guard make the concerns about Big Tech moot were finally galvanized. Threats were quickly made to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify in front of Congress about his decision to restrict the story from The New York Post and block accounts that promoted it, including that of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. This would be a somewhat different set of circumstances for Dorsey than the invitations to hold forth in Congress that he traditionally accepts.
Within a matter of days, the Department of Justice stated that it was suing Google for violations of the anti-trust laws for allegedly establishing a search monopoly. With a claim to more than 90% of all searches, Google is very nearly the only game in town, despite small percentages carved out by Bing and Duck Duck Go. Whether it was serendipity or by design, the timing of the DOJ announcement, coupled with the blowback from the blatant Hunter Biden censorship moment, bespoke a turn toward the grave and serious for the Lords of Silicon Valley. After accruing almost unimaginable power over the last decade or more, it appeared for one moment they might be held to account for their increasingly monopolistic practices and their alleged penchant for curating their platforms to suit their political agendas as opposed to their users’ needs.
So despite the left’s efforts at social media censorship, The New York Post’s Hunter Biden exposé went through the roof online, bringing discomfiting exposure to Jack and Mark. This was certifiable proof that, once freed, the Frankenstein monster that is social media is capable of attacking its creators just as readily as the villagers. The story exploded because it was censored – which made Twitter and Facebook the story that nearly eclipsed one of the year’s most significant revelations.
Now that further coy denials and hollow congressional assurances seem impossible from the captains of social media concerning Big Tech political bias, the next shoe will surely drop. Or will it? Even the scrutiny of two clearly biased decisions at Twitter and Facebook may do nothing to actually curb the raw exercise of power, but it will undoubtedly draw the battle lines. Conservatives now have clear proof the media deck is stacked against them – as if any were needed. Will they endeavor to limit or cancel the protections enjoyed by Silicon Valley? Will social media websites become publishers proper, responsible for the content their platforms host? What to do?
If necessity is the mother of invention, then social media alternatives like Rumble and Parler may have to be the platforms to which conservatives defect. That such a bifurcation should come to pass in social media defies the internet’s early promise and is a blunted tragedy reflecting the increasing intolerance of dissenting views and the new willingness to proscribe free speech – an essential American value.
Read more from Pennel Bird.