I have never had much of an interest in so-called “social” media. Sitting alone behind a screen wasting hours at a time browsing the selfies of people you barely know or reading all the wisdom and pithiness that can be crammed into 140 characters is hardly what I would call being social. Like so much else in the world today, this is an inversion of the truth: social media is actually quite anti-social. And it is about to become outright hostile.
Facebook, which currently boasts over 1.7 billion users, has announced it will work with governments in Germany and other European countries to clamp down on users who express anti-immigration sentiments. In February, a 40-year old man in Scotland was arrested for offensive posts about Syrian refugees on Facebook. In May, former Facebook employees admitted to censoring conservative news stories in the “trending news” section. That same month, a report published by The Pew Research Center revealed that 44% of American adults get their news from Facebook.
Not only does Facebook censor the free speech of its users, it locks users out of their accounts and even deletes the accounts of users who post content it deems inappropriate. More disturbingly, Facebook works with governments around the world to ensure those guilty of “offensive” or “hate” speech are arrested. Worst of all, Facebook decides which news stories you will see and which ones you won’t. Does that sound like the behavior of a social person? Or a sociopath?
Facebook has promoted the living of one’s life online so effectively it is now deemed unusual—even suspicious— when someone doesn’t have an account (what are they trying to hide?). It encourages people to share what up to now has been personal and private information, which it then makes available to total strangers and retains in perpetuity. This information is warehoused, data mined, shared and sold to every corporate entity and government agency who wants it. Facebook is one of the main drivers behind the alarming level of narcissism and vapidity plaguing modern society.
Twitter also regularly bans its users and has added a function enabling users to notify police about tweets they deem to be offensive or potentially dangerous. In February this year, Twitter announced the formation of a “Trust and Safety Council” tasked with censoring “harmful” speech. This council is staffed by liberal SJW types who want to create a virtual safe space where only people who think like them are allowed to express themselves. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey claims “Twitter stands for freedom of expression, speaking truth to power, and empowering dialogue,” but the actions of his company clearly demonstrate that he does not support First Amendment rights.
The Constitutional right to free speech is intended to protect unpopular speech. It grants citizens the right to speak their mind, even if what they have to say is offensive to someone else.
Twitter has recently taken to “shadowbanning” users, “a practice used by some online community managers to block content…making a user’s contributions invisible to all other users, but visible to the person who made the contribution…” Often, shadowbanning is a result of the political or cultural bias of the platform operators. If Twitter is engaging in this practice, then it most definitely does not support freedom of expression.
But really, how free are you to express yourself when limited to a mere 140 characters? Even if Twitter did not engage in censorship, it is still responsible for the further dumbing down of society, reducing serious discourse to snarky soundbites peppered with emoticons and trendy hashtags. Twitter reduces people’s ability to concentrate and contemplate for an extended period of time. It gives users the false impression that they are engaging in genuine human interactions, when in fact they are only engaging with their digital device. Who knows who or what is actually on the other end of the “conversation”? A troll? A paid PR representative? A disinformation agent? An artificial intelligence?
YouTube recently announced its Heroes program, which offers rewards and incentives to users who provide subtitles to videos—sounds great, right? Oh, it also allows users to moderate comments and report videos that violate YouTube’s Terms of Service. In other words, YouTube is recruiting users to join its Stasi-like censorship brigade with the intention of ridding the site of all non-politically correct content. YouTube is owned by Google, infamous for the way it manipulates search results to control user perceptions, drives traffic to the highest bidder and eliminates undesirable search results from its vaunted lists. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt (now Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc.) has openly admitted his support for Hillary Clinton, and Google search results are biased in her favor. No one could have predicted that.
Given these developments, can we trust Google? This is a company that has a profound influence over how we perceive, learn about and understand the world. If Google was a clandestine component of the US intelligence apparatus or otherwise had evil ulterior motives, how could we possibly go about our digital lives without constantly being under the thumb of this leviathan?
Today it was reported that Yahoo! has been secretly scanning user emails for US intelligence agencies. We already know that Microsoft Windows 10 is designed to spy on almost everything we do. Isn’t it safe to assume that Google is doing the same with Gmail, Chrome and its new Pixel phone? And what about Apple? Five years ago we learned that the iPhone is nothing more than a tracking device able to record video and sound even when you think the damn thing is turned off. Have any of these revelations changed our behavior? Judging by the crowds of people who line up to get their hands on the latest iPhone, I guess not.
The implementation of draconian policies in all major social media platforms indicate free speech online may soon be a thing of the past. Is it mere coincidence that the most significant change in the internet’s functioning for a generation occurred on September 30 with the handover of the IANA contract to ICANN? Or is it possible these developments are connected? Even those of us who choose to abstain from social media cannot avoid the reach of Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Google. This is why they call it the World Wide Web. We are all trapped.
Today we cannot imagine life without the internet, but when I look around at the hordes of zombies hypnotized by their tiny rectangles, I can’t help but think we’ve lost something. We’ve lost privacy and freedom. We’ve lost the notion of what being social truly is. Entire families sit in silence at restaurants and in other public places, too engrossed in social media to bother looking up. The digital web we are ensnared in is steadily destroying our intelligence, creativity, health and humanity. And now the only good thing that has resulted from the internet is about to be stamped out: the free exchange of ideas and information. Thought crime is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
Did you ever wonder why they gave us the internet? Who asked for it? What unmet need did it address? And who benefits from all our losses?