Why the Censors Fear Information Freedom

Why the Censors Fear Information Freedom
A stock photo of social media platform icons in a mobile device. (Pixabay/Pexels)
Jeffrey A. Tucker
10/18/2022
Updated:
10/23/2022
0:00
Commentary
This is the age of censorship, pushed by government and interests and enacted by wholly captured Big Tech firms. If you doubt it, look through the hundred or so pages of emails dug up in court discovery between government agencies and social media firms during the COVID crisis. The relationship is warm and wholly normalized.

If, for three years, you had a sense that you were being fed a canned line through all major media platforms, that the science was being filtered, that the talking heads were merely telling you what they were told to tell you, that dissent was being crushed, you aren’t wrong. This is exactly what was happening.

COVID was a major test case, but the model has been rolled out to cover a whole range of other topics, including election fraud, vaccine safety, and climate change. If an issue is important to a powerful interest and prevailing government priorities, the censors are tasked to get to work. The platform you have today could be gone tomorrow, no matter how much of a personal investment you have in it. In fact, large accounts seem more likely to be attacked than small ones.

We now know about a series of emails between former FDA Commissioner and Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb (now at the American Enterprise Institute) and tech firms concerning the writings of Alex Berenson. Berenson was an early critic of COVID policies and among the first to sound the alarm about vaccine efficacy and safety. Gottlieb targeted Berenson by name and told Twitter and others precisely what needed to happen as soon as possible. Berenson had to be silenced.

It’s true that Gottlieb wasn’t a government employee at the time, but these things can get murky. We know from many reports inside the White House that Jared Kushner consulted him directly in the days when they were twisting Donald Trump’s arm to approve a lockdown of society. Gottlieb’s connections in and out of government regulatory agencies are vast.

It’s one case of hundreds, thousands, and countless other cases. People write to me daily to report that LinkedIn has taken down a message without warning, that Facebook has slapped a warning on a post, that Twitter has taken down their account, or that Google’s YouTube has dinged or deleted their account.

More intense forms are happening in web hosting (Amazon can throw you off) and even finance. PayPal has cut many individuals and institutions from access and even dared floating a fee for “misinformation”—a word we now understand to mean opinions not approved by ruling class censors. If this practice is rolled out further—and there’s no question that many intend to do so—we could find ourselves surrounded by a Chinese-like social credit system.

This raises serious legal issues that are now being litigated across the country. Governments can’t simply privatize their censorious ambitions to the private sector and pretend that is entirely consistent with the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is a general principle that prohibits government from muscling speech platforms to comply with their edicts. And this is true even with private entities who sign up willingly for the job like earnest members of the Red Guard.

There’s another reason why censorship is more pervasive than at any time in our lifetime. It’s because we have never had such access to so many varied information portals. Imagine if the whole lockdown scenario had taken place in the early 1970s. There were three television networks. Each offered 30 minutes of news each day; 10 minutes or so were devoted to national and international affairs and the rest to sports and weather. The news anchors all said essentially the same thing, which led most people to believe that this was all they needed to know.

Why did we have a sense that there was no arbitrary censorship? Probably because there didn’t need to be. The information cartel was fully intact. The ruling class was perfectly positioned to script the prevailing narrative. Not even newspapers were distributed outside their region of influence. The New York Times was for New York, The Washington Post for Washington, and so on.

There were no websites, podcasts, Substacks, discussion forums, group messages, and not even emails. There was no way to send documents except by government mail because not even the fax machine had yet been invented.

Yes, there were alternative newsletters and things, but they were often expensive, and you had to know about them to get them. Other than that, the whole population was largely in the dark. Looking back, it’s amazing that there ever were protests for civil rights or against the Vietnam War at all. This is why arts and music were so hugely important to both movements: They were a way to get the message out that the news cartel couldn’t control.

Maybe many people like that world. It seemed orderly. There was a “national culture” mostly informed by prevailing news control. No one knew a better system. But then came technology. Even by the late 1980s, things were opening up. Ronald Reagan himself credited new information flows for provoking the unrest in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that led to so many revolutions.

By 1995, the end of the orderly and controlled information cartel had been shattered by the web browser and the explosive growth of the internet beyond a few to everyone. It seemed to many at the time to be the beginning of a great and new renaissance. Information is the light, and with the light comes emancipation from old forms and new opportunities for everyone. It seemed like “the end of history,” and those years spawned a kind of wild optimism that humanity would forever escape the despots.

At the same time, this created a major problem for ruling-class elites who once enjoyed complete hegemony over the public mind. Their control was collapsing before their eyes. We loved it.

The fix has been a quarter-century in the making, one step at a time, toward somehow rebuilding what they lost. This is precisely why this is all happening now. In other words, it’s the age of censorship precisely because it’s the age of information. One follows the other.

Why is information so dangerous to some people? Because information is about ideas, and history is shaped by the ideas we hold. They’re more powerful than armies because ideas are mentally and emotionally powerful, infinitely reproducible and malleable, and inspire action. Once an idea takes hold in a population, nothing can stop its forward advance and eventual victory.

In other words, there’s a strange way in which censorship itself should give us hope simply because elites find it’s so desperately needed right now. Censorship is the tribute that lies pay to truth. If truth weren’t so powerful, no censorship would be necessary. Also, if the system of information distribution were as highly controlled and narrow as it was in the 1970s and earlier, there would be no real need to silence anyone.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of “The Best of Ludwig von Mises.” He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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