by R.U. Sirius
It mainly struck people as bizarre. The news item struck last week that Microsoft was banning “offensive language” from Skype, Xbox and even Office. Many of us wondered how the whole Office thing would work, like, for any living grown up writer of books or movie scripts or pretty much anything.
Meanwhile, Craigslist removed its personals in response to the passage of complicated legislation aimed against sex trafficking.
Twitter, of course, has been excising “bad actors” in a random way for several years and Facebook has always tossed anybody in Facebook Jail on the basis of a complaint or two.
The law that killed the Craigslist personals — related to legitimate concerns regarding sex trafficking — was the result of pressures from some-but-not-all feminist activists, along with law enforcement and religious conservatives (97 senators voted for it).
On the other hand, the pressure that is being placed on monster companies like Microsoft to tame the wilds of the internet comes pretty much entirely from the cultural left, liberals and mainstream media. (Who are the language police?)
An understandable panic over the increasingly open bigotry of most right wing extremists and misogynists, as well as the impact of “fake news,” the palpable consequences of bizarro conspiracy memes and destructive medicinal folklore (“Down with vaccinations!”) has created a backlash that has resulted in people holding the hosts of this digital cacophony responsible for the behaviors of their guests. For one example — almost daily, I see people outraged that someone else is still allowed to have a platform on Twitter.
These giant “siren servers” are now in a consistent state of panic over how to enact the demands that they be responsible. Did you think they were going to extract bad actors (or people some of us perceive as bad actors) carefully, with tweezers? Fuck no. They’re bringing the bulldozers! And, in fairness, given the numeric quantity of their guests, they have no choice but to approach it all that way.
What Is Being Enacted?
When the panic over ‘fake news” went quantum with the election of the Chaos President, companies like Google started ranking a number of legitimate sites — including many progressive and anti-war sites — as fake.
What is being enacted? The rise of white nationalism… the Russian program of making chaos in the west with subterranean support for all dissident factions and the mainstreams’ overreaction to it, the anger over the defeat of Hillary Clinton, has created an environment in which what is considered palatable or allowable is increasingly constrained to materials that don’t challenge the neoliberal narrative. And the questions regarding what is considered outside those boundaries are increasingly consequential — about active censorship by companies with power in the area of communication far greater than any government.
It doesn’t help that the identity left has adopted “you better watch what you say” as its raison d’etre, relentless minting new celebrity pariahs out of anyone who wanders even slightly off the reservation. (Burn The Jesters!) There’s no easy answer, but privileging free speech and not panicking is the thing least likely to bite us all in the ass.
afterthought: some will quibble that only government censorship is proper censorship. given the size of most of the entities we’re talking about (such as Microsoft’s various apps), and the expectation of an open internet, this is trite.