The Censorship Complex — whereby Big Tech censorship is induced by the government, media, and media-rating businesses — threatens the future of free speech in this country. To understand how and why, Americans need to talk about speech — and the government’s motive to deceive the public.
To frame this discussion, consider these hypotheticals:
- Two American soldiers training Ukraine soldiers in Poland cross into the war zone, ambushing and killing five Russian soldiers. Unbeknownst to the American soldiers, a Ukrainian soldier filmed the incident and provides the footage to an independent journalist who authors an article on Substack, providing a link to the video.
- Russia uses its intelligence service and “bots” to flood social media with claims that the Ukrainians are misusing 90 percent of American tax dollars. In truth, “only” 40 percent of American tax dollars are being wasted or corruptly usurped — a fact that an independent journalist learns when a government source leaks a Department of Defense report detailing the misappropriation of the funds sent to Ukraine.
- A third of Americans disagree with the continued funding of the war in Ukraine and organically prompt #NoMoreMoola to trend. After this organic hashtag trend begins, Russian operatives amplify the hashtag while the Russian-run state media outlet, Russia Today, reports on the hashtag trend.
- Following the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank, the communist Chinese government uses social media to create the false narrative that 10 specifically named financial institutions are bordering on collapsing. In reality, only Bank A1 is financially troubled, but a bank run on any of the 10 banks would cause those banks to collapse too.
In each of these scenarios — and countless others — the government has an incentive to deceive the country. Americans need to recognize this reality to understand the danger posed by the voluntary censorship of speech.
Our government will always seek to quash certain true stories and seed certain false stories: sometimes to protect human life, sometimes to protect our national defense or the economy or public health, sometimes to obtain the upper hand against a foreign adversary, and sometimes to protect the self-interests of its leaders, preferred policy perspectives, and political and personal friends.
Since the founding, America’s free press provided a check on a government seeking to bury the truth, peddle a lie, or promote its leaders’ self-interest. At times, the legacy press may have buried a story or delayed its reporting to protect national security interests, but historically those examples were few and far between.
Even after the left-leaning slant of legacy media outlets took hold and “journalists” became more open to burying (or spinning) stories to protect their favored politicians or policies, new media provided a stronger check and a way for Americans to learn the truth. The rise of social media, citizen journalists, Substack, and blogs added further roadblocks to both government abuse and biased and false reporting.
Donald Trump’s rise, his successful use of social media, and new media’s refusal to join the crusade against Trump caused a fatal case of Stockholm Syndrome, with Big Tech and legacy media outlets welcoming government requests for censorship. With support from both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and academic institutions, a Censorship Complex emerged, embracing the government’s definition of “truth” and seeking to silence any who challenged it, whether it be new media or individual Americans — even experts.
The search for truth suffered as a result, and Americans were deprived of valuable information necessary for self-governance.
We know this because notwithstanding the massive efforts to silence speech, a ragtag group of muckrakers persisted and exposed several official dictates as lies: The Hunter Biden laptop was not Russian disinformation, Covid very well may have escaped from a Wuhan lab, and Trump did not collude with Putin.
But if the Censorship Complex succeeds and silences the few journalists and outlets still willing to challenge the government, Americans will no longer have the means to learn the truth.
Consider again the above hypotheticals. In each of those scenarios, the government — or at least some in the government — has an incentive to bury the truth. In each, it could frame the truth as a foreign disinformation campaign and offer Americans a countervailing lie as the truth.
A populace voluntarily acquiescing in the censorship of speech because it is purportedly foreign misinformation or disinformation will soon face a government that lies, protected by complicit media outlets that repeat those lies as truth, social media websites that ban or censor reporting that challenges the official government narrative, hosting services that deplatform dissenting media outlets, advertisers that starve journalists of compensation, and search engines that hide the results of disfavored viewpoints.
The window is quickly closing on free speech in America, so before it is locked and the curtain thrown shut, we must talk about speech. We need to discuss the circumstances, if any, in which the government should alert reporters and media outlets to supposed foreign disinformation and how. We need to discuss the circumstances, if any, under which Big Tech should censor speech.
Americans need to have this discussion now — before the Censorship Complex makes it impossible to do so.