Monday, January 11, 2021

Some Thoughts On the First Amendment

 The First Amendment only prevents the government from censoring speech. It does not require private companies to provide a platform for all comers to exercise their rights to free speech. Twitter, Facebook and other media firms and publishing outlets are well within their legal rights to kick Donald Trump and other bad actors off their platforms.

The danger occurs when these giant media monoliths partner with the government in order to impose this censorship. A case can, in fact, be made that our corporate ultra-consolidated media and and our corporate-captured and owned government are one and the same entity. At the very least, they are partners in the exact same oligarchic enterprise. Ironically, for all the talk of Trump being a fascist, one of the key elements of fascism is the melding of government and corporations. This true coup against democracy long preceded his election to the highest office in the land. In fact, this coup is what enabled his rise to political power in the first place.

Therefore, the expulsion of Donald Trump and his followers from these private platforms, these unaccountable platforms which have forged unhealthily close ties to the CIA and the Democratic Party, might feasibly lead to the silencing of any voice that the "establishment" or the "ruling class" or the "deep state" or whatever you want to call the permanent structure of money and power, decides that it doesn't like.

Never mind the spectre of "trickle-down" censorship. This censorship is already occurring. Google, for one, has been exposed as using its secret algorithm to suppress search results on the Internet. A secretive group calling itself "Prop Or Not" arose in 2016, publishing a list of some hundred blogs and media outlets purported to be under the control of the Kremlin. There's more than one way to suppress content other than imposing outright censorship. There are smear campaigns and intimidation tactics galore to get undesirable voices to shut up, be cancelled or just ignored.

The failed Trump-enabled putsch at the Capitol last week could be just the newest, niftiest incentive that these powerful people need to clamp down on unpopular or "divisive" rhetoric and protest movements in the name of "national security." They clamped down with a vengeance after 9/11, with the Patriot Act. How ironic that Trump cultists' favorite name for themselves is "patriots" who are trying to "take our freedoms back" from the very architects of the Patriot Act.

We have to stay vigilant, especially as it now appears that there are plenty more dirty hands than Donald Trump's involved in last week's massive breach. Latest reports indicate that forces within the Pentagon itself may have been involved, and that it was Congressional leaders who balked at National Guard troops guarding the capital as a preventive measure because of the "bad optics" such militarization of the halls of "democracy" would broadcast.

Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moves in a high state of emergency to impeach Trump for a second time for inciting a riot, her lieutenant James Clyburn tamps down expectations for swift justice by calling for a hundred-day delay in sending the lone impeachment article to the Senate for trial. This delay would ostensibly allow President Biden to put the Senate to better use enacting his economic agenda.

We'll soon find out what that agenda will be. Early indications are that conservative Democratic senator Joe Manchin will be the party's designated fall guy, or bad cop, for continuing Democratic inaction on a sweeping pandemic relief package. The bright spot is that more and more of us can detect ass-covering whenever we see it.

The key word is vigilance (as opposed to the top-down orchestrated vigilantism in service to a billionaire we saw last week.) We have to keep covering the ass-covering and speaking out like there is no tomorrow. 

If our elected leaders really do care about the rise of right-wing extremism in the United States, they'll emulate FDR, who stopped American fascism right in its tracks in the 1930s with the New Deal legislation.

Give people money. Give people health care. Give people jobs. With their dignity restored, maybe they won't feel so aggrieved and so prone to fall under the spell of another cult leader charlatan like Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the private media companies arrogating to themselves the power to squelch speech should be broken up and the entire Internet should be made a public utility. That way, the entire public and its court system - not the billionaire tech CEOs - would be the final arbiters of the First Amendment.

Oh, and let's also consider restoring the Fairness Doctrine and legislate broadcasting in the public interest.

Tall orders for sure, but why stop at just one solution to the "friendly fascism" that's been operating in this country for most of our lifetimes?


Mark Thomason said...

Monopoly power is not true private power. Every monopoly will have its own story, but underlying it will always be some law, some government accommodation, regulation, tax break.

Then when politicians and press lean on the monopoly power to do something with a government-like sweep, such as banning all social media participation of an individual or group, that is not really private power either.

This is a problem because we have allowed consolidation, giving constant excuses, until there is just one Facebook and one Twitter. Then we lean on them to govern the use of all social media in favor of one view and against another. That is a problem EVEN WHEN it is correct in one case. "Hard cases make bad law."

The very same people would be outraged to see bans of BLM during urban violence exactly as it behaved during last summer's violence.

What will happen next time Republicans are "in" and Democrats are "out?"

Joseph Crocona said...

Aloha Nancy, we you and I agree on most issues. In fact it’s a bit frightening since these days I rarely see eye to eye with most folks. Anyway I’m an old blue collar union guy and it was tough getting people to understand about push down from the top. The top guys always knew how to orchestrate the masses using their own built in bioses against them. Corporate puppets alway had the union guys looking down and back blaming folks of different color, religion, ethnicity, for the inequality problems.However, then came the darkest days for unionism in the history of man, Ronald Reagan. I always told my brothers, if a man is paid an honest wage, that will support his family and works in a safe work environment the world would be a safer and better place. A hui hou.

Kat said...

Remember when the free speech warriors of the right spoke out against this?:

Anonymous said...

An old adage:
Freedom of the Press Is Guaranteed Only to Those Who Own One

paintedjaguar said...

Here are a couple of tech guy thoughts about censorship as it relates to platforms rather than to politics. Worth a look.

Jay–Ottawa said...

To censor or not to censor, that is the question. None of the choices, be it ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or something in between, will ever turn out to be satisfactory for majorities, minorities or the abstract principles of fairness and freedom. Because every response––'no,' but especially 'yes' or nuance––inevitably drags in a host of new, and often more troubling problems.

What some of us here (and in the previous post’s commentary) have been arguing is that a ‘yes’ to censorship introduces more and graver problems than a flat ‘no’ to censorship. Historically, the ‘yes’ and nuanced OK to censorship has resulted in cures worse than the “disease” of letting all sides have their say.

A second major problem with censorship is the question of who is qualified to act as censor for all. No one qualifies for that job. The question really boils down either letting all humans act as humans with the right to judge for themselves or the lazy alternative of relinquishing our human capacity to think and act in order to turn that responsibility over to the authorities.

As one preacher unexpectedly put it: “Do you believe in man [the inherent gifts of humanity]?” One thing for sure, I don’t trust any government official, elitist, billionaire or religionist to stop me from speaking my mind or hearing what someone else has to say.

Finally, as Ben Franklin said, “It’s a republic if you can keep it.” Countering secrecy and lies in the press and on the web is a full-time job. However, whistleblowers and honest journalists who have the capacity to inform, to correct, to reveal state crimes have been censored for decades, some put completely out of business, like Assange, Snowden and Manning. Democracy and our republic can only endure if citizens are well informed.

The reason our republic has been slipping away is mainly due to slowly suffocating censorship. There is no level playing field when it comes to journalism. When the NYT fired Chris Hedges, he lost his power to correct the distortions found elsewhere in that publication. When the PBS NewsHour disinvites I.F.Stone (RIP), Ralph Nader or Glenn Greenwald, that too is censorship. When Google writes a “filter” to hide a websites like Sardonicky, that’s censorship.

No wonder so many Americans are ill-informed and therefore ill-prepared to exercise their humanity fully and to fulfill their obligations as citizens. And some us who should know better are supporting and proposing more censorship?

Erik Roth said...

“Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”
~ Allen Ginsberg

"The first thing for any revolutionary party to do would be to seize communications.
Who owns communications now controls the country.
Much more than it's ever been true in history.”
~ William Burroughs

"The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen.
What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed."
~ Hannah Arendt

How Silicon Valley, in a Show of Monopolistic Force, Destroyed Parler —
In the last three months, tech giants have censored political speech and journalism to manipulate U.S. politics, while liberals, with virtual unanimity, have cheered.
Jan. 12, 2021 ~ by Glenn Greenwald

Anonymous said...

Censorship is like war. There are necessary wars of liberation, national independence and then there are wars of imperialist conquest.

Censorship comes in many forms and for many reasons. Free speech is not a universal and sacred right. Both censorship and free speech serve a particular purpose at a particular time and each is justified to achieve a particular goal.

The ruling class of any society wants to control the narrative to stay in power and avoid rebellion. Sometimes it serves their interests to create an impression of "freedom" by allowing open exchange and promotion of ideas that oppose their interests, but only to the degree that it does not coalesce into a genuine threat. The oligarchs that control the current discussion on the internet perceived that the rightists had reached that point. This was a dramatic move that has exposed their power over the discussion. It has also demonstrated that the discussion had gone so far beyond the norms and realities that sustain their hold on power that it could not be controlled through the usual suppression techniques that have been applied so routinely and surreptitiously (primarily to the left) with algorithms, warnings, etc.

If the left poses a serious threat to the hegemony of the ruling class or their interests, the oligarchs will take the same dramatic action. In the current situation, the rightists also posed a continuing threat to the left, people of color, women and other people who are marginalized and oppressed by capitalism and as such it has a short term benefit. The rightists will, of course, find a way to do a work around to continue to promote their message a hatred, lunacy and to organize.

The left needs to do the same. We need to set up our own means of communication and organization with the new technologies as well as the old tried and true methods. Remember the leaflet? The underground press? Technology has opened up new and exciting forms of communication but our capitalist system has given dominion over this network to a small group of self-interested oligarchs. They are exercising their power for the good of their class but it also allows some breathing space to prepare for a sustained struggle for a better world and that means changing this system. We need to focus on that and not be so concerned for the rights of the rightists.

Kat said...

Against my better judgement I looked at the Greenwald article. He uncritically reported what the CEO said. That is some quality access journalism. The ensuing discussion was enlightening. There was much discussion of who are real leftists, AOC's immaturity and worse, the ever popular "corporatewhoreneoliberalwarmongers", a digression on the eating habits of housing project dwellers who receive food stamps ("It's true my ER doc friend says all the kids have GI troubles. Too many flaming hot cheetohs), a long winded post mentioning "the throes of dying empire" (a staple of such discussions). That was enough for me. I decided not to stick around for the bread and circuses mention.
the inflammatory content on Parler went beyond "nobody cares about this stuff". There was actually a lot of violence advocating. I read about it months before the insurrection. They violated their terms of agreement.