In 1964, Stanley Kubrick released a dark comedy classic called “Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. “The title captured the absurdity of getting people to embrace the concept of weapons of mass destruction. The film recently came to mind with Facebook’s public campaign asking people to change their attitudes towards the Internet and reconsider topics like “content change” – the new Orwellian term for censorship.
The commercials feature people like “Joshan” who says he was born in 1996 and grew up with the internet. “Joshan mocks how much computers have changed and then asks why our privacy and censorship regulations can’t evolve as much as our technology. The ads are clearly aimed at younger users who may be more willing to accept censorship , as their parents, hopelessly clinging to old-fashioned notions of free speech. Facebook knows that if it doesn’t make people stop worrying and love the censor, it can no longer exercise control over content.
There was a time when this would have been seen as daunting: a corporate giant running commercials to get people to support new regulations that affect core values like free speech and privacy. After all, Joshan was showing that his first computer was a “giant giant of a machine”, but that was before he understood “the merging of the real world and the internet world”.
The Facebook campaign is terrifying given the current “privacy” and “content change” controversy surrounding big tech. At one level, the commercial only calls for regulatory controls to be reconsidered after 25 years. However, the source of the campaign is a company that has been widely accused of resorting to core values such as free speech. Big tech companies are increasingly in control of what people write or read on the Internet. While these companies enjoy immunity from many lawsuits based on the idea of being neutral platforms for communication (similar to telephone companies), they are now censoring ideas that are viewed as misleading or dangerous on issues such as climate denial to transgender criticism and election fraud become.
Additionally, Facebook knows there is ample support in Congress and around the world for increased censorship and language regulation. Freedom of speech is under attack and losing ground – and Facebook knows it.
The rise of corporate censorship has challenged long-standing free speech assumptions. Our constitution and many writings on free speech focus on the classic model of government censorship and state media. What we’ve seen in the past few years is that corporations have a far greater ability to restrict language and that you can have some sort of state media without the state.
Free speech advocates aren’t the only ones to notice this. Authoritarian personalities have recognized these companies as competitors. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced Big Tech as a threat to “democratic institutions” – a farce objection by one of the world’s most blood-soaked anti-democratic figures.
Other leaders have simply sought an alliance with the corporations for mutually beneficial censorship. Countries like India seem to have outsourced censorship obligations towards big tech. Twitter recently admitted that it is actively working with the Indian government to censor criticism of its treatment of the pandemic. There are widespread reports that the Indian government has misrepresented the number of deaths and the actual case rate could be up to 30 times higher than reported. Thousands die every day from a lack of beds, oxygen, and other essentials. Twitter says it had authority to “deny access to the content only in India” if the company found the content to be “illegal” in a particular jurisdiction. So criticizing the government in this regard is illegal, so Twitter has agreed to become the government’s arm in censoring information.
Sikh groups last year complained that Facebook censored Sikh posts during the #SikhGenocide remembrance movements. They also opposed such censorship through Instagram and Twitter, focused on suppressing anything related to the Khalistan, and were likely done at the behest of the Indian state.
These companies are now offering politicians what they have long wanted to control language and contain criticism. Leaders in this country have promoted the same mutually beneficial alliance. Politicians know that the first amendment only concerns government censorship, but who needs “Big Brother” when a lot of “Little Brothers” can do the job more efficiently and comprehensively.
When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared before the Senate to apologize for blocking Hunter Biden’s story before the elections, he was met by calls from Democratic leaders for more censorship. Senator Chris Coons (D., Md.) Urged Dorsey to expand the categories of censored material to prevent people from sharing what he sees as “climate denial.” Similarly, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) Has punished companies for shunning censorship, telling them he was “concerned that your two companies are actually falling behind or pulling out that you are not taking action seize dangerous disinformation. “Accordingly, he called for them to” commit to the same kind of solid game books for changing content in the upcoming elections. “
That brings us back to Facebook’s dazzling media campaign. Surveys show that after years of language regulation in their high schools and colleges, younger Americans are more open to censorship. You grew up with media outlets like Brian Stelter, the host of CNN, who calls censorship simply a “harm reduction model.” You have read writers and editors dealing with the prohibition and blacklisting of books. They have been conditioned to fear absolute freedom of speech. They are natural allies in “advancing” with big tech companies.
The fascinating thing about Joshan and his equally eager colleagues Chava and Adam is that they tie changes in technology to possible changes in core principles such as “content change” verification. They were all born in 1996 – the sweet spot for censors between Millennials and Gen Z members. Those generations, Gen Z in particular, are the most likely to stop fearing censorship and love “content changes”. Joshan and his tech-savvy friends simply want us (and the regulations) to “change” with our computers. After all, it may not be our content that needs to be “modified”, but our own attitudes and assumptions. Just don’t be surprised if, in order to upgrade to You 2.0, you have to fix the free speech bug that prevents you from “mixing up the real world and the internet”.