Friday, December 16, 2022

I Too Have Questions..., Can You Name The CEO Of Tik Tok?

piratewires  |   Dangerous alliance. In 1787, Edmund Burke said there were “Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there [sits] a Fourth Estate more important than they all." The notion of some vital power beyond our government was imported to the New World, and today constitutes a core belief of the American liberal: there is no free people, we’re often told, without a free press independent of congress, the courts, and our president. But throughout the 20th Century thousands of media outlets gradually consolidated, and by the dawn of our internet era only a few giants remained. These giants largely shared a single perspective, and in rough agreement with the ruling class the Fourth Estate naturally came to serve, rather than critique, power. This relationship metastasized into something very close to authoritarianism during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a single state narrative was written by the press, and ruthlessly enforced by a fifth and final fount of power in the newly-dominant technology industry.

It was a dark alliance of estates, accurate descriptions of which were for years derided as delusional, paranoid, even dangerous. But today, on account of a single shitposting billionaire, the existence of the One Party’s decentralized censorship apparatus is now beyond doubt.

Altogether, the Twitter Files — an ongoing story — paint a portrait of clear and inevitable partisan bias at one of the most dominant speech platforms in history. A small handful of very left-wing executives, who naturally perceived most opinion right of center as dangerous, worked tirelessly to limit those opinions from view. Empowered to censor “unsafe” content, and protected by a team of people who shared their political orientation, the executives produced, in a legal and decentralized manner, a key component of our defacto state censorship apparatus. While we don’t know for sure this is also happening at Google, Meta, or TikTok (which is for some reason still allowed to operate in this country), I think it’s a safe bet we’re looking at an industry-wide affliction.  

But I do have questions.

Where is the full list of shadow-banned accounts? Which political campaigns, specifically, communicated with Twitter, and what specifically was taken down? What about requests from foreign governments? What about requests from our own government? We need to know which of our government agencies, if any, had content removed from the platform, and we need to know the nature of this content. Taibbi alluded to Trump’s White House — did someone from the Trump administration request a takedown? Who made the request? Who received the request? Was it answered? What, if anything, was removed?

The Trump line of questioning is, in particular, something you might assume attractive to the media, which has waged all-out war on the populist clown king for the last seven years. Alas, the press seems broadly disinterested. Is this because they don’t believe the former president ever made such requests, or is their lack of interest rather stemming from a fear of validating a major story most of them are currently trying to frame — for their own obvious political reasons — as not worth reading?

A brief selection of positions from our cherished Fourth Estate: This entire story is a “dud” (The Washington Post) — no bombshells here! (Forbes). The Twitter Files, in which a handful of committed partisans enthusiastically censor large swaths of the conservative base, including a former president, actually prove the company was not politically biased. It is, however, now biased against Democrats (New York Magazine). Elon’s exposé is a flop that doesn’t matter. It has also placed multiple “trust and safety experts” in mortal danger (The Verge, predictably). Then, my favorite: it is good to finally see the blacklist tools I have been curious about for many years, which we have by the way always known existed, and therefore don’t matter (The Atlantic).

The charge of shadow banning evoked uniquely loud jeering from the press, including Charlie Warzel in particular, a man formerly of the position “Twitter isn’t shadow banning Republicans.” Now, in the face of evidence the company absolutely shadow banned Republicans, the official position is we are using the term “shadow ban” incorrectly.

It’s a game of semantics, in which the public is dragged through the exhausting, useless question of how much invisible speech suppression, precisely, constitutes a “real” shadow ban, rather than the glaringly important questions of both ethics and, frankly, safety. In the first place, is it right to run a decentralized censorship apparatus, and to make your rules invisible? In the second, what happens to a free country when the bounds of acceptable speech are set by a small cabal of unelected partisan cops? Because my sense is the answer isn’t “freedom.”


Elite Donor Level Conflicts Openly Waged On The National Political Stage

thehill  |   House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) has demanded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce answer questions about th...