Banned from Facebook

Facebook, along with its subsidiary “platform” Instagram, has formally banned certain people with views they deem to be in violation of their terms of service, i.e., their political principles. Among these are Louis Farrakhan, a kook; Alex Jones, a kook; and Paul Joseph Watson, an Alex Jones ally and colleague, and therefore, it would be reasonable to surmise, something of a kook.

Those still claiming, rhetorically, to be “American conservatives,” are cheering about the banning of Farrakhan, since tribalism is nothing if not hypocritical, as I have recently argued; agnostic on the banning of whacked-out conspiracy-monger Jones, since no one who wishes to be thought rational wants to be associated with him; but all up in arms about Watson, whom I’ve even seen, on establishmentarian site Right Scoop no less, described as a “conservative commentator.” I suggest this is mainly because they are unfamiliar with his work. If they are deeply familiar with it, then I suggest they should give up all pretenses of being conservatives, since that is certainly not the perspective I have gleaned from my own past readings of Watson’s writing — as is further suggested by his use of the online moniker “prisonplanet,” which is part of Alex Jones’ Infowars nonsense.

My own instinctive take on this is that Facebook, insofar as it is a privately-owned company, ought to be free to exclude any potential users it sees fit, regardless of how silly their reasons might be. Stupidity is not against the law, nor should it be, lest we end up with politics redefined as the war for the right to determine which views are the stupid ones, and as such worthy of being outlawed by government edict (rather than private preference). In fact, that fight to define and outlaw “false beliefs” is precisely the principle at the heart of progressive social policy, from the push for compulsory school laws in the nineteenth century, straight through to the social justice warriors of today, with their attempts to reinterpret the normal use of standard English pronouns as a hate crime.

The businessmen who operate Facebook no more owe me space on their social media platform than the owners of a radio station owe me airtime and a microphone. If they don’t want me in their space — on their property — that is their right. So much the worse for them, I might say.

(Of course, if I have formed a contractual relationship with them, then, on these same property rights principles, they cannot simply breach the contract, without showing how I have violated the terms under which I signed. But remember, Facebook and Instagram are “free services,” which means the terms I agree to when signing up for an account will be much broader and more nebulous than would be the case in a formal financial transaction, since I am paying them nothing in exchange for access to their services. I can claim that I will lose money without my Facebook account, because I use it to advertise my products, for example; but this puts no legal onus on Facebook, because I cannot claim that Facebook itself has taken my money without fair recompense, since in fact they have taken nothing.)

When we property-rights types make our case for the freedom of leftist-owned private businesses to exclude any voices they wish, the answers we most frequently get in return, from those who claim to be defenders of free markets and individual liberty, are the following:

They usually censor conservative voices far more readily, and on far flimsier reasons, than they do progressive ones.

Yes, because they are progressives. That does not change the fact that they have the right to the use and disposal of their own software and services. If an enterprising conservative, or group thereof, ever decided to start an equivalent service, they would presumably be inclined to reduce the presence of radical social justice warriors and the like on their platform. At that point, the progressives would cry, “Censorship!”, and then we’d all reply, “Property rights!” And we’d be right.

Censorship kills open discussion of political issues, and therefore loads the public dice in favor of tyrannical, anti-liberty beliefs. 

The only censorship that matters from the point of view of liberty is government-enforced censorship. I censor the views to which I am exposed every day, as a matter of choice and practical necessity. You can’t listen to everything, nor would it be healthy for you if you did. As Aristotle says in discussing the essential goodness necessarily inherent in the divine intellect’s object of thought, there are some things that it is better not to think than to think. You may not like the fact that I consider your views unworthy of my attention, but you have no right to force me to listen to you. If, in my routine “censorship” of voices to which I allow myself to be exposed, I am missing out on something that could change my life for the better — and I have no doubt that is the case, in fact, since, as I said, one simply cannot listen to everything, practically — then I will have to live with the consequences of that.

Conservatives, unlike progressives, do not have the impulse to ban views with which they disagree, being inherently sympathetic to free and open debate.

Baloney. Try telling that to any of the untold thousands of conservative, libertarian, or classical liberal commenters who have had their commenting privileges revoked, not to mention the presumably much greater number of commenters who have had particular comments deleted, by the moderators of mainstream “conservative” websites. I myself, hardly an internet troll type, have been banned from Right Scoop, which is (or at least was) one of the more open-minded sites when it comes to encouraging honest debate.

People running a website featuring political discussion will inevitably restrict that discussion to views that the proprietors of the site find palatable, for whatever reasons. That’s fine. Obviously, I think the moderator who banned me from Right Scoop was an idiot, a Trump cultist, who made a bad decision. But I have no grounds for claiming any violation of my right to free speech, because no one denied my right to hold and express my preferred opinions; they merely denied me the opportunity to post them within their discussion forum. 

But the issue with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the other social media giants, is that they claim non-publisher status in order to protect themselves from liability should anyone post legally unacceptable ideas on one of these sites. In other words, a publisher has the right to “censor,” because their own name is on the hook for whatever they publish, whereas Facebook is protected from that liability on the grounds that they are not a publisher, but an “open platform.” 

I don’t pretend to know the precise legal implications of their protected status as a non-publisher, but I think I can state with a fairly high degree of assurance that this “open platform” status does not require them to leave up absolutely everything that gets posted.

Are they obliged to keep a hands-off policy regarding beheading videos posted by Islamists?

Recently, a shooter in New Zealand posted his mass killing on Facebook, and Facebook quickly took it down. Was this removal a violation of Facebook’s protected status?

Oh, you say, but those are criminal acts. The acts are criminal, but is posting a video of a crime on Facebook a criminal act? It seems more like a confession, and useful evidence in capturing the criminals. And yet I cannot imagine any conservatives arguing that Facebook ought to leave such videos posted. Why not? After all, they are not criminally liable for the content. 

On the other hand, the content is offensive to societal norms and potentially damaging to the “social fabric.” And that is the basic argument Facebook et al are using when they ban certain posts or users whom they believe to be promoting views that are outside their accepted parameters of discussion. 

Do I agree with their accepted parameters or their conception of what is beneficial or harmful to the social fabric? In many cases, probably not. But again, it is not my platform.

Furthermore, to cite their government-protected non-publisher status as a means of forcing them to allow “all” views to be posted freely — not really all, as I have just shown, but specifically the non-progressive views we happen to like — strikes me as an all too common example of conservatives ignoring their own principles in order to absolve themselves of the responsibility for finding alternative ways of promoting their ideas, rather than depending on leftists to help them. If the only way you can get your message heard is by begging a socialist to observe the internet version of a “Fairness Doctrine” on your behalf, then it’s time to give up the fight. You have already lost.

As for the protected status itself, why should these social media giants have it in the first place? To the extent that this status complicates the situation, it is only because all government insinuations into the free market, whereby certain favored entities are granted special status by regulatory fiat, effectively create an artificial simulacrum of a free market, in which property rights, freedom of speech, and all other relevant liberties, are by definition muddied in the mire of progressive social manipulation. 

If you want to solve the problem of Facebook acting like a private business (i.e., asserting their property rights) when they are supposed to be a quasi-extension of the U.S. Federal Government qua social engineering monster, then rather than trying to force social media to be the very thing they should not be, set about trying to undo these sorts of federal protections.

Would removing these protections make it a lot harder for Facebook et al to become the global behemoths they have become? Yes, of course — and that’s the number one reason to fight to repeal such protections, from them as from all business entities. 

The reason no one dares try to compete against Facebook with a conservative agenda to match Facebook’s progressive one is that Zuckerberg owns this market. The U.S. Government has made that possible and inevitable, supposedly as a means of “promoting global dialogue and free speech.” It does no such thing. It merely promotes U.S. Government arms-length totalitarianism — the soft-despotism variety — by means of fostering the growth of a ubiquitous, global, “social mind.” Exactly the thing early progressives hoped to achieve, and that the internet has made possible: the reduction of all thought and discussion, including of the most important matters, to a cacophonous, never-ending chatter of egalitarian noise, in which the crowd’s voice drowns out all others, the majority vote rules, and no superior, sober, or serious mind can ever be heard through the parallel dins of mindless “consensus” and indignant shouting. 

This is how you subdue a people without letting them realize they have lost their freedom, but rather encouraging them to identify their very slavishness as freedom.

In case you are wondering, I don’t have a Facebook account. The reasons are manifold. Participating in the slave trade, from the product’s perspective, is near the top of the list.

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