NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Online censorship stifles discourse

Recent actions by major social media   platforms heralds the restriction of free    expression and the collapse of partisan discourse

Social Media, for all the regulations, terms of service, and monitoring has largely been a wild place for a long time. There has often been simply too many comments, and too much content created every second of every day to be entirely locked down. However, this may be changing as self-described dissidents with relatively large audiences face finding themselves shut down and locked out of many major Social Media networks. 

Difficult issues are often magnets for zealots of many a stripe, and such a platform should be the front line of difficult discussions and the epicenter of our wider free and open discourse. But the danger of  a new, policed social media is that, these well-trafficked sites are increasingly not a place of free or open discourse at all.

“A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What might be the first major blanket-ban from silicon valley is the infamous radio show “Infowars” hosted by heavily-memed host Alex Jones. The New York Times reported on the 5th of August 2018 that Infowars podcasts had been removed from Apple, at the same time as the channel was deleted from Youtube and Facebook. The latest blow of this barrage came only two days ago when CBS news reported that the Infowars application had been banned from the App Store permanently.

The problem of censorship need not, certainly should not, be a partisan one. To silence discourse and narrow the viewpoint of the public to only “safe” and “accepted” ideas is a dystopian principle no matter who is enforcing it.

Certainly, such a character as Alex Jones is a negligible cost to most. Social media platforms decided to kick off a network they find disagreeable, what of it? Regardless of how we feel about social media, it has become an integral part of wider Western culture and monopoly-wielding corporations have taken it upon themselves to decide what is right or wrong for the individual to be exposed to.

Ultimately, this boils down to a question of comfortable restriction or uncomfortable freedom. Some are content to surrender their agency and personal decision making to a for-profit corporate entity that appears bent on quite literally washing the brains of the populace to be free of dreaded “hate-speech,” which is itself as indefinite and orwellian a term as they come.

Then, there are those that hold their self-determination dear, as a central pillar of the society they inherited from their forefathers. I count myself firmly among these individuals. I will happily sit across the table from even the most heinous of ideologies, and question them. There can be no greater tool against backwards or hateful ideas than forcing them to be proved or demonstrated. Stereotypes, slander and lies are best rebuked by having them spoken loudly and often, only to be challenged with just as much fervor.

If Infowars is not enough an indication of the moral policing that these networks have undertaken, explore an Instagram page that publishes Second World War history. Many such accounts have abandoned displaying German military paraphernalia, or satirically altering the infamous Swastika with the Facebook logo to avoid being deplatformed. These are in no way political accounts, they deal in real history that is essential to learn, if it is to be prevented from repeating. This is not a direct attempt to censor history, but rather a ghastly side effect of programs and algorithms that target any post with the aforementioned party emblem and flag the page for deletion.

Who is better prepared to understand and navigate a political environment divided along increasingly fanatical left and right wing factions? One who has been exposed to such imagery and context at various points throughout their life, or one who has only ever heard of the NSDAP or similar ideologies through the woefully underperforming public education systems across the country.

But these self-proclaimed defenders of all that is good and decent are apparently not interested in such exchanges. The cry out like a toddler that doesn’t want to have to walk anymore, why should we have to hear what we don’t like? Why not ignore other viewpoints and let history be rewritten and forgotten? What harm has forgetting history done?  The last thing I want is for some faceless organization to hold my hand as though I were a curious child eager to go try and pet tigers.  Ideas are not defeated by being silenced. Now martyred, what Jones has to say is now more vindicated than anything. Yes, these companies are out to silence opposition, to what end, I leave to his infinitely more intricate imagination.