Prepare to be cancelled
By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 24, 2021
The ominous trend toward censorship, in the news and especially in the social media, is now unmistakably clear. At this point the question is when—not whether—Christian voices will be silenced.
Unless, of course, we can do something to reverse the trend.
In the digital era, information is king. If you control access to information—and can choke off access to information that you dislike—you can consolidate rule of the world. How can skeptics challenge you, if they never receive accurate information about what you are doing? How can your opponents organize, if they lack any way to contact like-minded people?
By now you have heard the ominous stories. To cite just a couple of egregious cases:
- A respected social scientist, the president of a Washington think-tank, learns that his book on the “transgender” movement has been banned by Amazon. The author, Ryan Anderson, has received no explanation for the move; presumably some Amazon employee, acting behind a veil of anonymity, was offended by his views. (BTW Amazon continues to sell Mein Kampf.) Anderson remarks:
If you fear what Big Tech can do if you dissent from gender ideology, just wait to see what Big Government will do if the so-called Equality Act becomes law. Second, a lesson: If you fear Big Government, don’t turn a blind eye to Big Tech.
- An An Irish Catholic bishop is blocked by Twitter because of a comment opposing assisted suicide. Twitter offered the ridiculous explanation that Bishop Kevin Doran had violated its policy against promoting suicide. Eventually Twitter recognized the blunder and restored the bishop’s account. But again a faceless employee had censored an important voice.
Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and Google form the unassailable elite of the internet, and all four of those powerful corporations are increasingly prone to censorship of opinions their leaders consider misguided. But who guides the censors?
The Italian sociologist Gaetano Mosca, writing early in the 20th century, argued that all societies are dominated by elites, in one way or another. The test of a society’s justice, Mosca said, is what he called “juridical defense”—does the system provide a way for ordinary people to defend themselves against damaging decisions by the elites that rule them? In the cases mentioned above—and the reader could probably mention many other cases—the answer is a resounding No.
So by Mosca’s standards our system is unjust. Perhaps even worse than that, because in addition to stifling dissent, the internet giants are feeding a sort of addiction that saps the strength of the public. The mighty algorithms learn your habits, your likes and dislikes, the things that will grab your attention; then they put more and more of those things in front or your captive eyes, soaking up your time.
How do Facebook and Twitter and Google thrive? How do they generate revenues? The superficial answer is that they sell advertising space. The more accurate answer is that they are selling you, the user—selling you to those advertisers.
So if you object to the policies of the internet giants, but continue to use their services, you are working for your enemies. We are acting out a curious variation on Lenin’s prediction: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”
All of us, insofar as we spend time online, are working for the internet giants, and being paid nothing for our time. What is it called when someone works without pay? It is not slavery, because it is voluntary. Yet it is not volunteer work, if you do not support the cause. Is it not, simply, stupidity?
Or is it, rather, a lack of alternatives. We need information; we need to discuss ideas; we need an open exchange. If we withdraw from the internet forum, we lose any realistic opportunity to challenge a dominant ideology that has grown steadily more hostile to us—and will become even more hostile if we are seen as the “outsiders,” the “deplorables.”
What are our alternatives, then? Let me suggest a few—and ask readers to make their own suggestions.
- Protest the “cancel culture.” Make it difficult for would-be censors to shut down respectable voices. Expose them. Ridicule them.
- Press for government action to protect free speech on the internet. Since liberal politicians have generally made common cause with the tech giants, their opponents should make censorship a prominent campaign issue.
- Create alternative services. I know that there are already several alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, and I wish them well. But realistically, they are not likely to rival the power of the giants in the near future. And do we have any guarantee that the upstart services, if they attained a large following, would not be tempted by the same arrogance of power?
- Control our own sites. Facebook censors can block posts on Facebook, but they cannot edit posts on independent sites (such as CatholicCulture.org). Individual blogs are beyond their immediate control; they cannot censor what they cannot see. Even if censorship advances across the web, old email-distribution lists can keep discussions going. Think of that possibility as high-tech samizdat. And don’t dismiss it! Build your own email lists now.
- Above all, however, we need technical experts with the genius and the inclination necessary to design new ways for us to interact, free of meddlesome third parties. The internet was designed to make secure communication possible. Shouldn’t it be possible for us to control which sites we see, which opinions we encounter, which information we access?
Meanwhile, as we wait and hope for a technical solution, I suggest that we should not willingly withdraw from the battle over public opinion. Let’s not make the mistake of censoring ourselves, just to avoid being censored by others. If we are going to be silenced—and that issue is not yet settled—let’s go down fighting.
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Posted by: I am Canadian! -
Feb. 28, 2021 12:26 PM ET USA
On the flip side, we need to engage Amazon, Facebook, Twitters, et al in order to engage people where they are. If we build insular models in order to protect ourselves we will never reach the people who need to hear the Good News for the first, second or third time. Plus, society tried the ultimate cancelation with Jesus Christ and look how that turned out for us. We should be honored to risk the same for Him on such a much smaller scale. If we are cancelled that is on them, not us!
Posted by: islandpastries1867 -
Feb. 27, 2021 12:16 PM ET USA
Beware Parler and MeWe. Both have promised to censor - check the terms of service. Gab is completely independent - so much so, that banks are trying to starve them out. They own and run their own servers. Parler and MeWe are NOT independent of Big Tech influence. Gab is. Don't allow the scare tactics to keep you away. It's easy to block offensive content on Gab. Gab treats you like the free human being you are.
Posted by: grateful1 -
Feb. 26, 2021 6:13 PM ET USA
I heartily endorse the post by fwhermann encouraging CC to cease its dependence on Amazon Smile. I understand the need to stay on Facebook and Twitter for now, but at the very least, please join Parler (even if doing so gets you cut off from Facebook and Twitter).
Posted by: DrJazz -
Feb. 26, 2021 8:45 AM ET USA
(Part 3 of 3) Catholics are going to have to learn to "think like their enemy" and, as St. John Paul II said, "know yourself." We are going to have to examine ourselves closely, strengthen our weaknesses, deny ourselves trendy and useless pleasures, and eliminate as much as possible our reliance on government and big tech. Even with all of this, I'm still not sure whether we will win many battles. The enemy (in this world anyway) is well armed, and many of us have grown weak.
Posted by: DrJazz -
Feb. 26, 2021 8:38 AM ET USA
(Part 2) You mention the algorithms that learn our habits. Those are created in part from the knowledge of teams of psychologists. They have figured out, to make up a silly example, that people who like purple shirts, pepperoni pizza, and softball, are also likely to buy some item or another. I think serious Catholics are going to have to examine their personal habits in the same way and "beat" those algorithms by not mindlessly falling for that type of marketing and buying unneeded "stuff." ...
Posted by: DrJazz -
Feb. 26, 2021 8:35 AM ET USA
I see you're not exactly flooded with reader suggestions on this topic. I think many people feel overwhelmed by the power of government and big tech, as currently exercised, and especially given that we have been spoiled by a fairly unbridled freedom until now. (To be continued...)
Posted by: fwhermann3492 -
Feb. 25, 2021 12:49 PM ET USA
"But realistically, they are not likely to rival the power of the giants in the near future." Remember, WE determine what becomes reality. If people blow off the alternatives, then, no, they will never succeed. If we support them, they will. Catholic Culture can start by withdrawing from the Amazon Smile program and encouraging its readers not to shop at Amazon at all. Another step is to remove the links to Fakebook and Twitter and replace them with links to Parler, Gab, and MeWe.