In China, authoritarians flood Twitter with ads for prostitutes and pornography in an effort to prevent users from obtaining information about protests. Authoritarians in the United States threaten to remove Twitter from more than 1.5 billion devices worldwide.
“Apple has also threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store,” Elon Musk tweeted, “but won’t tell us why.”
The powerful few want to impede the free flow of information to the vulnerable many. Suppression strikes intelligent observers as not a Chinese thing but a fetish of the powerful in whatever nation they reside. It appears cruder and more thuggish in China, and more passive-aggressive and sophisticated in the United States. But whether the state or a monopoly suppresses expression, does the crushing effect of it on a free society really differ?
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke of “monitoring” and “keeping a close eye” on Twitter (big sister is watching!), which, she claims, bears a responsibility to “take action” against “misinformation” and “hate.”
Does not the federal government bear a responsibility to ensure that the United States remains a free society?
Instead of breaking out of the stranglehold Apple and Google have placed upon the information that we consume, the White House publicly nudges tech companies to censor.
Traditionally, the federal government assumed a massive role in ensuring, particularly when it came to communications, that no company controlled too much of the market share. During the 1940s, the feds forced NBC’s Blue Network to separate from the parent company. It eventually became NBC’s competitor ABC. Later, after decades of litigation, the government broke up the Bell System into the seven “Baby Bells” (four of which once again folded into “Ma Bell,” otherwise known as AT&T). This similarly resulted in a competitor to the monopoly in Verizon.
Now people in positions of power cheer on the consolidation of information. Instead of breaking out of the stranglehold Apple and Google have placed upon the information that we consume, the White House publicly nudges tech companies to censor. Privately, we may learn that political actors do much more than nudge.
“The Twitter Files on free speech suppression soon to be published on Twitter itself,” Musk tweeted Monday. “The public deserves to know what really happened.” And, of course, Mark Zuckerberg noted that Facebook’s decision to suppress the true Hunter Biden laptop story came about after the FBI issued a stern warning to them about disseminating “disinformation,” a euphemism that now means information that disturbs progressives.
Americans allow infringements on their freedom of speech because we imagine intolerance to that degree as remaining the domain of people who neither look like us nor sound like us. This speaks further to our small-mindedness.
This can happen here because it does happen here.
Elon Musk plays H.L. Mencken, who chomped the half-dollar of Watch and Ward Society moral crusader Frank Chase, played by Tim Cook, before selling him a copy of the American Mercury featuring a story about a prostitute. Ninety-six years later, we do not object much to prostitutes. Certainly, the Chinese, plastering them on Twitter to muck up searches on Wuhan or Chengdu, do not object to them. People increasingly object to differences of opinion or even facts that displease.
The Boston Common bigots merely arrested Mencken for offending them. The ones in Silicon Valley threaten to erase tens of billions of dollars from Musk’s fortune. More importantly, they seek to shrink the parameters of debate. This changes the very character of the United States, which, as anyone familiar with lawyer Andrew Hamilton’s courtroom speeches in the John Peter Zenger libel trial knows, predates the United States:
The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty. And I make no doubt but your upright conduct this day will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizens, but every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny, and by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power (in these parts of the world at least) by speaking and writing truth.
Progressives increasingly resemble Bill Cosby, New York’s colonial governor and not the comedian/roofie enthusiast, in finding opposing views intolerable. This meant, under the previous Twitter regime, deplatforming Meghan Murphy, a Canadian socialist-feminist, for tweeting “women aren’t men”; the removal of “learn to code” tweets in mock homage to Joe Biden offering that advice to displaced miners; and the suspension of the New York Post’s account for sharing a true story that Twitter falsely deemed disinformation about the president’s son. (READ MORE: Will Someone Please Do a Twitter to Disney?)
Elon Musk deserves gratitude for transforming Twitter from that woke wasteland into a vibrant Mecca for speech. Instead, Apple allegedly seeks to ruin his enterprise through restraint-of-trade practices. Similarly, Apple’s Chinese benefactors who make their iPhones now scour the devices of pedestrians to see if they contain Twitter and other apps.
The interests of Apple and China, then, coincide on much more than the manufacture of cheap iPhones. Tim Cook and Xi Jinping imagine that they hold the right to dictate what apps you may keep on your phone.
“This is a battle for the future of civilization,” Musk accurately tweets. “If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.”
Specifically, that tyranny lies 13 hours ahead.