“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” ― Albert Camus
It is difficult to imagine a time when such words rang more true in their foretelling of Tyranny or more poignantly accurate in their description of the precipice we all in fact find ourselves staring at.
The decision by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on January 7, to suspend Donald Trump’s page, essentially acting a grand silencer over the 45th President of the United States, represents not only the most profound assertion of power by Big Tech over a democratic nation’s political life, but underlines the need for greater oversight by elected state representatives over the ever-growing powers social media executives wield over nations, and maybe more to the point nations’ ability to formulate their own socio-political narrative.
January 6 events, the violence we all witnessed on Capitol Hill cannot be used as an argument in favour of censorship. Censorship cannot and should not be rationalised.
Such an exercise is simply too callous and too egregiously dishonest for any sensible individual to entertain. Especially if one considers that Donald Trump was more than just an individual, he was an elected civil servant; his office was that of the Republic. For better or for worse he was the carrier of a democratic tradition whose duty remained to the Constitution and the people it served, represents and acts on behalf of. How one feels about the former president is irrelevant to the debate.
John Stuart Mills’ words ought to ring loudly over the fray now that a new Inquisition dawns.
“…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”
One does not simply silence a sitting president. And if indeed many may feel that the President crossed a line in his calls for actions against what he perceives as the “Big Steal”, then such individuals are free to seek refuge in the law and draw from America’s robust legal system to redress whatever ill irks them so. But to invoke the weapons of tyrants to allegedly bring another to heel, is far too Kafkaesque … if I may dare say so I would argue that the Democrats’ cries of self-righteous anger on January 6 only prove how morally bankrupt they truly are, not to mention devoid of all intellectual consistency.
Free Speech cannot be left open to interpretation. Free Speech is THE benchmark by which all democratic states can measure the strength of their institutions.
In an attempt to justify his unilateral decision to ban Trump from his social media platforms: Facebook and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg published what can only be described as a rhetological fallacy. He writes:
“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden.”
Twitter soon joined the dance by announcing that it’d too suspended Trump’s access to its social media platform – our modern day public square. Twitter was thorough in its purge too since it targeted not one but three of the former president’s accounts: @realDonaldTrump, @POTUS and @WhiteHouse. In good fashion the move was conveniently labelled as necessary “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
If only Twitter and its counterparts proved consistent in their reproach of violence … we might have lent an ear to their arguments.
What we witnessed was a deliberate and unilateral attack on a democratically elected president by corporations which have proven to wield powers and influence that are such that they now threaten the very foundations of the Republic. At the push of a button, unaccountable tech billionaires decided to cancel out the voice they wished no longer to be heard.
And though today left-wingers cheer Zuckerberg’s move, for it falls within the confines of their ideology, I recall a time not so long ago when Facebook’s positions against antifa irked Democrats to no end. Big Techs serve their own interests and so far they answer to noone but themselves.
Lin Yutang once wrote:“When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means the sun is about to set.” Ironically, Trump foresaw such shadows … he actually worked to oppose them by building structures to rein in their otherwise unfettered powers.
I give you May 28, 2020 Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship. It reads,
“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows … Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy. Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution. The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.”
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet. This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.”
Enough said … I would hope!
Catherine Shakdam is a research fellow at the Al Bayan Centre for Planning & Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements. She is the author of A Tale of Grand Resistance: Yemen, the Wahhabi and the House of Saud. She writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.