The practice of shadow-banning and the art of stealth censorship are key components of controlling the internet.
By Dr. Kevin Barrett
On Oct. 17 I published an article headlined “The Legal Lynching of a Truth-Seeker: Jim Fetzer’s Stalinist-Style Show Trial.” In it I argued that Dr. James Fetzer, who lost a $450,000 libel judgment to Lenny Pozner on Oct. 15, didn’t get a fair trial. My account was based on what I saw in the courtroom that day.
According to a recent Reason post by Eugene Volokh, someone has been trying to get my article de-indexed from Google. Volokh notes that Pozner had earlier successfully persuaded Google to deindex web pages featuring Fetzer’s edited book Nobody Died at Sandy Hook due to its having been judged libelous. But asking Google to “vanish from the searchable internet” an article about a court decision, simply because one of the parties to the decision doesn’t like the article, is absurd.
My article did not endorse Fetzer’s statements that the court found libelous. It did not assert, as Fetzer does, that “nobody died at Sandy Hook.” It merely noted procedural problems marring Fetzer’s trial, arguing that the affair sets a dangerous precedent that could contribute to the ongoing rollback of free speech.
My article is certainly not libelous. But if the charge is hyperbole, I plead guilty. Calling Fetzer’s trial a “lynching” and a “Stalinist-style show trial” is obviously hyperbolic. Fetzer is not swinging at the end of a rope or lined up in front of a Bolshevik firing squad. I often use hyperbole to make a point—in this case, that the trial seemed unfair, and that free speech is in danger. Fortunately for us op-ed writers, hyperbole isn’t legally actionable.
Reactions to my article were fairly evenly split between people who thought I didn’t go far enough defending Fetzer and his thesis that Sandy Hook was a hoax, and others who thought Fetzer’s interpretation is not just libelous but downright insane. Both sides wanted me to endorse their strongly held views on Sandy Hook.
The most helpful feedback came from journalist Dave Gahary, publisher of Moon Rock Books. Gahary appeared on my radio show to explain how his viewpoint changed after he spent two full days with Pozner. As the publisher of Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, Gahary had leaned toward viewing the event the way Fetzer does, as a FEMA stunt designed to promote gun control.
But after watching Pozner respond to questions at his deposition last spring, and conversing with him outside the formal setting, Gahary came to believe that Pozner is telling the truth about losing his son, Noah. While still finding many aspects of Sandy Hook worthy of investigation, Gahary no longer accepts the thesis of the book, which he withdrew from circulation after his encounter with Pozner.
After our radio interview, Gahary sent an email urging me to look at the court transcript and documents archived at poznervfetzer.com. Could all of the material Pozner submitted to the court—notably the Zimmerman affidavits featuring abundant documentary evidence supporting Pozner’s account of the birth, life, and death of Noah Pozner—really be fraudulent? The number of people and institutions that would have to be involved in such a hoax, and the seeming likelihood that it could be easily discovered, would seem to militate strongly against Fetzer’s thesis.
But if Pozner is trying to debunk Sandy Hook “conspiracy theories,” the last thing he should be doing is urging Google to delist articles he disagrees with that discuss aspects of the case not related to Fetzer’s claims. Anyone pushing censorship looks like he or she has something to hide.
Google has already delisted many alternative news sites. Since purchasing YouTube, Google has purged the internet of tens of millions of videos. Between July and September 2019, Google obliterated 2 million YouTube channels and removed 7.85 million videos. In many cases, Google destroyed the livelihoods of the video makers simply because it didn’t approve of their political views. Conservative voices have suffered the most.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter have also been accused of shadow-banning users on the basis of their political views. Shadow-banning is an especially insidious form of censorship. According to The Economist, “Shadow-banned users are not told that they have been affected. They can continue to post messages, add new followers, and comment on or reply to other posts. But their messages may not appear in the feed, their replies may be suppressed, and they may not show up in searches for their usernames.”
Such stealth censorship is an outrage. According to antitrust law, monopolies are illegal. The billionaire internet oligarchs censoring the digital public square are criminals and traitors to the Constitution. They should be arrested and their companies seized and run transparently as public utilities under First Amendment protections.
Kevin Barrett, Ph.D., is an Arabist-Islamologist scholar and one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror. From 1991 through 2006, Dr. Barrett taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin. In 2006, however, he was attacked by Republican state legislators who called for him to be fired from his job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison due to his political opinions. Since 2007, Dr. Barrett has been informally blacklisted from teaching in American colleges and universities. He currently works as a nonprofit organizer, public speaker, author, and talk radio host. He lives in rural western Wisconsin.