By Kevin Barrett, Ph.D.
Ten years ago, we still had a relatively free, uncensored internet. As late as 2013, when RT’s 9/11 and Operation Gladio was mysteriously erased from Google and YouTube’s search engines, the “golden rule” that all constitutionally protected speech must be treated equally on internet platforms still applied. That was why Google and YouTube could not openly censor RT’s powerful pro-9/11-truth show. Instead, the National Security Agency (NSA), deeming the episode a threat to national security, used extraordinary technical means to not only disappear 9/11 and Operation Gladio from search engines, but also to disappear private emails containing the show’s YouTube url. People who tried to email the url to their friends found that said emails neither arrived nor bounced. Instead, they simply disappeared into a black hole in cyberspace, never to be heard from again.
Today, if a pro-911-truth program like 9/11 and Operation Gladio were on the verge of going viral and heading for over 100 million views, the NSA would not need to involve itself. Instead, Google and its subsidiary YouTube would shamelessly remove the show from circulation.
Such outrageous censorship—indeed, any censorship whatsoever of constitutionally protected speech on any internet platform—was completely unthinkable until a little over five years ago. Then, in the space of a year or two, the internet’s golden rule of free speech crumbled to dust. What happened?
Somehow the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and its application to internet platforms via Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was overthrown. Section 230 clearly distinguishes internet “platforms” from “publishers” and gives the former (but not the latter) protection from civil liability. In return for that protection, a “platform” must remain a neutral communications tool like the telephone, allowing anyone to say anything as long as it’s legal (i.e. constitutionally protected) and favoring no user over any other. “Publishers,” by virtue of choosing which content to feature or favor, assume legal liability for their content.
Starting around 2015, legacy (mainstream) media launched an all-out war on the Constitution and its enshrinement in Section 230. A coordinated blitzkrieg of think-tank policy recommendations, op-eds, and feature articles hammered home the same message: Section 230 didn’t mean what everyone had always thought it meant! Some forms of internet censorship might actually be okay! Then, in 2016, the rise of Donald Trump turned the chorus of pro-censorship voices into an earsplitting cacophony. Trump’s election was blamed on “conspiracy theorists” like Alex Jones. Obviously free speech for deplorables was a threat to democracy! After all, if people were free to listen to Jones and then vote for Trump, democracy would quickly self-destruct.
Trump’s presidency saved legacy media—or at least postponed its demise. Mainstream outlets made enormous sums of money bashing Trump and whipping up controversy around his every blurt-out. The New York Times admits that it remains financially solvent thanks to the liberal subscribers who flocked to the paper for daily doses of anti-Trump vitriol. Simultaneously the Times and other liberal outlets were able to save their market share, and their position as arbiters of public truth, by selling the message that their competition, the free internet, needed to be censored, deplatformed, neutralized, and eventually annihilated.
The Covid-19 pandemic upped the ante. Now dissidents didn’t just threaten democracy, but public health as well. If they weren’t censored, thousands of people would die! The pandemic was an even bigger boon than Trump for the media gatekeepers. Instead of a daily dose of anti-Trump venom, mainstream audiences began demanding hourly doses of Covid fear porn. Never before, except perhaps on 9/11, has the media attracted so many eyeballs, and cashed in so many advertising dollars, by terrorizing its audience.
Like the Trump phenomenon, the Covid circus allowed the media to foster divisiveness and capitalize on it by demonizing a segment of the population (deplorables, Covid skeptics) in search of higher ratings—and excuses to censor the competition. Now we have reached the point where real whistleblowing journalists like Julian Assange are crucified, while fake journalists and ersatz whistleblowers attack Facebook because its unconstitutional, treasonous censorship isn’t draconian enough for their tastes.
Glenn Greenwald, an old-fashioned, consistent pro-free-speech liberal, recently pointed out that Facebook’s political problem is “not that they are too powerful but that they are not using that power to censor enough content from the internet that offends the sensibilities and beliefs of Democratic Party leaders and their liberal followers who now control the White House, the entire executive branch and both houses of Congress.”
Apparently, the masters of mainstream media won’t be satisfied with anything less than total totalitarianism: a world in which everyone on the internet speaks with one voice, and even the faintest mutterings of dissent are silenced before anyone can hear them.
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.