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Pressing Mute: The Threat of Censorship in America.

The Silicon Valley regime of censorship threatens more than our freedom of speech—it threatens our democracy as we know it.

Censorship is shadowing the United States, demanding control of election coverage, social media—even the dictionary. Last week, while Senator Mazie Hirono berated Judge Amy Coney Barret for using the phrase “sexual preference,” Facebook and Twitter were binding the fingers of their users, preventing them from posting links to a New York Post investigation into Hunter Biden’s emails.

Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications manager and former Democratic staffer, announced that the social-media conglomerate would begin “reducing its distribution” of the New York Post story. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged his company’s poor communication around the issue, but declared the article would remain blocked for violating Twitter’s “Hacked Materials Policy.” Not only did Twitter fail to offer evidence the source material was “hacked,” but they also failed to similarly censor users who posted a recent New York Times investigation based on illegally obtained copies of President Donald Trump’s tax returns.  

These censors have yet to offer an acceptable explanation for their targeted silencing of their political opposition. But everyone who cherishes free speech, not just conservatives, should stand united against this suppression. The power of censorship is blind to party disputes; it isn’t tied to the left or the right. Instead, it only favors the hand that hovers above the mute button, regardless of who that is, in the hopes of corrupting our democratic ideals. The aggressive measures invoked by today’s censors should be taken at face value—a direct insult to the core of western democracy.

The day before Facebook and Twitter flexed their ability to silence, Amazon showcased their preferred method of censorship. The online commerce and streaming giant placed the documentary “What Killed Michael Brown?” under “content review.” The film, narrated by Shelby Steele, an African American conservative scholar at the Hoover Institution, can no longer access an audience of one of the world’s largest streaming platforms. This latest attack on the free thought of Black Americans to question established narratives gives new meaning to the phrase “high-tech lynching,” once used by Justice Clarence Thomas to describe the media’s urgency to cancel “any blacks who deign to think for themselves.”

Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is (as always) proving himself to be a consummate multi-tasker. While he suffocates conservative Black thought on Amazon, he uses the Washington Post to condone the silencing executed by Twitter and Facebook. The Washington Post editorial board applauded the social-media crackdown, saying, “Both platforms made the correct decision to slow what so far seem to be baseless accusations backed up by leaked emails of murky origin.” In owning one of the largest companies in the world and a nationally syndicated publication, Bezos can, of course, construct any narrative to match the interests of his wallet. And this time, the narrative is crafted to empower content platforms to censor at will.

Today, censorship in the West comes primarily from the left. Social media platforms (like Twitter and Facebook) and content streaming companies (like Amazon and Spotify) already favor progressive politics with their wallets and hiring decisions. A survey of 600 technology company leaders and founders conducted in 2017 found that 75% of them backed Hillary Clinton in 2016—compared to the 9% who supported President Trump. It’s no wonder then that the political bias of these Big Tech overlords are wending their way into moderation decisions that smother conservative speech.

It’s not just the active censorship of conservative content on platforms—it’s also passive censorship that comes through the embrace of progressive cultural norms. Not even sports entertainment can escape advertising for Black Lives Matter and commentators that openly slander their audience as being “immune to facts.” Conservatives, it seems, have conceded defeat in this culture war without raising a finger in defense. Now, their loss is threatening the only protection they have left—their speech. The left has built institutional control over Hollywood, the press, and social media. Now, they’ve even found the power to define our words.

Twitter.

Twitter.

CENSORSHIP, REDEFINED

On Tuesday, Amy Coney Barret made a “mistake” during her confirmation hearing when she was asked whether she agrees with Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the same-sex marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. Judge Barret replied, “I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would never discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.”

“I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would never discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.”

Do these words sound like the ravings of a bigot? They do now.

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who was doing the questioning, responded to Judge Barret’s response by saying, “Let me make clear, sexual preference is an offensive and outdated term. It is used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice. It is not.”

As if that weren’t troubling enough, after Hirono shamed the Judge for using an “offensive and outdated term,” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary actually revised their definition of the term “sexual preference” to fit the Senator’s anger. Now, a search of the phrase on their website features a label indicate it as “offensive.” 

Never mind that Former Vice President and now Presidential-hopeful Joe Biden used this phrase himself on a video call with black-voters just five months earlier, in May 2020. Or that the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Judge Barrett is primed to fill, used it during an interview in 2017. And, let’s not leave out Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., California), the longest-serving Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, used it in a press release in 2017.

It’s not just politicians and jurists: The Atlantic and The Advocate (an LGBT-interest magazine) published the word as recently as September 25th, 2020. 

Democratic senators and politicos, however, are now swarming Judge Amy Coney Barrett, flapping their wings as they prepare to tear apart the latest target of social justice activism. They have erased all previous utterings of “sexual preference” from their memories, so why can’t you?

I hesitate to reference Eric Blair; the overuse of “Orwellian” to describe every slightly coercive policy is insulting to the master of understated irony. Like “Kafkaesque,” the term has evolved past its original meaning into a distorted definition that its author would have hated. (Orwell states as much in his 1949 essay “Politics and the English Language,” advising us to “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”) 

But some rules are made to be broken—especially when the circumstances are as dire as they are now. 

With Merriam-Webster imposing newspeak on innocent phrases, Democrats using doublespeak to change their definition of court-packing, and tech companies erasing news stories right before our eyes, the threats to our free exercise speech and a politically informed electorate are as prevalent as ever before. 

In 1984 Orwell wrote, “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute.” How long until Merriam-Webster labels these words, too, as “offensive.”

Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg.

HALTING THE MOMENTUM OF TECH GIANTS

Conservatives must arm themselves against the ever-encroaching shadow of censorship. Merely expressing disgust and disappointment is no longer good enough. If conservative Americans wish to preserve their right to dissent from mainstream narratives, they must mobilize and demand action from their elected officials. The time for action is at hand. Conservatives should take on this battle for free speech by supporting the revision of Section 230 and exposing Big Tech as the engorged monopoly it has become.

The silencing of the public from above threatens more than the first amendment; it threatens our very foundation as a democratic society. It threatens who we are.

Recently, Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) has criticized Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ,which protects content platforms from being treated as publishers. According to Hawley, “With Section 230, tech companies get a sweetheart deal that no other industry enjoys: complete exemption from traditional publisher liability in exchange for political censorship.” 

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led a similar charge against the growing power of Big Tech. In October, Cruz supported issuing subpoenas to the CEOs of Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Rather than let these companies reinforce their silicon-valley strongholds, Cruz pulled them into Washington to face the public: “At the end of the day, they, like each of us, answer to the American people, answer to federal law and answer to the United States Constitution.”

The giants of social media may once have deserved the immunity these legal protections granted as they impartially constructed and governed their platforms, but that’s a reputation they can no longer maintain. Today, they have lost control of their creations, which have evolved into ogres that exist squash dissent and silence opposition.

Maybe one day, 1984 and Animal Farm will be best-selling books throughout North Korea, as they have been other places where free speech was once a privilege, not a right. The silencing of the public from above threatens more than the first amendment; it threatens our very foundation as a democratic society. It threatens who we are.

It is not an overreaction to sound the alarms and warn that the monster of censorship must be defeated once more. As long as we continue to take Orwell’s lessons to heart, this monster’s drivel will not choke our speech.

Written By

Jack Capizzi is a Junior at the University of Chicago studying History and Politics. Reach him at capizzi@uchicago.edu or on Twitter.

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