I’m old enough to remember when liberals believed in free speech, but the election of Donald Trump broke something in their brains. Since then the pandemic and now US proxy war against Russia in Ukraine have exposed an ominous new development that’s become obvious with the release of the Twitter Files and now Jacob Siegel’s–A Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century.
Both of these accounts detail the struggle against “disinformation”, the new bête noire of the liberal–professional/managerial/class (PMC). All of the animus towards disinformation in reality has been a cover for a sweeping censorship effort by the federal government, government contractors and social media corporations.
Since December, a small but growing group of journalists, analysts, and researchers have documented the rise of a “Censorship Industrial Complex”, a network of U.S. government agencies, and government-funded think tanks. Over the last six years, these entities have coordinated their efforts to both spread disinformation and to censor journalists, politicians, and ordinary Americans. They have done so directly and indirectly, including by playing good cop/bad cop with Twitter and Facebook. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of people have been involved in these censorship and disinformation campaigns.
The FBI, CIA, DHS, and many other agencies, via hijacked social media, have worked tirelessly to confound and bamboozle the public debate about, really, everything that matters. Russia-gate appears to be the disease vector. The false yet foundational claim that Russia hacked the 2016 election provided a justification–just like the claims about weapons of mass destruction that triggered the Iraq War–to plunge America into a wartime state of exception. With the normal rules of constitutional democracy suspended, a coterie of party operatives and security officials then installed a vast, largely invisible new architecture of social control on the backend of the internet’s biggest platforms.
The odd part is that roughly half of America is down with this development. Of course, that is the same half of the country that has fallen in love with surveillance, censorship, political prosecutions, and a general canceling out of flyover America. Autonomy for the individual and a search for a life, lived with meaning now is displaced by its opposite–the instinct to subjugate and dominate. Liberals seemingly want to construct a hygienic society, un-besmirched by anything so tawdry as MAGA. To be very plain, the western liberal cultural revolution has shifted from being merely adversarial to a project aimed at rejecting previous cultural norms and even history itself.
The upshot of this project is that politics has become an existential conflict, similar to the counterinsurgency/counterterrorism efforts at the heart of the war on terror, and, ominously, tens of millions of Americans are the enemy.
The RESTRICT Act, purportedly aimed at Tic Tok, is being rushed through the Senate to formalize the current government censorship apparatus. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner introduced last month the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act (RESTRICT Act). The bill is being marketed as a way to protect Americans from foreign governments that use social media to spy on Americans.
The TikTok controversy has taken attention away from the fact that US social media corporations spy on Americans too. Even worse, if the RESTRICT Act becomes the RESTRICT law, any site that refuses to cooperate with future efforts by the US government to suppress certain stories and individuals on social media could find itself accused of working to advance the “strategic objectives of a foreign adversary.”
Those who doubt this should consider how people who question US foreign policy are smeared as Russian agents.
While all of this might seem at first glance simply related to domestic affairs, I remain convinced that the impending loss of empire is at the heart of this liberal-managerial-state nervous breakdown. The US empire has placed all its chips on black in a desperate bid to maintain the 30 year run as the unipolar hegemon. The Biden Administration, and now Congress demonizes critics at home, casting them as “enemies of democracy”, while the US proxy war against Russia in Ukraine is depicted as a Manichean struggle between lightness and dark.
It gets better.
Censorship proponents insist that fighting disinformation is not a free speech issue but rather a national security one. This is a nice move since it allows the liberal-managerial-state to claim that the overarching framework is the legitimacy of governing institutions, allowing them to control what information the public is allowed to consume. Liberals will furiously deny this, as they shriek for more censorship of dissent and cheer for actual Sieg-heiling Nazis.
Liberals dim view of the First Amendment was on full display during the House Weaponization of the Federal Government subcommittee meeting where Democrat members attacked witnesses Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger for their apostasy. In her opening statement, Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee, attacked them as “so-called journalists” and said they were “a direct threat” to the safety of others by reporting the censorship story.
The Democrat decision to make this hearing a partisan political issue and attack the journalists who brought us the truth about secret US government censorship-by-proxy of Americans who hold views unacceptable to government elites is extremely unfortunate but hardly surprising. Big Tech and the U.S. Security State are the two entities the Democratic Party most passionately and aggressively serves. Indeed, the CIA, Department of Homeland Security and FBI are working hand-in-hand with Big Tech to censor dissent from the Internet because Democrats rely on this censorship regime for their own interests.
This turn of events follows a pattern. The Democrats had an opportunity in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 to conduct a critical self appraisal but they settled instead on Russia-gate. They faced a similar choice in regards to the growing power of the internet corporations.
In A Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century, Jacob Sigel asks–“What could the leaders of the ruling party do? They had two options. They could use the government’s regulatory power to counter-attack: Break up the data monopolies and restructure the social contract underwriting the internet so that individuals retained ownership of their data instead of having it ripped off every time they clicked into a public commons. Or, they could preserve the tech companies’ power while forcing them to drop the pretense of neutrality and instead line up behind the ruling party—a tempting prospect, given what they could do with all that power.
They chose option B.”