ABC, CBS, NBC becomes FB, Twitter, YouTube
I saw another friend arbitrarily Facebook-jailed today for thirty days, and — as is becoming more and more the case — there doesn’t even seem to be a “lefty/progressive” reason behind the ban. I’m sensing that your profile starts to fall, generally, too far on the right side of the line and they let the artificial intelligence do the work. I bet there’s even a psychological dimension behind fickle “idea policing.” If you care about ideas that threaten western culture, and freedom — encroaching Islam, “woke” theology, identity politics — you get tagged and then the random, unexplained ban puts you on guard against even the kinds of thought crime they haven’t defined yet. Fickle bans are probably more effective at keeping you quiet: “we don’t even have to explain ourselves, so be timid; be very timid.”
Since the easiest way to distribute ideas these days is to just publish them on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, the policy elites need a way to keep real ideas from earning the social credibility earned by likes and shares. It’s beginning to feel something like my childhood: the major social media platforms are being corralled, by the policy elites, to conform to the old three channel model.
It might be difficult for people under thirty to imagine a time when most of the national news and cultural discussion was dominated by ABC, NBC, and CBS, but something like 50 million viewers watched Johnny Carson sign off the air in the early 1990s–and he routinely achieved audiences in the tens of millions every night. None of the many news shows we see now (probably the last thing holding up the cable system), come anywhere close to the audience achieved by the big three during the first four decades of the television era.
As a child in the 60s and a teenager in the 70s, I can remember my own family, particularly my mother, scoffing at the managed, center-left “objectivity” of what passed for “journalism” back then. The difference between the way the news reported the Vietnam war, for example, and the stories we heard from soldiers returning was striking. An old family friend, and West Point officer, bitterly complained that America was not being allowed to fight the war, but that wouldn’t have been what you heard from Walter Cronkite, because anything that sounded remotely like “communist-bashing” had been style-guided right out of the information menu.
Today, that same officer, (perhaps anonymously or after retiring) could offer up his lament in a blog or a Facebook post, and the world would be its judge. Of course, most content today just dies a quiet death, with a few attaboys from friends, but sometimes someone says something so compelling, so contrary to prevailing norms, that it can’t be ignored. Speaking to evangelicals prior to the 2016 election, I experienced this when something like 2 million people shared this blog of mine about Donald Trump.
This meritocracy of content is simply too un-managed. It’s bound to annoy and irritate and make sure a few incumbents lose their seats, and that’s to say nothing of what it does to tender-minded millennials who have grown up in the kindly DreamWorks animal kingdom and the “woke” campus coffee house.
“Respectable” speech will remain on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — and the links they approve. The rest of the internet will be considered the digital equivalent of a guy handing out end-of-the-world warnings on mimeographed paper in 1973.