“Whoever controls the media controls the mind.”
– Jim Morrison (lead singer and lyricist for the rock band The Doors)
“A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”
– Joseph Pulitzer (journalist and newspaper publisher whose will established the Pulitzer Prizes “for the encouragement of public service, public morals, American literature and the advancement of education.”)
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
– Joseph Goebbels (Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 and one of Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates)
The United States of America is pledged to support free speech. This inalienable right for all citizens is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet, at this time in history, free thought and free expression are under attack here and abroad.
The villains are big tech corporations who have decided that they get to decide what content is or isn’t appropriate for their users rather than let users decide for themselves. For several years now, a growing number of voices have been muzzled by media giants that include Facebook, Google, and YouTube.
All of these privately-owned public forums for conversation and the exchange of information appear to be within their corporate rights to suspend or ban user accounts and remove content due to policy violations that cover appropriate behavior online.
A growing problem is the use of “hate speech” as an excuse to shut down the free exchange of ideas and self-expression. Hate speech is real and Americans have been infighting about it for decades. Opposing the KKK’s white supremacist message was (and still is) in line with American values, but recent online suppression is producing the growing concern that mass media owners have become heavy-handed, biased toward one type of political view (conservative), and exceeded the bounds of reason and fair play.
“Appropriate efforts to condemn symbolic acts of violence such as cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan have expanded over the years to include all sorts of alleged speech and thought crimes,” wrote Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
Dr. Holmes makes the excellent point that intolerance and censorship are not viewed favorably by the majority of Americans. Therefore:
“Instead of openly arresting people who say the wrong things, the new purveyors of intolerance try to sublimate their prohibitions on speech, expression, and thought into more popularly accepted channels.”
Rather than focus on the fact that individual points of view are being targeted and removed from social media platforms, the owners of these big tech cybersites have shifted public attention to “something more wholesome – to the feelings of minorities, for example, or to the supposed desire to live in more diverse communities.”
Isolating one special type of speech to demonize while leaving the rest of free speech alone sidesteps First Amendment violation issues while allowing the regulation and criminalization of that selected expression.
Hate speech is a classic example, according to Dr. Holmes, of separating “good speech from bad” by “designating certain kinds of remarks, gestures, expressions, and writings as intentionally hateful and thus worthy of regulation and even criminalization.”
These days, just about anything can be labeled hateful, including a public statement against illegal immigration or same-sex marriage.
One recent blow to free speech was delivered on June 4, 2019, by YouTube to Scott Allsop, a history teacher at the British School of Bucharest in Romania who became an early victim of the video-sharing website’s new policy which bans discriminatory content based on age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status.
YouTube’s updated hate speech policy was the result of taking “a close look at our approach towards hateful content in consultation with dozens of experts in subjects like violent extremism, supremacism, civil rights, and free speech.”
Targeted by YouTube’s new policy are “videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology, which is inherently discriminatory.”
It was for this reason that YouTube banned the legitimate educational channel called Mr. Allsop History, silencing his voice and removing decades’ worth of his historical posts which included filmed newsreel speeches made by the notoriously evil Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and other archival footage of Nazi propaganda – all published for the mind-expanding purpose of teaching and learning.
Here was YouTube’s explanatory message to the history teacher:
“This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy prohibiting hate speech.”
Allsop responded immediately by sending this message to the administrative team who had just switched off his educational channel:
“YouTube has banned me for ‘hate speech,’ I think due to clips on Nazi policy featuring propaganda speeches by Nazi leaders. I’m devastated to have this claim leveled against me, and frustrated 15yrs of materials for #HistoryTeacher community have ended so abruptly.”
According to Allsop, YouTube suppressed “120 historical clips I collated for teachers and students, covering various aspects of world history over the past 1000 years. The Nazi material made up around 10% of all videos.”
When Allsop found out YouTube had canceled his legitimate channel, which he started in 2006, he sent this email to Buzzfeed News:
“My stomach fell. I’m a history teacher, not someone who promotes hatred. I share archive footage and study materials to help students learn about the past.”
It didn’t take long for human beings at YouTube to contradict what their machine algorithms had summarily decided on their behalf. On June 5, Allsop posted:
“UPDATE: my YouTube channel is now restored, albeit with flags on some clips and one completely removed. Still, more than 100 useful #HistoryTeacher clips online.”
YouTube’s human representatives issued this apology:
“To update you here, your channel was mistakenly terminated based on our recent actions to tackle hate speech and was restored yesterday (as you saw). We’re so sorry for missing your first tweet and for the frustration this caused – we’re here if you have any questions.”
The trend toward allowing big tech companies to dictate appropriate speech to all their users is concerning enough, but the fact that they rely on computers to detect and enforce their policies is irresponsible and dangerous to free expression.
When will the madness end?