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When Censorship Is Crowdsourced

Editor’s note: The text that follows is adapted from a speech delivered recently by the author to the Montreal Press Club. 

On the op-ed page of The New York Times, former Central Intelligence Agency general counsel Jeffrey Smith recently argued that Donald Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan “violated Mr. Brennan’s First Amendment right to speak freely.” It’s an intriguing thesis. And, being a former lawyer who once wrote long law school essays about constitutional freedoms, I read it with keen interest.

But I also felt a twinge of nostalgia as I parsed Smith’s lawyerly arguments. Notwithstanding the nature of Mr. Trump’s treatment of Mr. Brennan, the gravest threats to free speech in democratic countries now have little or nothing to do with government action (which is what Constitutions serve to restrain). And with few exceptions, public officials now sit as bystanders to the fight over who can say what.

Last month, Facebook, Apple and Google deleted gigabytes of video, audio and text content from Alex Jones’ Infowars web site — part of a larger speech-pruning process that is applied every day to numerous (less prominent) wing nuts who, like Jones, blur the line between conspiracism and hate-mongering. Twitter, on the other hand, allowed Jones’ Infowars and personal accounts to remain active — but then abruptly changed course in early September. Why? Who knows. All of these online services make users sign on to terms of-service agreements that prohibit abusive speech and the advocacy of violence. But the lines are blurry, and there’s lots of wiggle room. And even if there weren’t, it wouldn’t matter anyway since these are private companies that can pretty much ban anyone they want, so long as they’re willing to accept the blowback from remaining users. These companies aren’t making legal decisions when they block or don’t block one of their users. They’re effectively taking political positions on what is and isn’t beyond the bounds of mainstream discourse.

And since social media is the way we all communicate with one another every day, their power over information flows has become enormous. Taken together, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Google’s founding duo of Larry Page and Sergey Brin have far more impact on what we see and hear than any government.

If you are, like me, a middle-aged person who has been concerned about protecting free speech since your college days, these developments will have a profoundly disorienting effect. When I was a university student in the early 1990s, it always was assumed that the primary threat to free speech was government — especially government in the Big Brother form that George Orwell had taught us to expect and fear.

This model of censorship and counter-censorship persisted into this century. In the years after 9/11, for instance, conservatives in my own country, Canada, became consumed with the question of what could and could not be said about militant Islam under Canadian human-rights laws. In the process, we made folk heroes out of Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, who were willing to thumb their noses at provincial bureaucrats whose diktats truly did seem inspired by a desire to censor right-wing ideology.

Some of these battles are still being fought in obscure tribunal boardrooms. But for the most part, they’re yesterday’s drama. Levant and Steyn both published their anti-Islamist manifestos in national print magazines. While one of those magazines still exists, albeit in reduced form, the real to and fro of ideological debate now takes place on borderless electronic fora (such as this one) whose content is, within some limits, free of any government oversight. Compared to the situation a decade ago, the source of censorship in our lives has been massively decentralized.

In many creative spheres, in fact, censorship hasn’t just been decentralized. It’s been crowdsourced. Which is to say: The very writers, publishers, poets, musicians, comedians, media producers and artists who once worried about being muzzled by the government are now self-organizing on social media (Twitter, especially) to censor each other. In its mechanics, this phenomenon is so completely alien to top-down Big Brother-style censorship that it often doesn’t feel like censorship at all, but more like a self-directed Inquisition or Chinese communist “struggle session.” However, the overall effect of preventing the propagation of stigmatized ideas is achieved all the same.

Consider, for instance, the current preoccupation with cultural appropriation — a doctrine that, in my country, now serves to dictate what subjects Canada’s novelists and poets are permitted to take on in their work. In some cases, the process by which individual artists assess whether they are or aren’t allowed to tell a particular story truly does resemble the bureaucratic application process for a government program—as I showed back in January, when I described the bizarre saga of novelist Angie Abdou, who was repeatedly forced to submit her novel to various indigenous authorities before publication (and even then was hounded and attacked because she had dared to voice a young First Nations character). But it’s important to remember that no actual government censor had any involvement in Abdou’s case. The effort to censor her was entirely crowdsourced among other members of the literary community.

Or, to take a fresh example, take the case of Shannon Webb Campbell, a young Canadian author who recently was slated to release a collection of poetry through a small Toronto-based publisher called Bookhug. (The publisher’s original name was Bookthug, but this was changed in 2017 amid complaints that “thug” was racist—which should tell you all you need to know about the leftist politics of both Bookhug and the art-house Canadian literary community within which it operates.) Indeed, the book already had been printed and readied for shipment when Book*hug abruptly decided to yank the volume from its catalog, pulp all physical copies, and delete Webb Campbell’s web page from its site (visitors received a 404 error code). They also published an effusive apology on their main site, declaring that the book was “causing pain and trauma to members of Indigenous communities.”

The reason for this, Book*hug went on to disclose, was that Webb Campbell — who herself is partly indigenous — had written about the death of another indigenous person in a way that “does not follow Indigenous protocol with regard to these matters.” The nature of these “protocols” was not explained.

The same day, Webb Campbell published a lengthy confession on her Facebook page, in which she confessed to various thought crimes, especially her failure to secure permission from family members before presuming to describe the death of an indigenous woman. She also pleaded for mercy on the basis that “as a mixed Mi’kmaq-settler writer, who did not grow up within my culture due to colonialism and the ripple effects of intergenerational trauma, I was unaware around the protocol of material of this nature. I feel very ashamed by my lack of knowledge.” Webb Campbell also pledged to deposit the poem into a sort of memory hole, promising that the poem would never again be spoken aloud by her own lips.

I am not a poet, nor indigenous, nor a member of the broader Canadian literati. I had never heard of Webb Campbell, nor Book*hug. Yet I found myself incensed on Webb Campbell’s behalf. In what world do poets have to ask permission to create verse about others? Did Homer run his Patroclus death scene past Menoetius and Philomela? Did John McCrae run In Flanders Field past the family of his late friend Alexis Helmer or the other victims at Ypres?

Yet, amazingly, not a single prominent member of the Canadian literati was willing to publicly condemn this public shaming of Webb Campbell by her own publisher. And to the extent the media covered her de-platforming, it was airily portrayed as a teachable moment that showed how artists all needed to be more sensitive about what they wrote. The CBC, in particular, uncritically included the preposterous accusation that “publications like Webb-Campbell’s contribute to a narrative that normalizes violence against Indigenous women and girls.”

Nor, as far as I can determine, did a single CanLit heavyweight utter a public complaint when Webb Campbell was abruptly bounced from April’s Ottawa Writers Festival. At that event, Webb Campbell has been scheduled to share the stage with the former president of a prominent NGO that purports to support the right to free expression. When I found myself seated beside this august figure at a Toronto dinner party in the days before the festival, I asked whether he intended to raise his voice against Webb Campbell’s treatment. His response was that he planned to run this thorny issue past an indigenous woman he knew—a wise old soul, by his description, who would tell him “exactly what to do” (which, as things apparently turned out, was nothing). Days later, when I made myself a pest by tweeting directly at the literary festival about all of this, the reply came: “Baffled by your need to speak for those who can and do speak so well for themselves — especially those who have not asked for your help or advice. If [Webb Campbell] said she was silenced or censored, we would have had [her] here even without the book.”

While I rarely like to concede defeat in a Twitter smackdown, I had to admit that this festival’s social-media people had me dead to rights — for it’s absolutely true that Webb Campbell wasn’t censored in any formal sense. None of the events I am describing here involve the government. Nor was Webb Campbell muzzled in any way by Book*hug, which presumably would have been only too happy to have her publish her book elsewhere. Webb Campbell could have put the controversial poem on Facebook, or Tweeted it out line by line. But she did none of this. Instead, she swallowed her pride, signed the confession that had been placed in front of her, and prayed that she would be readmitted into CanLit’s good graces — which, in fact, now seems to be happening, following what seems to have been an elaborate months-long display of performative contrition on Webb Campbell’s part. (The festival’s flacks also were correct that Webb Campbell never asked for my help or advice. Just the opposite in fact: I suspect that the poet would have opposed my involvement, since my views on free speech (and a dozen other topics) mark me as an outsider to her caste, and one badly tainted by cultural wrongthink.)

One thing about Nineteen Eighty-Four that does still ring true about the current age of crowdsourced censorship is the reverse classism at work. In Orwell’s Oceania, the intellectual class is scrutinized relentlessly for the slightest deviation in thought or speech, while “proles” are free to wallow in astrology, smut and sentimental storytelling.

There was even a whole sub-section — Pornosec, it was called in Newspeak — engaged in producing the lowest kind of pornography, which was sent out in sealed packets and which no Party member, other than those who worked on it, was permitted to look at.

The same principle applies in broad form today. Canadian tabloids publish material every day that would be deemed offensive to Ottawa Writers Festival types in all sorts of ways. But with rare exceptions, it gets a pass, because it is seen, in effect, as a sort of ideological Pornosec. The world of Canadian poetry, on the other hand, is a tiny rarefied world run by, and for, a few hundred Canlit Party members — all relentlessly scrutinizing one another for ideological heresies through the panopticon of social media. In this environment, Webb Campbell’s status as a reliably leftist, thoroughly woke poet who proclaimed her guiding light to be “decolonial poetics” was not a mark in her favor. Just the opposite: It confirmed her status as a full Party member, and therefore subject to all the ideological strictures applicable thereto. When the scarlet letter is sewn upon such a specimen by one publisher within the tiny incestuous world of Canadian poetry, it is sewn upon her by all. And while it was once imagined that artists and writers had a special duty to speak out against censorship, dogma and speech codes, they are now conditioned to believe that their highest duty is toward avoiding offense and staying in their lane.

This, in capsule form, is how crowdsourced censorship works in the literary field. And analogous stories could be told about academia and other creative métiers. It is up to the government to maintain a free marketplace of ideas. But freedom from government censorship doesn’t mean much when the stall-owners in the marketplace of ideas organize their own ideological protection rackets to drive one of their own out of business. Venerable groups that once led the fight for free speech and freedom of conscience, such as PEN and the ACLU, seem completely unequipped to deal with the new threats. Their entire organizational culture always has been directed at pushing back against government monoliths, not decentralized mob subcultures.

But the fact that government has no direct role in this new kind of censorship does not mean that public policy can’t be part of the solution. For while it’s true that government isn’t directly engineering these newly emergent forms of crowdsourced speech suppression, the current public funding model can indirectly encourage them.

The reason Bookhug can pulp Shannon Webb Campbell’s book without worrying much about lost readers or earned revenue is that, to a rough order of magnitude, they don’t have any readers or earned revenue. Like most small, high-concept book publishers in Canada, Bookhug is overwhelmingly dependent on government subsidies, which are what allow it to publish obscure manifestoes and poetry volumes that, outside of copies assigned to review, libraries, friends and family, might be expected to sell a few hundred copies.

Or fewer.

I recently consulted an online index that tracks Canadian book sales. For the latest Bookhug releases, the median number of books sold, per title, seems to be about 60. The tracking service does not claim to capture all book sales, estimating its accuracy at about 85%. (Direct sales at book-launch events, for instance, may escape capture in the data.) So let us be generous and assume that the median book sells 100 copies, or even double that. It doesn’t matter: In commercial terms, this is a non-entity. Which means there really is little or no financial penalty to be suffered if Bookhug publishes, or doesn’t publish, Shannon Webb Campbell instead of some other author. Everyone in this heavily subsidized subculture is playing with house money — as are the niche literary journals run by charitable entities (including one where I briefly served as editor). And the real asset to be husbanded in all these places isn’t the affection of readers — there often aren’t any — but rather the editors’ reputation for ideological purity among peers, donors and Twitter followers.

By way of counterexample: It’s notable that when the Canliterati attacked novelist Joseph Boyden after he was accused of falsely inflating his indigenous bona fides, his publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, stuck by him — perhaps because he is a famous author whose books are actually bought and read. But even at these large publishing houses, where titles are picked to sell in stores instead of to pose with at book launches, the inquisition has its agents. One editor, for instance, told me he’d love to recruit famed novelist Steven Galloway, following the release of information showing that he’d been railroaded on false rape claims at the University of British Columbia. But doing so, he explained, was impossible, at least for now, because he’d catch hell for it on social media. What matters in a witch hunt isn’t whether you believe someone is a witch — it’s whether your colleagues do (or, at least, pretend to).

None of this is entirely new, of course. There have been other periods in which writers and artists have crowdsourced their own censorship. This included the Red Scare in the United States; and the interwar period in Europe, when Orwell’s peers were expected to line up behind the socialist (and then communist) dogmas of the period. Putting aside the crushing effect on morale and social relationships among writers, Orwell noted, this also served to turn an uncountable number of writers into babbling propagandists.

“Few if any Russian novels that it is possible to take seriously have been translated for about fifteen years,” Orwell wrote in The Prevention of Literature.

In western Europe and America, large sections of the literary intelligentsia have either passed through the Communist Party or have been warmly sympathetic to it, but this whole leftward movement has produced extraordinarily few books worth reading. Orthodox Catholicism, again, seems to have a crushing effect upon certain literary forms, especially the novel. During a period of three hundred years, how many people have been at once good novelists and good Catholics? The fact is that certain themes cannot be celebrated in words, and tyranny is one of them. No one ever wrote a good book in praise of the Inquisition.

As I have noted at least once before, these lines have aged unusually well. Poetry that requires someone else’s permission to write isn’t poetry worth reading. And more and more, the crowdsourced censorship I see in the creative fields is turning writers, artists and even some academics into glassy-eyed automatons. They are perfectly skilled at writing land acknowledgments, speaking the correct pronouns, and retweeting the right hashtags, but increasingly useless at everything else. In another age, these people might have blamed the government for this. In 2018, on the other hand, they can only blame themselves.


Jonathan Kay is the Canadian Editor of Quillette. You can follow him on Twitter @jonkay

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  1. Phil Salvarado says

    The author refers to government censorship as if it was accomplished by aliens. NEWSFLASH!!
    Not all totalitarians have been cultivated by the government. And what is the common characteristic amongst this censorious group of would-be tyrants?

    Give up?

    A: they are all Leftists.

      • Bob_of_Bonsall says

        Apple, Google Tw@ter et al operate in a strangely hypocritical environment of being Left wing in ethos, but VERY capitalist in all other respects.

        • They’re not Left-wing when it comes to paying taxes.

          Virtue signalling is just marketing. It’s not an ideology.

          If they could make more money out of racism they would.

          • Andrew says

            “We are living in an era of woke capitalism in which countries pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism” Clay Routledge (via twitter)

      • Jeremy H says

        @Speaker To Animals

        The left-right divide is almost purely about moral-social identity these days with little energy being devoted economic ideology other than token grandstanding of well worn positions. The real battle is now progressive values vs conservative/liberal values, so it is definitely now possible to be a large successful, capitalist corporation and be on the “left”. I would have thought Nike just cleared up any lingering doubt on the matter. (Though, admittedly the original poster is being a tad hyperbolic).

      • Whether they do or not at this point is almost, practically, essentially, virtually moot! You don’t get off the hook by pointing in the other direction (particularly the relatively innocuous right by comparison). That’s Jordan Peterson’s correct central knock on the left, they don’t have the balls to hold their own accountable. Make your bed first before you make comments, they usually come out more sincere.

      • Scott Sloan says

        Nice whataboutism. Rightists have always tried to censor what the deem”offensive.” It’s always been the left who has championed expression in the arts. In my 50 years I can recognize that the left’s gender and racial “theories” have led us back to old fashioned prudish behavior. I’ll wait for you to go berserk now because someone criticized you in a way you can’t comprehend.

        • Bernard Hill says

          … good point Scott about ‘the road to prudition’.It’s not an intuitive causal connection, but may well point to how restrictive cultural practices have emerged in the past too, across different cultures.

    • Gary Lowe says

      You lost me at the hyperbole of “all”. This is supposed to be a site with nuanced views.

      • Afrosapiens ???? says

        “This is supposed to be a site with nuanced views”

        It’s a joke, right?

        Would you call a website with writers crying about almost being sent to the gulag or being actually lynched “nuanced”?

        There is nothing more humorous than white conservative victimization.

        • Ahhhh the dripping arrogance, I need a towel to wipe it off the screen.

          Make your humorous claim to the Warsaw Ghetto Poles circa 1943. Or read some James G. McDonald or Anne O’Hare McCormick. Ugh!

          • Your sarcasm made the time spent reading the comments even more interesting than I thought possible. “Towel to wipe it off the screen” needs to be elevated to a high platform or rhetoric! I loved it. Thank you for sharing it.

        • Scott Sloan says

          The fact that you reduce this to “white conservative victimization” proves how ignorant you are of literature, art and the role that writers and artists play in this world. Why should anyone care what you think when you are so ignorant that you reduce it all to some “woke” sounding trope that you probably read on the Internet?

    • TarsTarkas says

      I would counter you with the censorship of reactionary Islam, currently being bloodily and effectively exercised in many parts of the Middle East from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans. How many books, novels, and articles have not been written that religion for fear of death? Thanks to fatwas, incendiary religious authorities, and self-appointed purifiers, we don’t know and we will never know.

    • Alex Russell says

      I think the common denominator is a fundamental dogma that has become “sacred”, that is, the group can no longer rationally discuss if the set of beliefs are actually beneficial, if they are “good”, if they can be improved, or any other hint of dissent from orthodoxy.

      The left and right can both do this.

        • @Nirmesh: one of Tim Pool’s YouTube channels (at least for now — I predict that YouTube will take them down) featured an academic discussion on the very topic of whether or not intersectional feminism counted as a religion.

  2. One of the few iron laws in social dynamics is you can always count on a leftist herd to eat its own, a ritualistic canabalism that satisfies their instinct for both perversity and cruelty simultaneously.

    Hahaha, this just hit me: is leftism as old as canabalism itself?

    • jimhaz says

      The ideology of the right is each one for themselves, and protection of only ones own group, so I’d imagine those who lead the cannibals were right wingers.

      The Right is actually far more corrupt in effect than the Left – because the corruption on the right has all the big money. Just have a look at what banks get up to. The left is petty and often ridiculous, but the sum of their ills tend to be overstated and probably are only about equal to the stupidity and self-interest that comes out of religious groups.

      There is a problem with SJW’s in unis, but I’d prefer the middle ground took on the SJWs, rather than the often bigoted far right. Many of the problems the left is blamed for come hand in hand with the rise of female political and media power – PCism is an unintended outcome of this emancipation. There remains many “left” who are more just people who are seeing a decline in the share of national income for middle and low classes due to the deregulation and taxation policies of the right.

      • martti_s says

        I am sorry, but are you really saying that great wokes –Apple, Google, and Facebook– do not represent Big Money? You have a problem with your eyesight.

      • @jimhaz

        I simply don’t have time to respond to the half-baked mental excrement that circulates through drones such as yourself in the leftist blob. Start thinking for yourself and then we can have a conversation.

        • Gary Lowe says

          But you did respond. And with an ad hominem attack. Not very persuasive. BTW, you opinion counts as much as mine “not worth the pixels they are displayed on”.

      • Northern Observer says

        The right is not bigoted in general. It has in group preference but not bigotry, newcomers are welcome as long as they are willing to negotiate their accommodations rather than dictate them. The corruption on the right is with the libertarian arm in America and its willingness to delude itself about the righteousness of its tax policies which in the end amount to special treatment. I have the reverse conclusion to yours, I find the new social bigotry and coercion on the left to be the biggest political problem we face in the West. The financial corruption of the right is self correcting in that if it goes to far you get 2008 events.

        • jimhaz says

          This was a good response – some good points there.

          I will say that the GFC did not create the self-correcting required and the libertarian political arm in America is pretty big.

          I am however not convinced the “social bigotry and coercion on the left is the biggest political problem we face, as I think many of us are on the confirmation bias treadmill, ignoring similar bigotry and coercions of the right. Still it is certainly a problem of great significance, and one that has caused me to stop supporting the left over the last 18 months or so (I’ve never supported the left on the level of migration or on PCism, but tend to be lite socialist in terms of government management – namely government owned essential utilities, and strong public education and health and a flatter wealth hierarchy (brought about by 1980’s taxation levels) – but never products).

          I’m hoping that the increasing public recognition of this situation – brought about via people like Peterson and Harris and reasoned sites like this one – will come to a head in the next few years and lead to a more pronounced rejection of identity politics. If this does not occur, then yes it will become our biggest political problem, as opposed to just being the most irritating one that it is at present. Much will depend on how smart or stupid the US Democrats will be in the next few years – not looking good at present.

      • @jimhaz, how can you say the the Right is actually far more corrupt in effect than the Left? Look at left wing groups such as Antifa actively threatening physical violence and attempting to forcefully silence right wing speakers. Such behavior is a clear sign of a corrupt movement, unwilling to have rational discussions with or even listen to people with opposing views.

        • jimhaz says

          But are they any worse than similar Right wingers groups when measured as a totality. While Antifa seem to be the worst on the left there are plenty of hate mongering groups on the right as well. Just listen to a Trump rally.

      • Glen Schumann says

        The sum of the lefts ills includes the most murderous governments of the 20th century. Estimates of the killing in the USSR, Red China, Vietnam, Cambodia and else where range from 100,000,000 to 150,000,000.

      • jimhaz et al: I think you all have this wrong. The situation seems to me to be one of like this:

        1. I am not wealthy and I want to be.
        2. I am wealthy and sick of being so greedy.
        3. I am so wealthy that I am going to care for the planet.
        4. I am so wealthy that I am going to put pressure on people/governments to get what I want
        5. My wealth is being used by me to ensure that me and others like me are perceived as virtuous!


        It is just Maslow’s heirarchy of needs in a population that has nothing necessary materially using an ideology that offers virtue at others expense is very attractive.

        We are in need of a war to reset to reality.

    • ga gamba says

      As a person from one of the most maligned and marginalised communities, I’m offended you’ve disparaged us and our age-old traditions. The c-word is an anthropophagiophobic label imposed by while male colonialists. It’s a trope that sustains the very distinction between savagery and civilization; it’s the cornerstone of colonialism. We anthropophagi are an honourable people of people eaters to affirm their spirits in sacred life-affirming rituals. You don’t see us inventing combustion engines and despoiling Mother Earth and her children spirits with whom we commune and live in harmony. Whilst countless indigenous peoples have secured their right to hunt in their traditional ways, our sacred ways are still suppressed and stigmatised. Our taste and hunger remain unsated.

      This year we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Anthropophagic Manifesto. Join us as we proclaim, “To eat or not to eat: that is the question.”

      • Be sure to get your autographed copy of “To Serve Man;” a cookbook by the one eyed, one horned, flying Purple People-eater at the book signing.

      • Constantin says

        Awesome! Kudos for a most inspired and humorous comment! Greatness must be recognized and acknowledged. Thanks for a good lough. certain ineptitudes do not deserve any other approach. 🙂

      • Or to live with a long hut mentality and ignore science whilst letting the big men control all the wealth of your nations is something that western society has fought for over the last 800 years. We are still fighting it.
        Instead of getting out a huge placard that says ‘victim’ why not change the wording “to eat we need to organise!”

    • So, the idea of culture, social pressure, peer pressure, and ostracization were all just invented now?
      Stopping government abuse is a right; stopping it from a mere citizen is tyranny.

      • Afrosapiens ???? says

        Exactly. Conservatives just can’t tolerate their unpopularity. It’s very ironic that they cry about free speech while denying others their freedom voice their disapproval and their freedom to not associate with them.

  3. annaerishkigal says

    Yes. This is happening. As an author who writes in the sci-fi / fantasy / speculative fiction genre, it’s gotten absolutely ridiculous, the level of censorship and trolling. Look what happened when Laurie Forest published “The Black Witch,” a fantasy re-imagining of a “species-ist” (fantasy version of a racist) heroine learning to value “the other” in a fantasy journey reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn. One of the most powerful scenes was when the heroine rescues one of the “others” who was strapped to a pole with the rope cutting through her neck, and realizes they are all the same under their skin (sound familiar?) Her own author community ripped her apart, tried to get the book blocked from publication and banned from libraries.

    Here’s an article which talks about The Black Witch controversy, but I’ve seen it happen many, many times, blatantly with call-outs in the sci-fi / fantasy conventions, even in the Hugo awards.

  4. Taken together, the author writes, Facebook, Google, and Twitter “have far more impact on what we see and hear than any government” because of their ability to censor (and favor) so much of the information that we consume every day.

    As such, they have effectively become political actors, while lacking the accountability required of other political actors (such as legislators who must face voters). Huge private corporations are increasingly controlling what acceptable discourse is, but since they are not governments, their ability to deny an airing to certain information is much less constrained by constitutional law. Unlike democratic governments, who are these behemoths accountable to, after all, other than, I assume, a fairly small number of (probably like-minded) stockholders who together control the majority of shares in each of them?

    Since the archaic anti-trust laws we have in the US don’t address this new kind of power, I’m not sure what we can do to stop the Mark Zukerbergs of the world from ultimately deciding for all of us what is, and is not, “fit to print.”

    • @ A New Radical Centrism (@a_centrism)

      [[Taken together, the author writes, Facebook, Google, and Twitter “have far more impact on what we see and hear than any government”]]

      They don’t really. Facebook and Twitter don’t really count for all that much. If you think otherwise- then think on what type of service they actually provide. Is it essential?

      Google is potentially somewhat more problematic. It controls your access to information. Yet if people en mass left to use Bing for example…

    • Bernard Hill says

      ….you are correct that established anti-trust law or what the wider world calls competition law, is not capable of moderating the ‘power’ of the FANGs. Modifying that law to seek to do so would just corrupt it and render it useless for its still important traditional role. A new public policy regulatory paradigm is needed, but the discussion has barely begun about its necessary parameters, for national and international application.

  5. Yes, companies such as Facebook and Twitter are private companies, but they are also near monopolies in their niche. It is generally held that the government can regulate monopolies for the public good, and I’d suggest that social-media companies with market share above 30% in their niche need to act as public forums, allowing speech within the law by anyone.

    • ga gamba says

      47 U.S. Code § 230 – Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material

      (a) Findings The Congress finds the following:
      (1) The rapidly developing array of Internet and other interactive computer services available to individual Americans represent an extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to our citizens.
      (2) These services offer users a great degree of control over the information that they receive, as well as the potential for even greater control in the future as technology develops.
      (3) The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.
      (4) The Internet and other interactive computer services have flourished, to the benefit of all Americans, with a minimum of government regulation.
      (5) Increasingly Americans are relying on interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.

      The above findings tell us Congress wanted a free internet that allows the maximising of mostly unfettered expression. I say mostly because subjects such as child pornography remain forbidden and people are not allowed to stalk.

      To insure this, Congress exempted IT service providers from criminal and civil liability due to the actions of the users. “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

      Newspapers, magazines, and other publishers are not given such protection, though they still have their First Amendment protections.

      Why would Congress do this? The findings tell us. Specifically, “The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity,” and “Increasingly Americans are relying on interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.”

      For example, the banning of Alex Jones has been justified by some because he was propagating conspiracies and “fake news”, yet his viewers may find this “entertaining” and there are those who may seek to study this in the pursuit of “intellectual activity”. If he has committed a crime, it’s up to the claimants to seek redress in the appropriate venue. The court. Congress found entertainment is one of many reasons to exempt IT companies from liability. IT companies do not have a legal obligation to determine the veracity of all the content on the internet, yet due to the campaigning of newspapers such as the Guardian, whose advert revenue collapsed upon the rise of social media, and other activists, the IT companies capitulated. Clearly the mass media and activists have a vested interest in censoring the internet to conform to their biases.

      If IT companies are now taking on the editorial role, one that’s held by publishers, then the protection from civil and criminal action ought to be ended.

      • Alex Russell says

        Google, Facebook, and Twitter are NOT “Internet Service Providers”. Internet Service Providers are the telcos, cable companies, etc… that provide the internet connections, bandwidth – the “tubes”. They move bytes from A to B. The idea is that they should not be held accountable to what these bytes say, much like the telephone company doesn’t get sued for what people say on the phone. It is almost impossible to sue them for content on the internet.

        Google is a search engine, the others are social media platforms, and while difficult, they can be sued. But still – should Facebook be regulated because some of its users are censorious, regressive, fundamentalists? If it should be regulated where do you draw the line? Hate speech? Calls to violence? Porn?

        Unlike a newspaper, social media does not directly control what is published. It is much easier to get something censored than restored on most social media platforms. You just report it for violating “community standards”.

        These are tricky questions balancing various important rights.

        • ga gamba says

          Google, Facebook, and Twitter are NOT “Internet Service Providers”. Internet Service Providers are the telcos, cable companies, etc… that provide the internet connections, bandwidth – the “tubes”.

          Read what Congress found: The Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse…

          The internet and other interactive computer services include ISPs as well as Google, Twitter, Facebook, this website, and any other interactive computer service.

          These were exempted from publishers’ liability because the chore of keeping things neat and tidy would be difficult to accomplish, and for this protection they are to ensure they continue to “offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity,” and provide “interactive media for a variety of political, educational, cultural, and entertainment services.” If these service providers are now acting as publishers, then the exemption out to be removed.

      • @ ga gamba

        I think such companies are going to regret going down this route of being publishers. And being held to that standard. It will certainly cut their profitability to a large extent.

        I remember hearing Stephen Fry at Hay Festival saying the same thing. And thinking that it is a daft idea.

        “the banning of Alex Jones has been justified by some because he was propagating conspiracies”

        One thing I have not heard anyone mention is that this person was legitimized by THE president of USA. And that is something!

        • “this person was legitimized by THE president of USA”

          Yes, how awful right? Legitimizing a conspiracy theorist. I mean it’s not like there was a REAL conspiracy, like for instance as minutely and accurately detailed in “The Russia Hoax
          The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump”.

          What, nothing about Obama palling around with a black Supremacist, proven racist and gay hater? Now that is REALLY something!

          You need to get out more from your bubble. You claim to be a “Reader”. Start with Greg Jarrett’s book and actually learn something.

          • @ gda

            “You claim to be a “Reader”.”

            Yeah I am. And?

            “Start with Greg Jarrett’s book and actually learn something.”

            No I won’t. And I doubt I’ll learn a single thing.

            “What, nothing about Obama palling around with a black Supremacist, proven racist and gay hater?”

            Plenty. But Obama isn’t in the seat. Trump is. So what is your point? When Trump does it less offense than Obama? During his presidency – Obama did not collude with Farrakhan – unlike Trump.

            “Yes, how awful right? Legitimizing a conspiracy theorist. ”

            It is… isn’t. Can’t cope or won’t cope?

    • Tyrant much? What next, shopping malls, large corporations and churches must be free speech zones too? Using the law to force them is tyranny, not enabling liberty through free speech.

      • “What next, shopping malls, large corporations and churches must be free speech zones too?”

        Nope, only speech platforms that have a dominant market share. And no I don’t see that as tyranny.

      • Shopping malls aren’t platforms for speech, free or otherwise. They sell products.

        If one company owned all the supermarkets this would be a restriction on what products were available and would give the mall complete control of the price. The State would have every right to step in.

        Likewise if one church held a monopoly on faith this would prevent other people from worshipping in their own way. That’s one of the reasons so many Europeans fucked off the Americas in the first place.

        • Afrosapiens ???? says

          The analogy is so false. Social media isn’t a marketplace for ideas, it is a community that has a right to set its own rules. If you want to carry on with the mall analogy, think about how malls are allowed to deny entry to people who are indecently dressed, drunk, or acting in a way that would disturb other customers. Social media platforms have the exact same right. If you’re not okay with that, you can visit stormfront.

      • TarsTarkas says

        That is why Google et al were visting the White House every other day. To encourage support for ‘their’ version of Net Neutrality regulations, which amazingly enough (It’s there if you read the regs) they were exempt from. Free for me, but not for thee.

  6. This is of course the product of the Liberal revolution by stealth/march through the institutions (education in particular). They went for the bottom-up approach, and alas, it seems to be doing rather well.

  7. Pingback: How we crowdsource our own 1984-censorship on social media. - TPOok

  8. Palm Oil says

    Over the last couple of years I have read many George Orwell quotes.

    That’s not a good thing as it highlights how history is repeating itself.

  9. c young says

    Brilliant and perplexing.

    When Stalin died Stalinism rapidly died with him.

    Khrushchev made his secret speech three years later. In other words, even in conditions created with the utmost care, with a willingness to resort to pervasive threats of death for minor infringements, often realised, Stalinism wasn’t self supporting.

    Yet here we have a Stalinism without a Stalin, spontaneously self-generated among Canadian ‘writers’ under no threat whatsoever. From my distance, this seems an impossibility.

    Surely there is some sociological or psychological work that can throw some light on this social derangement?

    • neoteny says

      Surely there is some sociological or psychological work that can throw some light on this social derangement?

      Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer” might contain some relevant explanations about the phenomena.

    • It’s Dark money. Dark money from the left- the Democracy Alliance, the lefts version of the Koch Foundation- is an organization that requires its members to donate 200 grand a year minimum, and in the very least support Black Lives Matter- your basic indoctrination into intersectional politics. Led by George Soros and Tom Steyer, to name a few (Howard Dean is also a member)- it fronts as an organization to ‘reduce money in politics’ by ‘reducing campaign contributions’- but this is only ironic- they aren’t trying to stop dark money, only control how it works, where the power lies. The left is, and has been for years, mainly concerned with what many call ‘the culture war’- the argument that drives the mythological narrative(s) of the culture at large. The want to ‘win’ this war, in other words- they want to stop the conversation altogether- to enforce an ideology that self-regulates- intersectionality is perfect for this- it’s an inquisitional snake eating it’s tail. Ive seen this rear its ugly head where I live- one of the most leftist places in the US- Minneapolis. One example is CTUL, an organization funded by these people to promote, on it’s surface, raising the minimum wage. I have personally seen these people intentionally target/recruit disabled, mentally ill people, usually ‘of color’- they pay them to protest in their name, pass photos to the leftist city
      paper (where they always get published)- and the worst of it, I think- each one of them gets a free socialistic newspaper called ‘the militant’ that promotes extremist left politics, intersectionalism at its worst- everything from rape culture to white fragility- things many of these recruits cannot fully process, but clearly agitates them, but they are willing to put up with for the protest income. That’s not to say the Koch Foundation has found its way here either- their ‘right to work’ initiative has fucked up plenty who deal with serious issues that keep them from performing for competitive wages, cut them off from much of their help if not completely. The point is, these are large groups, with hundreds (that we know of) extremely rich individuals that are open members of each, that are covertly engaging in very extreme forms of targeted, researched, behavior modification for political control. Zuckerberg and company may have a lot of power- but when say, George Soros and Tom Steyer, and the Koch Brothers, send billions out to fuel mobs on both sides to attack every organ of their company, and that’s not to mention dealing with unknown threats from hired spies ect of which there have been numerous examples- and it’s clear where the power lies. So, from what I can see, this is def a top down phenomenon- its just that the top is making it appear ‘crowdsourced’ or bottom up, which absolves them of responsibility, conveniently.

    • Bernard Hill says

      …the very existence of the literary community in question is an artifice, created solely by a public subsidy, which is probably why it operates so abnormally. Universities seem headed in the same direction, for the same reason.

  10. Dennis says

    I wouldn’t be too worried about the possibility of Google etc. censoring free speech.

    Even though they might have the ability to influence public opinion, there is very little chance they would actually exercise it to any considerable extend. The reason? Capitalism!

    In the end, Google et al are profit-seeking entities, set up to generate revenue for their owners. Their aim, accordingly is to maximize their users’ engagement, to sell more ads.

    Profit is what ultimately drives each and every one their policies. Any other considerations, political or social, will necessarily stand back behind the profit objective. I mean, can you imagine them sacrificing possible profit for the sake of making a political impact? I can’t.

    In some sense, the market forces them to be impartial, because if they aren’t, their users become dissatisfied, and engage less, or not at all.

    • You wouldn’t be worried about Google censoring free speech? They already do. James Damour was fired for exercising not only his right to free speech, but using it in an instance where they demanded he supply them with the very info he gave them- it just wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

      Netflix, another organization along w google, where George Soros, among others, is ‘coincidentally’ heavily invested in the tens of millions, has instituted a policy that regulates how long/many times someone can make eye contact with another employee.

      If capitalism, in the sense you use it, loses it’s grip to the far right or far left- it becomes subservient to a cult/religion. Whether it a Christian theocracy (far right) or Intersectional State (far left), if there is enough money coercing ‘the people’ to demand such moral ambiguities in their own media, it can clearly lose a hold of itself. Hollywood is a great example- the behavior of a few exploitative, dirty folks within their ranks fueled the rise of the #metoo movement, and ‘democracy alliance’ sends obscene amounts of money to black lives matter- now Hollywood is constantly having to answer to these organizations in the ‘free market.’ Just watch any of their awards ceremonies now- the last golden globes/oscars were nothing but giant PR stunts made to please these insitutions, with Hillary Clinton showing up, Oprah announcing a possible run for president, and a mammoth advertising campaign using #metoo to let us all know that the NY Times is the paper who ‘really tells the truth and stands up for the marginalized.’

      So I would disagree- worry, and the actions that follow, are the only thing keeping sites like this and the necessary barriers to these institutions from taking full control. So far, that is. Roll with the punches and there’s no doubt we will see our proverbial library of Alexandria torn down, in much the same way it was centuries ago- in the name of the downtrodden.

      • James Damour wrote about how to solve a business problem that Google was encountering. They were spending enormous amounts of time and money doing something that wasn’t getting the results they wanted. The reaction shows a rot in their business processes and culture.

        The trajectory of Google will be downhill. They have extraordinary amounts of cash as well as a very smart group of people running their core business which generates their income. Believe me, people are making decisions based on what they are seeing at Google; they hold enormous power in the marketplace, and have hurt people financially as a result of their decisions. I have noticed them becoming more frantic and even forceful driven by their need to maintain their revenue.

        These things take a while, but remember that Google is ultimately in the advertising business. Their job is to generate revenue by generating business for other people, and are paid generously for it when they are successful.

        When that revenue stream starts to be affected, and I think it already has, they will either double down and collapse, or change.

        • TarsTarkas says

          They will double down and try to make mandatory what is voluntary. But they have to help the Democrats win the mid-terms first, for without at least partial control of three of the five branches of government (Congress, Judiciary, Executive, Administrative, Propaganda) they cannot force the taxpayers to fund their profits.

  11. I’d not let the totalitarian impulses of government off the hook too quickly. Almost all the players in this scenario are getting government money; CanLit and the CBC.

    Somehow the notion that if politicians aren’t involved in the decision making these arrangements would end up being free is about as Orwellian as you can imagine. As every politician learns very quickly, the government is the Bureaucracy which has a mind of it’s own and the money and power to do what it wants to do.

    Almost everyone who runs these programs were educated at government subsidized Universities, all who will go on forever about their independence from government meddling. Sure. Their graduates go out and run the government departments that they depend on for subsidy.

    Over the centuries from the French Revolution to the Maoists we see how the most extreme and doctrinaire end up taking control. There is no limit, there are no feedback mechanisms in place to keep a lid on the stupidity, so stupidity flourishes with the full support of all the participants.

  12. Pingback: “Is Leftism as Old as Canabalism Itself?” | The Universal Spectator

  13. Pizza Pete says

    Canadians are simultaneously very proud and insecure about their culture. They are also slightly smug and condescending believing that they possess a European sophistication and cosmopolitanism lacking in the States.

    Sohs, Petersons, and Kays aside, it’s interesting that Canadian cultural superiority has provided no protection from intersectional nonsense. The Leftist culture-war dumpster fire burns no less bright or hot in Canada than it does in the US.

  14. Alex Simonelis says

    Excellent essay describing a very sad state of affairs accurately.

  15. So this is all a few hundred people using government funding to sell eachother less than a hundred copies of what they write? I knew it was a fairly small scene, but from how much I see about it here I hadn’t thought it was quite *that* small.

    It’s kind of impressive how loud teacup storms can be.

    • The First Amendment wasn’t written to allow for the free flow of obscenity. Or threats, fraud, libel, slander, crying “fire” in a crowded theater, etc.

      All this stuff comes down to whose idea of the True, Good, and Beautiful will be reflected in the law, and how one deals with the concept of the common good.

      The traditionalist Right centers those on the old-school definitions that are rooted in traditional Christianity, pushing for free political/artistic speech while wanting a public square free of obscenity. Subsidiarity and historical realities are key to their view of nationhood and peoples and how they should be dealt with politically.

      The atomized libertarian Right/Left ignores the very idea of the transcendentals — or of “society,” “peoplehood,” “the common good” — and thinks the marketplace is the only mechanism that should work those things out. If the free market can’t work it out, it isn’t worth working out. Or if the free market makes one man happy at the expense of the well-being or even survival of all others, too bad.

      The modern Left is the inverse of the traditionalist Right, loving its porn while wanting to outlaw speech that includes political ideas they don’t like, or that hurts any member of a “marginalized group’s” feelings. They reject the ideas of the True and Beautiful, but embrace “peoplehood” as long as the people involved aren’t European.

    • @ JK

      Great deal of difference between finding something “offensive” and censorship. If you are completely immoral only then you’ll find nothing offensive.

  16. I don’t understand the tendency to so sharply divide what is ‘private business’ and ‘politicians’ when they are clearly, regardless of ‘side,’ a codependent, symbiotic entity. The ‘sides’ both have different aims/strategies, as far as their demographic and extreme poles go, but any wealthy businessman is going to know people in government, and vice versa. I had family in the south on both sides in government, and they knew all the major private players- and got plenty of advantages from these people, sometimes with only existential risk involved and no obvious intention- maybe some front row basketball tickets, ect in case of a future favor where trust needed built. You can find plenty billionaires/extremely wealthy in dark money organizations who’ve worked in and out of various administrations- often setting up what they need in government to benefit privately, and weaseling out of the private sector into the government to either eliminate trade barriers (the ‘free market’) or institute protectionist measures (laws/regulations) to benefit their endgame. The left right divide is felt much more strongly by those who can’t afford hotshot attorneys, ie most people, because they seem to come in waves, a political tide- but smart businessmen, stategists- whether in or out of the government ostensibly, wont survive if they cant play both sides like chess. Allen Greenspan himself, while being questioned by congress, said that our thriving economy could be attributed to ‘worker insecurity.’ You keep us all afraid and on our toes, with our limbic systems acting as prime movers, and we find it tough if not impossible to view things in such a chessboard way- instead what we get is ‘reactionary’- which results in fear, denial, subservience to the securities of groups and so allegiance to their ideologies, and unable to view things past a pie-chart mentality- in other words, with a detached complexity. Arguments like tax vs less tax, freedom vs regulation, ect- all philosophical 101 arguments at heart to do with human nature- and any smart, wealthy man, again in or out of the government, knows these are quibbles left for the birds when it’s all said and done, unless an all out coup is in place- which would be impossible without the funding for weaponry ect provided by such players. Just watch the documentary, four part series, now free on youtube, ‘Century of Self.’ All of this is, and has been, since the propagandic reign of Sigmund Freud’s Nephew Edward Bernays, to use sophisticated techniques from behaviorism and depth psychology, in cooperation (from the private sector) with the government, to manipulate the public mind- and he even openly, arrogantly admitted to it with no guilt. We were all forces of ignorance that needed to be told how to live from such elites, in his view- and that, whether it’s the ‘Shock and Awe’ of the Bush Administration, or that the Clinton administration revolutionized media in elections by secretly targeting demographics (pretending to hunt w them ect)- still survives to this day, stronger than ever before, both privately and in the government, working together in what some have aptly labeled ‘inverted totalitarianism.’

  17. Pingback: When Censorship Is Crowdsourced, by Jonathan Kay (link) | Dispatches Poetry Wars

  18. You can champion capitalism all you want- but there are basic facts, right now, to absorb- both major website media aggregators, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, exercising their ‘god-given free speech’ to pretend that any film or series promoting intersectional, feminist, white-privelege, oriented ideologies- gets ‘great reviews’ to the public by ‘the most trusted sources’- which all turn out to be liberal publications, touting these films/shows as reality. ‘Dear White People,’ ‘America to Me,’ and ‘Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette’ are all egregious examples. If you post a negative review- you can count on a shit ton of downvotes- often outstripping the total positive votes, which could imply a few things for sure.

    Publishing in YA fiction, in which I have friends involved, is almost completely overrun by intersectional politics. And lastly- ancient authors- from Mark Twain, to the Beatniks (Burroughs, Ginsberg), Henry Miller, Jean Genet, Charles Bukowski- could not even be published now if they were alive, and half are already being demonized, written out of any curriculum because they make people feel ‘unsafe.’ If they’d been born in this climate, they would not be able to exist, some would’ve maybe had their careers ended. These are authors who’s works are 50 to over 100 years old, and had already been pretty much canonized by those with anyone half an aesthetic mind. Cormac Mccarthy, probably the greatest author still alive- he wouldn’t have been able to publish his greatest work now, and I’m surprised he isn’t being demonized- he may be and I just haven’t heard.

    Add that to the fact that, in a recent debate alongside Jordan Peterson, Stephen Fry, who’s been a longtime member of the left, an actor, and a member of the literary community said that ‘in his life he’s never felt such suppression of speech in his lifetime (he’s 61)- it literally feels like the Stasi is watching’

    And don’t take me wrong- I’m not saying capitalism is ‘bad’ per se- but its greatest feature- it’s ability to make a lot of folks wealthy- has made some folks so wealthy that their power, their ideas about speech, whether in or out of the government, can be planned by attorneys, economists, filtered into hundreds of organizations no one has heard of- that suddenly pop up in random ads, protests, and social media, that now have affected work policies in some of the largest corporations in America- and are declaring that art is inseparable from it’s (arbitrarily labeled) political message, a point which has already, clearly, resonated enough to do major damage. And the most frightening part of it is, the people who are instituting these policies and supporting these movements, clearly see money-making in this, and are working to ensure it- it isn’t just some dumb decision that capitalism will correct on its own- they are making sure that capitalism will reinforce it.

    • Capitalism isn’t about making lots of folks wealthy; when you invest poorly, you go broke (unless a tyrant government bails you out). If you don’t adapt to customer needs, you go broke. You can be Kodak or Bobby’s Poke Shop and go broke if you are not well run, using capital wisely.
      That you demand other people’s services and products to conform to you is fine, as the customer you either take it or leave it. I suggest you leave those places you dislike as that’s how actual capitalism works. Find another place to take your business and your speech, or follow actual free speech and speak for yourself and not through a corporation’s offerings.

    • It’s not “capitalism” that’s the problem, at least not the dictionary definition of it. It’s cronyism, usury, fiat currencies, fractional reserve banking, phenomena like the Federal Reserve, all bundled up with the idea that the market alone should determine what goes on that are the problems. I mean, setting prices and wages should be worked out by “the invisible hand” and the individuals directly involved (“capitalism”), but the other crap is killing us.

  19. So, you are free to speak anywhere; free to write emails, text messages; free to create web sites that contain the legal content you want; free to blog, vlog; free to start a newspaper or found a religion or open a church; but you feel your free speech rights are violated because a private company says your hate speech that violates their terms of use is censorship?
    Good grief…government using force to prevent speech is a violation of this right, just as it would be if government used it’s force to require speech. Tyrants always think more laws that prevent free people from their rights and their liberty is going to solve problems rather than make them worse.
    Liberty and equal protection work. Demanding all others conform to your views it evil.

    • You’re missing the point. There is no need for a government to suppress speech if we do it ourselves. Private companies want to stay in business, and government wants to look supportive- why do you think these ‘free’ entities are so apologetic to these groups? Because they know the bad press they get when they step out of line. And what- you don’t think the news publications and social media/algorithms that reinforce these rules answer to anyone? Of course they do- people using their ‘free speech’ to advertise and donate to them. If they don’t behave, they don’t stay ahead in the market. I guess were all supposed to use our ‘free time’ to track where every powerful institutions money flows so that we can avoid paying them be ‘freely’ treated by those around us like tinfoil hat wearing paranoids- and yes i better be sorry for that comment i made about ‘the mentally ill’ if I was famous or my career would be over. This idea of ‘free’ is a goofball idea when taken to the extreme- in its most exaggerated forms it has been used since right after world war 2 through reagan to now to promote consumerist narcissism when folks feared the economy would plummet- the real argument for that is basic freedom vs determinism argument- and any serious thinker who believes we have complete free will is a selfish numbskull and obviously isn’t even aware of their own body, brain, or the car that is about to hit them, if you take them for face value.

      It’s more complicated than free or not free. Check out the economist Ha-Joon Changs ‘The Bad Samaritans’- where he summarily illustrates how the British empire became what it was, by using both strong ‘free trade’ and strong ‘protectionist/regulatory’ measures when necessary. It’s never changed. There is no free market. It’s only ‘more or less free than’ depending on the whims of the powerful that control the banks and the courts, and those who decide to suck up to them. Sure you’re free- paper or plastic? Better have a negative, polarizing answer too or the algorithms may filter you out to where no one hears the ‘free speech’ you used to basically end up talking to yourself.

      And I’ll add also that since very long ago we all here (in the US) can file for bankruptcy, even more than once- some economies- as Niall Ferguson pointed out in ‘The Ascent of Money,’ one example being Memphis, TN- thrive on folks going for broke from bad loans, dealing w Repo Men, starting all over again just to file once more- because they have nothing. Sub-Prime loans ring a bell?

      • TarsTarkas says

        Government can suppress free speech, or any other activity, by inaction in the face of mobs. Jim Crow would not have lasted as long as it did without tacit government support. How many lynch mobs were organized by ordinary people, or community leaders, as Authority watched or kept a lookout for outside interference?

        • That’s a good point. And def adds to what ive been trying to say- how these large entities works- well, first, it often does work, what they do, even if it falls short. And also, that their strategies are much more subtle than just government suppresses/free markets free, or free markets cause monopolies/governments defend- and people in comment threads get so stuck in this left/right free/not free paradigm. The folks who influence the most to make the rules are not that unidimensional. A good portion of the one percent is made up of attorneys and economists- people who can project, make chessboard moves that anticipate complexities- it is literally their job to sit and brainstorm about these things, and to use wealth and influence to make moves with their conclusions. Not all of it may be ‘bad,’ depending on who you are, but some of it def can be, as with your example, and much of this is definitely antithetical to democratic ideals, though they use techniques like ‘Russell Conjugation’ through media outlets to make folks think that these basic, age-old things/issues are happening,instead of whats really up. Using government to prohibit Marijuana so that hemp sales didnt screw up the newspaper industry is another good example.

          • Oh, definitely. The outside sources that has fueled the ideologies that anitfa is built out of- intersectional dogma- is overwhelmingly funded by the democratic alliance dark money. Soros and company love black lives matter (it’s actually a requirement to join the alliance, along w donating 200 grand a year), #metoo, and any associated intersectional groups- all of which seek to shut down speech, and in the case of metoo, even change how the court system works, along with forfeiting any accused man’s rights. I haven’t looked into much yet- but i find it very shady how these SJW tribunals started in Canada, who has now signed the TPP- something rings funny there, I think. Obama tried to fasttrack the TPP and enough active voices stopped it, mostly in the name of Net Neutrality. Trump shut down the TPP but then went ahead with net neutrality. You can bet there will be some weeding in of strange regulations with all those forces- funny how Obama and Trump went after the same thing, in the end. Money, at the cost of freedom, under the rhetoric of freedom.

    • Others have responded but omitted 2 things:

      First, these companies have declared their social media products to be platforms. They did so explicitly to receive government protection against lawsuits. Without that protection, for example, the victims of Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories could have also named FaceBook in their lawsuits and sought damages from FB. Suddenly, all of those judgement-proof antifa types would see themselves sued with FB co-listed.

      Second, the Left was filled with glee when the courts found against Trump when he blocked someone on Twitter. The Left’s claim was that doing so violated that person’s 1st Amendment rights because in that case, they viewed this social media platform as the public form, not a private platform that Trump was simply exercising the functionality thereof in the same way that the companies themselves are doing.

      So which is it? A public platform and as such protected from lawsuits and prohibiting Trump from being able to block visitors to his account? Or is it a private company where Trump can block whomever he wants, can set his privacy settings how he likes, etc and where it may now be sued for in appropriate policing of harassing speech and defamation/slander?

      FYI — I see it as a private platform. I do NOT think it should be protected from suit since it clearly shows it has the ability to rapidly police. I also think Trump should be able to do whatever he darn well pleases with his personal twitter account.

      One more point to ponder, say I began my own alternative to Twitter called Quiller. Suddenly Trump switched and many to the right of socialist people joined. If Trump were posting there and I took a position of “sorry, if you are anti-Trump, Dem, Socialist, or an annoying Hollywood type, i’m going to shadow ban you and shadow hide from you posts from Trump. Would the position of the Left be the same? I think they made a very good argument for it being a public forum in their case against Trump blocking someone which is why I am confounded by the current argument from the Left that it’s now a private platform.

  20. Gary Lowe says

    This article reads like left-wing snowflake drivel. You are free to try to publish anything. The public is free to pressure publishers to not publish your work. There is no way to resolve this in any meaningful way without government intervention. That would probably create more problems that it would solve. So, create your own platform and stop complaining. Plus, this was way to many words to make your point.

    • You read like a libertarian nutcase who walks around being proud how free they are all day- meanwhile you cant utter a word without kneeling to the Koch foundation.

      And you prove my point- ‘there is no meaningful way to solve this without government intervention.’ I’m pretty sure you hadn’t thought about it much- using snowflake in the first sentence proves your limbic system was already in top gear before your little freedom of choice apparatus even got it’s keys in the starter.

      I’m assuming from your rhetoric that ‘government intervention’ only means creating regulations- not lifting them- or planning strategically to do either/or depending on a projected course of events. Also, if someone who donates dark money with democracy alliance, was then later benefiting from something, they actually did in the free market, with obamacare, is that ‘government intervention? Or, when the Koch foundation funnels ass tons of money into creating an institution like Alec, solely for combating belief in such things as evolution and global warming, to keep them from being taught as science in public institutions, is that government intervention? Are lobbyists and superpacs government intervention, or are they just part of the little utopian free market in your head?

      And just to set the record straight, there have been strong criticisms of the left and right here, both of which I have had family in, so no snowflake drivel except the one that blinds you from seeing that the right has always used the government to achieve it’s aims in different intervals, just as the left has lifted regulations and defended the free speech it threatens now when it has suited them.

      I think the solutions will probably have to be ongoing and creative, utilizing the best of both sides to counter the worst of both sides- Eric Weinstein has mentioned this idea in some interviews he has done, and it is the only tenable idea given that lining up too much with either side becomes dogmatic, ideological. And there has to be active voices with this approach, talking about, and exposing the powerful institutions that do and already have done damage to everything from universities, ethics in the humanities, all the way to the gerrymandering of voters. We dont have complete freedom- first one has to realize this, realize why, and use what freedom one has to hold questionable sources of power accountable, ‘government intervention’ or ‘free trade’ only being different ways to communicate these things.

      • Peter from Oz says

        ”…except the one that blinds you from seeing that the right has always used the government to achieve it’s aims in different intervals, just as the left has lifted regulations and defended the free speech it threatens now when it has suited them.”
        Actually Gary Lowe was saying exactly that, but you missed it somehow. He was basically saying that someone somewhere is always going to try and ban speech when it suits them.

  21. Chip Daniels says

    How different is the process described, than just social etiquette?

    Since the beginning of time, societies erect boundaries of acceptable speech and expression, and enforced them via shunning, censure, and ostracism.

    I’m trying to imagine a converse world, where any thought, no matter how much it offends or outrages, is received politely and warmly. Where such thoughts are given support and encouragement by being published upon demand, without criticism or edits.

    • Peter from Oz says

      That’s a very interesting comment.
      I’ve often wondered if the ultr-PC types of today would have been the ultra-prudes of the Victorian era; what in Australia are known as wowsers.
      The problem is that the SJWs are not enforcing an etiquette that is widely supported by the public.They are also using their morality as a political tool rather than a social one.

      • Or, are we in a period of shifting tides, when old norms are being discarded and replaced with new ones?
        Isn’t this really just a battle between competing ideas of what is sacred, and what should be taboo?

      • Afrosapiens ???? says

        “The problem is that the SJWs are not enforcing an etiquette that is widely supported by the public”

        No, believe me, society and especially social media users who are mostly young and diverse people, dislikes the alt-right and adjacent personalities. If you’re not convinced, just look at who are the most followed users and analyze their ideological takes. All very liberal.

        And if you’re a parent, you want to raise your kids to be respectful, tolerant and responsible adults, and you don’t want them to come across right wings provocateurs.

  22. Lawrence F says

    While I find this crying of ‘cultural appropriation’ is just another tiring tactic in the PC/ID wars, I also wouldn’t be so quick to let Ms Shannon Webb Campbell off the hook by similarly using the excuse of ‘colonialism and the ripple effects of intergenerational trauma’ being responsible for any ‘cultural’ errors in her writing. Not growing up within the tribe didn’t keep her from doing what real writers do: ACTUAL RESEARCH.

    • Alex Russell says

      But doing that research would not have made any difference. Authors have done this research, they have had their book vetted by multiple Organizations of the people being written about, received the “indigenous stamp of approval” and still been hounded by mobs that forced reviews to be deleted and the other usual censoring.

      The problem is not a lack of work or sensitivity. The problem is the bigoted dogma of the Regressive Left.

      For people who base their ethics and morals on actual universal principals, and not an arbitrary division of people into various static pigeon holes, “Cultural Appropriation” is not something to be concerned about, and generally does not exist unless you twist both language and logic into four dimensional pretzels.

      • Completely agree- doesn’t matter the veracity of the work. Regressive left, intersectionalist dogma, takes those deemed ‘marginalized’ and makes them the a priori kings of artistic expression, and therefore of the valued narrative maps utilized by culture, ie. a black trans person can write all they want about shitty white men or women, but a white man or woman better not write about a black person period. One of the most gross forms of doublespeak humans have come up with has come from these types- this ‘diversity’ that isolates and freezes people into little categories. Hipsters were the first to be obsessed with all this personal taxonomy, now you can see them together w SJWs at coffee shops, blue hair and stalinist moustaches aplenty.

  23. Kathleen Lowrey says

    I read this article with interest, but I wonder if the reason “censorship” has changed is because the control valve has moved from “publication” to “attention”. Once upon a time, the hard thing to do was to publish — so the control mechanism was on the press, publishing houses, and so on; the battle for free expression thus focused there.

    Now, publication is easy — anybody with a blog can do it — and the hard thing is to attract an audience. I often feel like these teeny little battles around (say) some poet no one reads are about a desperate desire to break into the attention economy via a scandal. At least more than the usual suspects will be looking at CanLit (poetry division) if a furor can be created within it.

    Alex Jones gets shut down because too many people followed him; he had too much of an audience. There have got to be a zillion other obscure, badly written blogs saying the same sorts of things he says.

    Because of this, I’m more or less an optimist about the current sort of censorship: it is all the more operative the more people are watching, and the more people are watching the more its operation tends to be self-undermining. The population of people who paid attention to CanLit poetry for the first time because of this kerfuffle is overwhelmingly going to be composed of people who will find the kerfuffle ludicrously unfair.

    The population of people who never looked at Infowars but who became interested when hearing of its censoring is overwhelmingly composed of people who think censoring it is wrong.

  24. Farris says

    @Jonathan Kay
    You wrote, “Like most small, high-concept book publishers in Canada, Book*hug is overwhelmingly dependent on government subsidies, which are what allow it to publish obscure manifestoes and poetry volumes that, outside of copies assigned to review, libraries, friends and family, might be expected to sell a few hundred copies.”
    Not being versed in Canadian law, I’m wondering why this financial nexus is not enough to allege government action or censorship. In the U.S. private schools accepting government funding even if only in the form of student loans must abide by the same regulations and laws as public institutions. The term quasi public is frequently used.

  25. Conan the Librarian says


    I am now reading social anthropologist David Graeber’s book “A Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy” (Same guy who wrote “Debt”).

    You might want to check it out. He’s more Left-leaning than you are, I suspect, but he’s got some really interesting ideas that track with yours, particularly what you say about the novelist having to put her work through a non-governmental bureaucracy of cultural appropriation checking. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I’m getting a lot out of it.

    the Founding Fathers of America outlawed cruel and unusual punishment. They failed to foresee that many people would much rather be flogged than go through an extended and malicious IRS audit.

  26. D.B. Cooper says

    these are private companies that can pretty much ban anyone they want

    An earnest question:

    Where’s the line between a platform and a publisher? One enjoys the immunity from libel laws (among others) for example, while the does not. By allowing these companies to censure certain views, it may be that they are flirting with a distinction without a difference, no?

    • ga gamba says

      Common-law principles have a person who publishes a defamatory statement by another bears the same liability for the statement as if s/he had created it. Therefore, a book or newspaper publisher can be held liable for anything that appears on its pages. The theory behind the publisher liability is a publisher has the knowledge, opportunity, and ability to exercise editorial control over the content of its publications.

      Then there are distributors such as libraries, book shops, and newspaper stands. Since they can’t control what appears on the pages, such as editing or removing, they are not held to the same standard as publishers.

      Computer services are a mixed bag. You have ISPs and hosting services who provide the transport – think of this as roads, and we don’t hold roads responsible for drunk driving and high-speed car chases. Search engines’ spiders trawl the transport looking for content and providing it in search results. We see sites like Google are now filtering out certain sites. This approaches the role of publisher, though they don’t have the legal responsibility aside from child porn and the like. Lastly, we have platform and content providers, who are most similar to publishers. Current US law also grants these sites immunity, treating them like transport/distributor because it was deemed in the national interest they provide the “forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.”

      EU and European national laws don’t provide this immunity, and recently laws such a the Network Enforcement Act have been enactedholding content service sites to include platforms and search engines responsible for the provided content – they have to remove it within x number of hours or face significant fines. Since data is global, this may compel sites to either censor all or prevent EU users’ access to the offending info to comply with EU law.

      • D.B. Cooper says

        Lastly, we have platform and content providers, who are most similar to publishers. Current US law also grants these sites immunity, treating them like transport/distributor…

        This is the point, I’m hoping to press. By discriminating against certain viewpoints or any views, for that matter, platforms are actively supporting/promoting – or, outright taking – a specific view, or set of views – notwithstanding their federal/state obligations to ban illegal material, of course, e.g., child porn. It seems to me, by doing so, they have violated a necessary distinction between being a disinterested platform and an interested publisher.

        In principle, I don’t have a problem – nor should there be – with them (FB, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) being either, but they should not claim the freedom(s) from certain legal constraints enjoyed by the former while behaving in a manner that most readily identifies with the latter.

        • ga gamba says

          It seems to me, by doing so, they have violated a necessary distinction between being a disinterested platform and an interested publisher.

          Indeed. I think they have crossed the line and are now openly take a side. Removing their protection and tossing them to the wolves called lawyers may prove too high a price they’re willing to pay.

  27. The reason SJWs are feted by the establishment is not because they are “dangerous” but precisely because they are not. These movements are inherently self-limiting. The constituency for trans activists, for example, is extremely limited because very few men are willing to have their penis and testes removed. Black nationalists by definition can only appeal to 14% of the population, not enough to make a difference.

    As the OP makes clear, these sorts of publishing outfits can’t survive without government or foundation assistance. Without signal boosting and support from the elites, these movements would not be viable.

    The real utility of these movements to the elites is to channel and subvert leftist movements that do have popular appeal. The 2016 Democratic primary, where elite-supported social justice movements furiously piled on the Bernie Sanders movement by accusing them of racism is a salient example. Jeremy Corbyn is likewise now being targeted.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      The real utility of these movements to the elites is to channel and subvert leftist movements that do have popular appeal.

      This is either sheer effrontery or some next level insight. Whatever the case, I’m going to give you points for originality.

    • peanut gallery says

      That’s why inter-sectional “theory” was created. To give cause for the disparate and unrelated groups to work together. Whether they won’t turn on one another or not depends on just how much they can learn to hate the patriarchy transphobe racist white cis scum that are oppressing them all.

  28. X. Citoyen says

    I can’t help but think you’re missing the real story here. Twitter mobs, crowd-sourced censorship, etc., attribute to social media mobs power they do not have. The keyboard warriors cannot censor, fire, silence, or ostracize anyone without the collusion of people in power. The CEOs, university presidents, and political leaders have to willingly go along with these witch-hunts, have to pretend (?) to be cowed by the mob. That’s the real story. After all, there’s no problem ignoring the mob when something or someone important is at stake–like a certain PM’s #MeToo moment, which disappeared down the memory hole rather quickly.

    • ga gamba says

      The CEOs, university presidents, and political leaders have to willingly go along with these witch-hunts, have to pretend (?) to be cowed by the mob.

      Yes, I agree with you. The powers-that-be tend to have beliefs that align with the stormtroopers goose stepping on campuses and online. Rather than stick their own necks out they rely on spectacle, the theatre of angry activists, to justify their capitulation. Whether my assessment is accurate or not, it’s indisputable Danegeld doesn’t buy permanent peace. In didn’t do so in the 8th century and it doesn’t do so now. Once received and spent the pillaging horde are soon back for more.

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  30. Jack Rice says

    What do you expect? With their monstrous vanity, mendacity and pandering to grievances in order to sow contention—and simply because they can—the unaccountable infotainment media (not the Internet per se) have turned the public into a mob—a crowdsourced mob.

  31. Indie Wifey says

    The creative universe – heck the whole darn thing – continues to implode thanks to the (& here’s imo the biggest irony) those quick clicking anonymous ones with the most time spare time on their thumbs)
    I picture a painting a la Bosch wherein mobs clamber up a fat, vast mountain upon which sits a burning windmill, and with their pitchforks raised, they are raking in and tearing down the heavens and all its stars, as the big, wet blanket with which they intend to put the last fires out. And the ground will be dotted with unicorn poop (has that emoji been “officially” erased yet?)

  32. estepheavfm says

    Canada is producing more than its share of anti-censorship and heterodox thought leaders and “heroes.” Apart from the most famous one, JP, there are Janice Fiamengo, Gad Saad, Rick Mehta, Lindsay Shepherd, Faith Goldy, Lauren Southern, Stefan Molyneaux, Karen Straughan and Alison Tieman.

    Dr. Janice Fiamengo is a veritable one-women college (due to her YouTube “Fiamengo File”) of the highest calibre.

  33. guoiog says

    I’m so sick of your whining.

    “Boo hoo I’m being censored. But instead of going to free speech platforms like gab, I’m going to stay on twitter and facebook”

    If you don’t patronize free speech platforms, then don’t complain.

  34. Culturally legislated censorship of this type is not new. Orwell describes it perfectly in his Preface to Animal Farm – which, as if to prove his point, was unpublished until after his death.

  35. Interesting article on the contortions of ‘liberal’ (some, like the author and Jordan Peterson, say ‘left-wing’) intellectuals in North America. Luckily we don’t see so much of the obsession with ‘cultural appropriation’ and other self-directed guilt-trips in UK culture. Or do we?

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