George Orwell was, as we all are, the product of his experiences. When he wrote his final book, “1984,” it was the final prophecy of what he had already seen.
His warning of the government becoming omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent has been well-heeded by much of the Western world. This isn’t to say that governments don’t have too much power, don’t invade our privacy, and haven’t grown too big. That’s all true, and most freedom-loving Westerners are wary of it.
The constant checks and balances between the branches of government, the fourth estate (the media), and the sovereign (the people) have helped keep eyes open to the threat of what Orwell called Big Brother.
What Orwell didn’t foresee, or perhaps didn’t think possible, was that the people themselves would become their own greatest threat—a threat made possible through the flourishing private sector of American enterprise.
Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. These have been the faces of how Americans communicate. When once we thought our voices could only be amplified when among friends or through a letter to the editor, we now find that we all have a platform. Americans have always prided themselves on their opinions. Sometimes wrong, often slanted.
But it was our opinion.
Finally, our First Amendment guaranteed that freedom of speech could, in some way, compete with that of the freedom of the press protected within the same amendment.
For the longest time, these companies have been understood to be public forums. People could write and record whatever they wished to say, and these companies wouldn’t and couldn’t be held accountable. People were provided a higher level of freedom of speech, while private industry remained protected.
We were all satisfied with the arrangement.
That time, however, has passed. Social media giants have slowly been singling out and censoring voices, primarily of a conservative view. For liberals to think they wouldn’t be next would have been naive. This pandemic has proven it to be so.
Power does not discriminate. These social media platforms have decided to censor any opinion—conservative or liberal—that conflicts with “information you can trust from recognized health organizations.” This is the phrase labeled at the top of your mobile Facebook and Instagram account. Twitter has one. YouTube has a similar label at the top of its homepage—a label that has been shown more than 9 billion times.
Among the health organizations is the one that’s been getting it wrong from the beginning: the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has been so blatantly terrible at providing accurate information that it’s been criticized as being a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine. The ties of its leader, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to the Communist Party don’t help the situation.
Its destructive misinformation led President Donald Trump to withhold U.S. funding to the organization; the United States gave more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019. Since then, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted that his company would be giving the WHO “as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response.”
As the U.S. mortality numbers (currently about 67,700) remain far below the 2.2 million predicted by the Imperial College COVID-19 response team, conflicting opinions can do nothing but rise to the surface. Whether right or wrong, it’s part of the human condition to point out when a predicted fact becomes a falsehood. Most recently, when two Californian doctors presented their numbers, their video went viral.
YouTube quickly removed the video, stating that it went against their guidelines.
Alarmingly, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in an interview with CNN, “Anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy.”
Zuckerberg told “Good Morning America” that his company has implemented policies to flag content that serves to organize events in protest of government lockdown orders as “harmful misinformation.”
Even The Epoch Times’ own Joshua Philipp’s thorough and illuminating documentary “Tracking Down the Origin of the Coronavirus” was flagged as “false information” on Facebook.
In mid-March, Silicon Valley technologist Aaron Ginn published an article on Medium that was chock-full of information and graphics, titled “Evidence Over Hysteria—COVID-19.”
It quickly went viral. Perhaps too quickly.
Dr. Carl Bergstrom, an evolutionary biology professor at the University of Washington, got wind of the article and conducted a debunking of it through Twitter. After his labor-intensive tweet frenzy, Medium took the article down (it was later reposted on ZeroHedge). The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board followed up with an article about who is controlling the coronavirus narrative and the risk of dissolving civil debate.
Oddly enough, Bergstrom was also one of the first to jump into debunking mode against the California doctors. The result, as aforementioned, was the same as the Medium article.
Bergstrom is part of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, at which the mission is “to resist strategic misinformation, promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse.” If Bergstrom has done any of those recently, it definitely hasn’t been the latter; he’s become a kind of hero for the social media giants’ clampdown on “democratic discourse.”
Sadly, well-intentioned heroes often become accidental villains.
Social media has consumed our lives so much that it has become a primary method, if not the primary method of speech. Text, photos, and videos have become our medium to communicate with friends, family, and the rest of the world (or whomever is willing to listen).
As the social media giants transform further and further into the Ministry of Truth, this recent censorship can feel sudden. To believe, however, that it came without warning would be naive.
It’s true that Orwell didn’t see it coming, but every American today should have. The question is what will we do about it?
This article was originally published on April 30, 2020 in The Epoch Times.