They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Like that broken clock, when President Donald Trump complained recently about social media censorship, he was onto something. We should be very concerned when Facebook executives decide to kick somebody off their social media site just because the offender is anti-social.
Actually, the term they use is “dangerous individuals,” and arguably what these expelled guys regularly spew out is dangerously crazy. Alex Jones was given the boot, along with removal of links to his Infowars site, which constantly puts out extremist conspiracy theories. So was Louis Farrakhan, but most of those on the do-not-vie list were either on the far right, or even further right, out there in Goofyland.
The problem with censorship is in who decides who’s dangerous. One guy’s “dangerous” is another one’s provocative, or perhaps someone who is just a worthwhile but annoying dissenter. Do you want Mark Zuckerberg, some other techie or businessman or, most ominously, a government official deciding who’s “dangerous”? Obviously, the bozos who were kicked off Facebook (and Instagram, too) have a screw loose. Society would be a better place if their fantasies were not shared with anyone, much less everyone on the planet, but who draws the line?
Trump’s millions of supporters consider themselves victims of anything and everything. The president knows that, and he speaks their aggrieved language. It’s all a giant plot, he thunders, to discriminate against conservatives by shutting down the ideas they’d express over Facebook, Twitter and all the other media that claim to be everyone’s megaphone.
Now he and his accomplices have come up with another opportunistic scam to exploit that paranoia. The White House has released a form. If anyone out there believes he or she has been discriminated against by the sinister guys who run social media, he or she can fill out the form. It’s not just another way to push the buttons of his frightened faithful; instead, Trump claims it’s available to everybody, no matter what the political outlook.
It asks for contact information: name, address, email address, along with citizenship and residency status. Additionally, it seeks links and screenshots of any material posted that was allegedly censored. Danger! Danger! Your email addresses alone are gold. Anyone who provides that information can expect to be barraged with fundraising appeals. No word on whether the Russian trolls will have to list where they’re from.
Much of the other information requested on this innocuous form has a potential to be scooped up and put in some database somewhere, just like the ones controlled by Facebook and all the others.
In the process of constructing this global mess, the social media brainiacs just may have created a problem that does not have a solution. In addition to the perils of censorship, we have on the other side the insidious potential of misinformation, gross distortions and hatred put out there for the gullible to lap right up. Maybe the technology has seized control.
Notwithstanding that broken clock, time doesn’t stand still. Nor, as Trump suggests, can we return to the past. Thanks to technology, and our own unwillingness to responsibly filter what we read on the internet, the future may be splattered with even more ignorance and hate.
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.