What started as a trickle of censorship when Donald Trump assumed the office of presidency in 2017 has since morphed into a draconian nightmare in which millions of people have found themselves with no voice online. Thanks to the censors in big tech and social media companies, entirely peaceful political views are being wiped from the mainstream discussion.
As anyone with half a brain understands, censorship does not stop ideas from spreading. Bad ideas need to be defeated in the public arena of debate. When you ban them, you not only prevent them from being defeated in the public arena, you give credence to those who espouse them. These tech giants know this, which makes their recent push for more censorship all the more worrisome.
As we reported last month, three individual, unelected, unaccountable corporate monopolies (Amazon, Google, Apple) colluded to silence political content with which they disagreed. Joe MAGA, who may be on the verge of snapping, whose been unemployed for a year, arguing about ridiculous Qanon theories on Facebook, only to be banned and pushed to Parler, and then banned once more, is thinking to himself right now that the establishment is out to get him and he’s right. Unfortunately, thanks to this attack on anti-establishment voices, thousands of Joe MAGAs are likely googling the ingredients for pipe bombs, right now.
Just like the war on terror creates more terrorists, censorship is wind in the sails of extremism.
The reaction to the chaos at the capitol by big tech and the establishment has undoubtedly made things far worse, thereby allowing the feds to roll out even more draconian measures in the name of national security. Most Americans will accept these measures in the name of “keeping them safe,” and freedom will die with nary a whimper.
Though this is the case in the United States, in Europe, Poland is setting an example that could put this censorship leviathan in its place.
On February 1, 2021, the Polish Ministry of Justice issued a draft act on freedom of speech and social media. The legislation was originally proposed in December of last year but quickly became increasingly relevant in January as these tech giants took to banning the president of the United States — an act the Polish government decried as censorship.
As freedom of speech and political debate is a cornerstone of all free societies, the Minister of Justice in Poland has taken action to make sure social media companies cannot stifle it. The proposed legislation appoints a freedom of speech council which will be tasked with making sure legal speech cannot be unceremoniously wiped from the internet by big tech.
According to the National Law Review, the proposed bill acts as follows:
The draft act also provides that if a website blocks an account or deletes a certain entry, even though its content does not violate/infringe upon Polish law, the user will be able to lodge a complaint with the service provider. The provider must confirm that the complaint has been received and will then have 48 hours to consider it. If the provider dismisses the complaint, the user will be able to appeal that decision to the Freedom of Speech Council, which will consider the appeal within seven days. The proceedings before the council would be conducted electronically, to expedite the process and minimize the costs. The council will proceed in closed sessions. It will not take evidence from witnesses, parties, expert opinions and visual inspections, and the evidentiary proceedings before the council will boil down to evidence submitted by the parties (the user and the provider, represented by its representative in the country) or to information already known to the council.
If the council deems the appeal justified, it may order the website to immediately restore the blocked content or account. Thereafter, having received the order, the provider will have no more than 24 hours to comply. Failure to comply with the council’s order may lead to an administrative fine of up to PLN50,000,000 (i.e., €11,000,000, or $13,500,000). Such high financial penalties may prevent social networking services administrators from removing content, even if it is clearly harmful, out of fear of disputes as to such content’s legality.
In addition, the provider will not be able to limit access to content that has already been scrutinized by the council, even if the circumstances should later change and the entry proves to be unlawful after all. The council’s decision will be final and the new body will be able to limit its statement of grounds solely to an indication of the facts that it deemed evident and to quoting the legal provisions that constituted the legal basis for the decision reached, which may, in fact, deprive the provider of the right to appeal to the administrative court.
The Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro points out that because most political discourse and debate takes place online, arbitrary censorship by internet tech giants infringes on people’s freedoms.
“Often, the victims of tendencies for ideological censorship are also representatives of various groups operating in Poland, whose content is removed or blocked, just because they express views and refer to values that are unacceptable from the point of view of communities… with an ever-stronger influence on the functioning of social media,” Ziobro stated.
“We realize that it is not an easy topic,” he continued.
“We realize that on the internet there should also be a sphere of guarantees for everybody who feels slandered, a sphere of limitation of various content which may carry with it a negative impact on the sphere of other people’s freedom,” he said.
“But we would like to propose such tools that will enable both one side and the other to call for the decision of a body that will be able to adjudicate whether content appearing on such and such a social media account really violates personal rights, whether it can be eliminated, or whether there is censorship.”
While advocates of private business and freedom of association — as we are — will be quick to make the claim that “Facebook and Twitter are private companies and can ban who they want,” it is important to remind everyone that this is not a true statement.
As TFTP reported in 2018, Facebook announced that it partnered with the arm of the government-funded Atlantic Council, known as the Digital Forensic Research Lab that was brought on to help the social media behemoth with “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.”
The Atlantic Council is the group that NATO uses to whitewash wars and foster hatred toward Russia, which in turn allows them to continue to justify themselves. It’s funded by arms manufacturers like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. It is also funded by billionaire oligarchs like the Ukraine’s Victor Pinchuk and Saudi billionaire Bahaa Hariri.
The list goes on and the fact that their funding comes from the United States, the US Army, and the Airforce directly negates the “private” aspect of the partnership.
The “think tank” Facebook partnered with to make decisions on who they censor is directly funded by multiple state actors — including the United States — which voids any and all claims that Facebook is a wholly “private actor.”
The Atlantic Council wields massive influence over mainstream media too, which is why when this partnership was announced, no one in the mainstream press pointed it out as the Orwellian idea that it is. Instead, headlines such as “US think tank’s tiny lab helps Facebook battle fake social media(Reuters)” and “Facebook partners with Atlantic Council to improve election security (The Hill)” were put out to spin the fact that a NATO propaganda arm is now censoring the information Americans see on Facebook.
But this partnership with the state-funded “think tank” is not the only reason Facebook is not private.
From government funded censorship arms to the revolving door of high level bureaucrats who fill the ranks of the oligopolies, the “private company” Facebook concept comes crashing down when taking a closer look. Private-sector firms do not need to be explicitly nationalized to further the establishment’s interests; it’s enough to install their alumni in top regulatory positions. Through these methods, Facebook can put on the façade of privatization while actually acting as deputies for the state but alleviating any constitutional checks in the process.
What’s more, as the government hangs the threat of antitrust litigation over their heads, it can force these companies to act in their benefit even without explicit partnerships like that of the Atlantic Council.
It is for these reasons that this move by Poland is so important. Hopefully it will lead to a larger conversation about our inalienable right to free speech not just on the street but in the digital world as well.