Social Media Censorship is Twenty-First Century Book Burning

On various social media sites, except Gab, suppression of right wing thinking and commentary is rampant at every term. Whether it is in the form biased moderation removing posts & punishing users, the manipulation of trending topics by a staff of curators, or by filtering your feed for “quality”, social media outlets use their power to influence the thoughts and opinions of the public using their websites. The reasons behind this are the same reasons books have been burned throughout the centuries.

The primary reason books have burnt en masse is to influence the flow of information. Whether this was stamping out heresy, eliminating subversive ideas, or imposing thought control on a population, book burning has been widely used to eliminate arguments from public discourse. Before the advent of the printing press, this was somewhat easier, as the lack of Cathar writings will attest. Even after Gutenberg, book burning served to reduce the number of copies in circulation and to keep the copies that remained from being widely circulated. These same reasons apply to social media controls. They reduce the scope of public discourse, they make it more difficult to build an audience as someone on the right and they limit the reach of right wing voices. Suppression of the right, while the left is propped up, puts the foot on the scale in one direction.

Even when burning books can’t hope to suppress ideas in any meaningful way, the event still serves as a way to signal to the rest of the world. It tells the world that you oppose the ideas in the book even being expressed, it tells people who hold those ideas they are not welcome, and it serves as a way to bond the people doing the burning together. Likewise, while social media cannot eliminate ideas entirely, and ideas still find ways to circumvent the censors, the social media companies benefit by demonstrating their commitment to the progressive cause, and forge a bond between the corporation and their progressive userbase.

The other reasons book burnings take place are as demonstrations of power. The Mongols didn’t have a particular opinion about the contents of the Library of Baghdad, they destroyed it because they could. When the British attacked Washington DC during the War of 1812, they used the contents of the Library of Congress as kindling for the destruction of the the Capitol building, just to demonstrate the impotence of the American military. In the same way, social media companies remind everyone just how powerful the hand they wield is. They control information flow in America as much or more than any television network or newspaper, and, in a democracy, control of the flow of information is the basis for power. By making it clear how trivial it is for them to disrupt right-wing communications on their network and how far they will go to keep their ideas from spreading to the wider website, the social media giants make it clear that they have sole control of a powerful weapon in politics.

If you don’t believe social networking companies don’t wield enormous political power, look what has happened with SOPA and its successors. The big tech companies all used their ability to disseminate filtered information to get huge numbers of people to take political action in their favor on legislation that would never have made the news otherwise. Right then and there, tech companies revealed their power. Now that power is harnessed for the suppression of the right as the allure of information control activates the book burning impulse.

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