by Sylvia Demarest

Social media companies have now demonstrated their power to impact free speech, free press, free association, and to control the flow of information.  These monopoly interests also seem to be aligned with both the national security state and one of our major political parties. The use of fear and authoritarian control of the flow of information is how fascists rose to power in Germany and Italy prior to WWII.  It’s how communism spread in Russia and China. It’s how military dictators assumed and held power.  This level of unaccountable power as a threat to democracy.  We need to come together to preserve the right to free speech and association—to privacy—including the right to peacefully demonstrate and organize politically for people of all political persuasions.  We need to do this even given current circumstances, and even though we may appear to be indirectly supporting Donald Trump.  

What took place last Friday was nothing short of a modern version of “The Night of the Long Knives.”  Twitter banned Trump, took down multiple Trump related pages, including his campaign page, and deleted the accounts of many of his most prominent allies. Google  removed social media platform Parler from its App Store.   Apple immediately followed. Prior to its removal, Parler was the most downloaded app in America.  Many prominent Facebook groups such as the #WalkAway movement were also deleted. Reddit took down the largest Trump community on its page, and Discord followed suit on their platform. Shopify has removed hosting services for Trump’s online store. CNN requested that the major cable providers take Fox News off the air. Yahoo petitioned to de-platform conservative voices.  A sitting US Senator, Josh Hawley, lost his book deal.  Numerous democratic party groups demanded that Senator Hawley and Cruz resign from the Senate. 

All of  this happened in about twenty-four hours starting last Friday and impacted around half of the people of this country.  Trump alone had 88 million followers on his Twitter feed—this is more votes than Joe Biden got in the last election.   We need to figure out how to look beyond the hysteria following the breach of Congress on Wednesday, and see these actions as an unprecedented challenge to basic political freedoms including the free flow of information for a significant portion of the American people.  Whether we agree with these people or not, their voices should not be silenced on social media.  If these people are silenced politically, what is their alternative?  “Liberals” used to believe in free speech and association and to understand that political speech needs to be protected—what happened?  

In the months leading up to the election, we’ve seen stories suppressed on social media. Not only about Hunter Biden but about Covid-19 including any discussion of problems with testing, the mRNA vaccines, alternative treatments, the  efficacy of lockdowns or mask wearing,  including the origins of the virus.  Twitter even banned an entire medical journal for publishing a study indicating Ivermectin was effective in treating this virus.   We’ve seen Google demonetize popular websites that dissented from the current political and social orthodoxy. People and groups  with huge on line presences built up over many years have awaken to find their content gone with no appeal or any way to regain access to this content.   We’ve seen certain groups including entire online communities shut down. The bias behind these actions seems blatant and targeted to people who could be described as political enemies of these huge corporate monopolies, the national security state, and/or the democratic party.  Wake up people! This is not what this country is supposed to stand for!

For the first time in American history a group of huge corporations are powerful and wealthy enough to control our voices by controlling the flow of information.   This gives private corporations the ability to censor any information these monopolists  deem ‘unacceptable’ or ‘not factual’, deleting content at their sole discretion. Dissent is no longer allowed, and if someone spreads information these huge corporations don’t approve of, they are banned.

We’ve seen the same censorship and demonization applied to anyone trying to poke holes in election data or attempting  to explore and discuss problems with these voting machines, or issues related to the wholesale  mailing of ballots to every registered voter.  Despite the clear fact that many of these concerns are justified, including the need more secure and open election procedures   A video of an expert hacking into voting machines in real time and changing results was even taken down.  I favor banning all machines using proprietary data and requiring ballots marked by hand and counted in public.  Even if you don’t believe election fraud occurred or occurs, millions of Americans do believe and their concerns are valid and will not go away. 

This disease of political repression has spread to Congress.  A new bill has suddenly appeared before the Congress to deal with “domestic terrorism.”  This reminds me of the Patriot Act after 9/11 and I fear this bill will entrench the above trends.    The bill will expand law enforcement power to surveil any American or group of Americans deemed a threat.  If this bill seems reasonable  and pragmatic, I urge you to recall our history of targeting native Americans, Japanese citizens, anti-war voices, and the way these anti-war voices and the people investigated by Joseph McCarthy were treated.  These people were not provided with due process nor did the actions taken to suppress them comport with any concept of the Rule of Law or the Bill of Rights.  Such a bill would represent an unnecessary expansion of government  power to monitor, suppress, prosecute and interfere  with the right of Americans to organize for political change.  It’s true  purpose is to intimidate, to frighten and to destroy anyone deemed a threat to the current structure of corporate and political power—which I contend is increasingly corrupt and dangerous to this country’s future.   

Are you with these corrupt and anti-democratic authoritarians who have divided our country?  It’s not easy to see through the haze and observe the degree to which economic and political power has been concentrated and how the wishes, and needs of the vast majority of Americans have been ignored.  The means being used are the  classic divide and conquer strategy and it is being deployed to conceal the fact that 85% of all Americans have no real political representation or power today. 

We must oppose these efforts to use fear and revenge to stampede us into supporting unneeded legislation which will empower the national security state and encroach even further on the Bill of Rights in the name of entrenched corporate interests and concentrated economic and political power. 

(Sylvia Demarest is a Dallas, Texas, attorney)