Zuckerberg is the First to Stop Clapping

Ken Burns says that Mark Zuckerberg is an enemy of the state. As an actual enemy of the state, I resent that.

In an interview with New York Times’s Kara Swisher, the legendary documentarian hinted that Facebook’s upper management, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, should be treated like the former Nazi leaders. “The Nuremberg of this, is if it ever happens, which it won’t, will be pretty interesting,” said Burns.

Strangely, some conservatives agreed with Burns’s assertion that Zuckerberg “belongs in jail.” The right hates Zuckerberg because of Facebook’s efforts to combat “misinformation” through censorship and fact-checking. The left hates Zuckerberg because he hasn’t purged all non-leftist thoughts from Facebook yet. But the conservative comments section intelligentsia seems to think that Burns is right simply because he hates Zuckerberg like they do, even if it is for the exact opposite reason. Burns is parroting the standard talking points dictated by the mainstream media/DNC. Biden similarly said about a week before that Facebook is “killing people” by not censoring enough.

There’s a story in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago about a Communist Party Meeting in Moscow where, after passing a resolution affirming the local party’s loyalty to Stalin, everyone stood fiercely applauding, clapping and yelling, for over ten minutes, as no one wanted to be seen as the first to stop. Finally, the director of the local paper mill sat down, allowing the applause to end at last. Later that night, the NKVD showed up on his doorstep. “In this way, independent men are known,” writes Solzhenitsyn. (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago, trans. Adaisa A. Jesus, p. 121-123)

The revolutionary left always cancels their own. The Russian Gulags held very few actual counter-revolutionaries and “enemies of the state.” The NKVD was able to exercise such total control because anyone who betrayed the slightest hint of only being lukewarm to the cause would disappear soon after.

Despite the rapid and radical shifts in Democratic and popular attitudes toward free speech, despite the bogus fact checks, the algorithm manipulation, and the general hostility from Facebook, the Daily Wire is not only still on the platform but is also the most popular news publisher on Facebook. Zuckerberg has not eliminated all conservatives. That’s why Burns is required to hate Zuckerberg. That’s why he is to be labeled a counter-revolutionary. He has failed this loyalty test.

This reliance on loyalty tests is not just a feature of the left. In any group with a shared ideology there is a tendency for members to want to prove their loyalty, so as not to be suspected of doubt, and for busybodies in the group to look for those signs of doubt and possible dissent. It happens with libertarians and conservatives all the time, and even Alex Jones is suspected by some hard-core Conspiracy Theorists of not being fully committed to the Conspiracy Theory ideology and therefore a disinformation agent because he doesn’t blame everything on the Jews.

It may be a common or even universal human problem, but it becomes dangerous when these ideological groups have the power to send dissidents to the Gulag or excise them from the culture. Libertarians and conservatives should try to create movements that tolerate doubt, cultures that don’t want to destroy people for imperfection.

Do we destroy those who doubt, or do we help them and lift them up? The teachings of Christ are an example of the latter. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith – even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.” Believing in true and false and right and wrong does not task us with destroying others for their imperfections.

I can’t read Mark Zuckerberg’s mind. I think that while he’s a natural liberal, deep down in his mind there are principles of free speech that he picked up from the 2000s programming culture, principles that Jack Dorsey might also have shared before he joined the hippie commune. But whatever Zuckerberg does at this point, he’s already marked as someone not properly dedicated to the leftist cause. Solzhenitsyn wrote about the fate of the man who sat down at the Communist Party rally: “With extraordinary ease they gave him ten years, claiming a totally different motive. But when he had signed the summary of charges, the investigating judge reminded him: never be the first to stop clapping.”

Top Image: Party officials applaud at the 15th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party in 1927. Joseph Stalin is in the bottom right.

Facebook Censorship Empowers Falsehoods

Facebook has ramped up its efforts to control the flow of information since Biden’s proclamation two weeks ago that it was “killing people” by allowing people to post “misinformation” about Covid-19 and vaccines. Now not even job posts that mention the need for potential employees to be tested or vaccinated can escape the dreaded “Visit the COVID-19 Information Center” banner. It’s gotten to the point where they are no longer just suppressing incorrect facts, but unapproved opinions as well.

Because of this, many people are reaching a point where they consider official disapproval to be a mark of truth. Conspiracy theorists – who have always posted and shared made-up crap under the radar – held this view for years. I suspect that the modern flat Earth movement came into being when someone was talking to their conspiracy theorist buddy and argued that “Not everything the official sources say is necessarily false. Just because they say the Earth is round, that doesn’t mean you can really believe it’s flat.” To which the conspiracy theorist replied, “hold my beer.”

I doubt Samuel L. Jackson actually said this, but it somehow seems more credible if you imagine him saying it in his deep voice. It might be even more credible with a picture of Morgan Freeman.

If we can accept the possibility that at least on rare occasions official sources might get something right, then we need to evaluate official claims on the strength of their evidence. Ideally, social media could be a great place for that process. Someone posts a claim, someone asks for evidence, the original poster or someone else posts evidence, someone replies to that with conflicting evidence or pointing out problems with their evidence, and so on, and if we could do this in a civilized manner, we might get closer to the truth. Conversation is necessary for understanding, scrutiny is the source of scientific knowledge, and opposition is the forge of experience.

Scrutiny often dismantles falsehoods, which is why – back in the days when there were lots of conspiracy theory groups on Facebook – they were careful to block any dissenting voices from their page. Rational, evidence-based discussions are the bane of both conspiracy theories and government propaganda, which is why censorship of rational discussions empowers both. Censorship doesn’t hurt conspiracy theories much, what they lose in Facebook traffic to their pages they more than make up for with the strange new credibility the censorship has given them and the “secret hidden knowledge” they can implicitly or explicitly promise.

This is a great way to advertise a boring video.

Social media censorship often decreases the reach of true stories the mainstream media/DNC disagrees with, like the Hunter Biden emails or Covid-19 Wuhan lab-leak theory, but not so much that we haven’t heard of them. The most damage is done to open, skeptical discussion and exchange of intellectually diverse materials and ideas. Conspiracy theories can be marketed as “the video THEY don’t want you to see,” but the truth usually doesn’t get the benefit of that exciting heading.

Facebook censorship empowers not only conspiracy theories, but run-of-the-mill rumors. For example, I recently came across a claim that a conservative boycott of Coca-Cola over their noted support of critical race theory had successfully damaged their business.

This claim could be true, but I was skeptical, if only because of the fact that conservatives are notoriously lousy at following through on boycotts. The top-down control approach to baloney like this is to hide it, make it blurry to the audience, and/or to reduce its reach. But maybe there’s evidence. The rational, decentralized, libertarian approach is to ask for a source, which I did.

A traditional way of asking for sources. Comic from xkcd.com

Facebook blocked my comment which was asking for a source because social media censorship is designed to prevent all controversial conversations. Any possibility of pointing out the need for a source or trading evidence with the original poster is automatically ruled out.

Of course, social media companies and news organizations are private companies and can legally censor whoever they want, as many libertarians will constantly remind everyone who will listen (though the government’s finger is clearly on the scale at this point). But libertarians should also know better than anyone else that you can’t derive morality from legality. And you can’t derive efficacy or practicality from either.

Rumors, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines continue to thrive, despite (or possibly because of) social media’s censorship. But without the censorship, we might have a rational discussion about how necessary the vaccine is for certain populations or the need for mask mandates, and that’s even more unacceptable. Without censorship, we might be able to discuss the issue, to trade evidence, and maybe to convince each other of the right position. Or we might not, as humans often let their emotion override their reason. But it’s better than letting falsehoods go unchallenged by having no discussion at all.