POLITICAL BIAS IS NOT
(The thoughts below were intended as a supplement to my last post. But a week of wrangling with some rather extreme upper-respiratory nonsense kept me from completing and posting them. Better late than never.)
About 20 years ago I was incubating an idea for what would eventually become two mystery novels (both of which are no longer in print). The books included a couple of characters who had (as it might have been tactfully put at the time) irregular inclinations.
In order to present their motives and reactions authentically, I turned to the Internet in search of psychological insight and analysis. It didn’t take long to discover that there was a lot more than clinical information available.
Quite unexpectedly I fell into a world of online clubs, chat boards, and videos that provided encouragement and instruction for people wishing to explore whatever variety of sexual interest provoked their desires. While there was ample instruction in this material — detailed and unambiguous — the emphasis of all the sites was clearly on encouragement (not to say recruiting).
I’ve often wondered what our online experience would be like today if the Internet had come of age, say, back in the 1950s when there was more of a consensus on what’s appropriate to discuss in a public forum. But certainly, by the time I was researching my novels, the moral-restraint horse was long out of the barn. That realm then referred to as “cyberspace” had become the Wild West, and there was no way to anticipate what one might stumble over on the World Wide Web.
Twenty years after my online discoveries I certainly wouldn’t expect our high tech gatekeepers to shield me from the material I found so surprising. On the contrary, those were expressions of precisely the sort of “diversity” we’re called upon to celebrate these days.
Nevertheless, this experience demonstrated that there is a need for some filtering by online providers, even if there’s disagreement over what should be filtered.
I offer this reflection after my last post, in which I took a strong stand against online censorship. I really do appreciate the challenges confronted by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other conduits to the limitless variety of facts, opinion, knowledge, and titillation available.
Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues have a tough job. An overwhelming one, really, when you factor in the varying cultural expectations of all the different countries served by search engines and social networks.
Still, a clear line must be drawn between appropriate efforts to guard against criminal behavior, terrorism, and depravity, on the one hand, and restricting legitimate debate and political expression on the other.
Despite ongoing claims of balance and transparency, a substantial body of both anecdotal evidence and academic research demonstrates strong ideological bias on the part of our tech lords. In recent weeks such high-profile conservative figures as Candace Owens and Michelle Malkin have run afoul of online “community standards.” Malkin’s situation is particularly ironic. She was censored for criticizing Facebook’s censorship of commentators Laura Loomer and Gavin McInnes.
“Michelle rejects identity politics out of hand, proudly calling herself an ‘American’ …. But in the Jim Crow-style of the Left she is what the Left loves to call a ‘woman of color.’ [Malkin is of Filipino heritage.] Thus her posting standing up for free speech and opposing censorship has to be silenced.”
Researchers at Northwestern University recently shed light on the ideological leanings of Google, the world’s leading search engine. As reported by Fox News…
“Google’s Top Stories box provides users with articles from left-leaning news organizations such as CNN 62.4 percent of the time — with only 11.3 percent coming from outlets that are considered conservative….”
As the article, by Fox media writer Brian Flood, explains…
“The study indicated that ‘journalists are not the only ones exercising editorial judgment in today’s media environment’ because ‘algorithmic curators’ now play a significant role in determining what news reaches consumers. The algorithm has the ability to highlight or de-emphasize particular information, offering a significant boost in traffic to whatever articles it highlights.”
There’s nothing new about centers of influence directing people to favored knowledge and views. We’ve always depended on others for guidance and we’ve always felt the hidden hand of persuaders who operate out of sight (that’s called propaganda).
But digital technology has vastly increased the scope and efficiency of this influence. Can you imagine what Joseph Goebbels could have accomplished using the tools of modern online communication?
There’s now talk about enforcing anti-trust regulation against the largest online service providers. Those calls are coming from more than aggrieved conservatives, and they’re in reaction to concerns about more than censorship (i.e. data security, strong-arming of supplier firms, etc.).
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes called for breaking up the company. He’s not alone. Even some high-profile Democrats, like Senator and presidential aspirant Elizabeth Warren, have gotten on the anti-trust bandwagon.
How far this movement will progress remains to be seen. But as with the real possibility of utility regulation (mentioned in my last post), I sense that something is going to happen.
The leftist culture of these tech giants is becoming undeniably clear, as inside information — including internal company communication — is seeping out into public view.
Dan Geinor of Fox News recently cited an explicitly ideological company memo that…
“showed how Google’s Multicultural Marketing department head Eliana Murillo worked to boost 2016 Latino voting with Google’s ‘political power.’ Except the effort was clearly partisan and she was upset that only ‘71% of Latinos voted for Hillary, and that wasn’t enough.’”
There are valid reasons for our online service providers to exercise some discretion over the flow of information. Too much that’s circulating out there represents genuine threat. But political bias is not appropriate oversight.
The point with which I wrapped up my last post is worthy of repeating…
“‘Big Tech’ cannot be permitted to impose its ideological perspective on its customers. Zuckerberg and his cronies must not be our intellectual gatekeepers.
“Thought is life.”
It won’t be easy to draw the line properly. But it must be done.
Heavy-handed censorship tactics have created both cynicism…
…and a sense of camaraderie among the censored…
They’ve also stirred a spirit of defiance, as users attempt to challenge the system in increasingly edgy ways…
Even when they’re not playing games with their algorithms, our tech lords find creative ways to stifle conservative views. In one notorious incident, Facebook demanded that a charter school declare itself a partisan organization in order to advertise the showing of a documentary film examining the suppression of free speech on college campuses. From the Daily Wire…