Poor old Louis Farrakhan. There he was, happily vomiting hatred as one of the talented tenth of octogenarians who can navigate a Facebook page, doing no harm other than to Jews, white people, race relations, and the minds of the morons who follow him — and then he’s expelled from the kingdom of Zuckerberg along with Milo Yiannopoulos. It’s the stuff of Farrakhan’s nightmares: purged by the minions of a white Jew, and cast into the media wilderness with a gay Trumpist.
It couldn’t have happened to a nastier person. Actually, it could, but it won’t. There are even nastier people that Farrakhan on Twitterbook and Instaface, but they do their vomiting in languages other than English. If you don’t speak English, you remain irrelevant to the censors in the high castles of California. If you do speak English, or can at least concentrate hard and approximate it in 280 characters, then the tightening of social media censorship means you are on probation, now and forever.
This week’s big celebrity cancels are bowtied bigot Farrakhan, whose status is permanently enraged but unable to tell us why, and portly conspiracist Alex Jones, who can no longer post swimwear selfies on Instagram. Collateral cancels are stand-up and wind-up Milo Yiannopoulos, whose career is already in a death spiral; Paul Nehlen, a memorably forgettable white supremacist and failed Republican candidate from Wisconsin; and Laura Loomer and Paul Joseph Watson, a pair of professional prankers with a passing relationship to the facts.
Facebook calls these people ‘dangerous’ and disseminators of ‘hate’. Yet it remains Facebook policy to permit the dissemination of dangerous hate. This morning, Jewish Insider ran a leaked letter from Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s Vice-President for Global Affairs, to Paul Packer, chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
‘We take down any content that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust,’ Kaplan wrote on April 9. ‘The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.’
There goes a generous slice of Facebook’s users in the Muslim world, where Holocaust denial and genocidal incitement against Jews are endemic, as well, it appears, as many followers of peace-loving lefties like Jeremy Corbyn and Rashida Tlaib. Of course, Facebook aren’t going to press the translate button and acknowledge these truths. In fact, Facebook isn’t even going to clear up the spew in its own backyard.
Facebook, Kaplan writes, will ‘not remove lies or content that is inaccurate — whether it’s denying the Holocaust, the Armenian massacre, or the fact that the Syrian government has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people. This is because we do believe that people should be able to say things on Facebook that are wrong or inaccurate, even when they are offensive’.
So it’s fine to say on Facebook that the Holocaust never happened, which is wrong, inaccurate and offensive. But it’s not acceptable to say that you’re glad that it did happen, which would only be wrong and offensive. And it’s not even acceptable to make a joke about how it happened, which may be neither wrong nor inaccurate, but only offensive — and possibly not even offensive at all, when you consider the jokes that Jews tell each other about the Holocaust.
It might not even be acceptable to discuss on Facebook the fascinating and alarming case of Benjamin Wilkomirski, who published a memoir of childhood survival in Nazi-occupied Poland which turned out to be fiction — a mockery of the dead if ever there was. It remains, however, acceptable, to insult the dead and the living on Facebook by denying the worst of crimes, so long as you choose your words and avoid approval or jokes. Here, Kaplan sets an example of how to walk the line. Facebook, defending the rights of others to say things that are offensive or false, retains its easy access to the Turkish market by the offensive and false minimization of the Armenian Genocide as ‘massacres’.
This is commercial greed and moral laziness, masked in a defense of the First Amendment. Which would be fine — in fact, business as usual for Silicon Valley — were it not that Facebook and the other social media giants practice selective discrimination about who gets to lie on their platforms.
These bans end the pretense that privately owned social media companies are the heirs to the town square, with the implied rights of First Amendment protection. This selective silencing proves that Facebook & Co. are closer to private parklands, not public commons. Our use of them for leisure is a form of labor for the landowners, and the chance to monetize our personal information is in the gift of the proprietors. And if they don’t like what you say, they can arbitrarily expel you.
In other words, the more the social media companies — forgive the obscenity — ‘curate’ their content, the closer they get to being traditional publishers, de facto if not de jure. Facebook might not care about the facts, but it does care about the law. And the law, sooner or later, will care about the social media companies. They built the pipelines that spew incitement out of our phones and computers. They profit from them, even when their platforms disseminate the foulest kind of celebrity, the livestreaming terrorist. They broke civil discourse and the news business, and now they own it.
A body of law already exists for regulating Facebook’s problem. Legislation redefining social media companies as publishers will bring them under the First Amendment. This is what they fear, because they will then be responsible for what they publish, just like a newspaper. That’s why they’re donating so generously to politicians and lobbying so lavishly in Washington, DC: to make sure it never happens.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.