Let us first try to understand what is at stake here. In October of 2020, the New York Post produced a bombshell of a story that could have turned the US Presidential election upside down. It was about a laptop that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden, the son of then presidential candidate Joe Biden. The emails on this laptop seemed to suggest that Hunter had made large sums of money from shady Ukrainian oligarchs by selling access to his father during the Obama administration, where Joe Biden had served as Vice-President.
That is when Big Tech got involved, to stop the spread of the story. The social media companies banned people from sharing the New York Post story on their timelines, or even through direct messages. The Twitter account of the New York Post, an immensely popular mainstream newspaper for over two hundred years, and now an established Right-wing voice, was locked. The liberal media ruled that the laptop story was “Russian disinformation,” and that was it. Big Tech and its “fact-checkers” did the rest.
Seventeen months later, they admitted it. The laptop was real. How does it matter now? Joe Biden already won. There is war, there is runaway inflation, and the ghost of COVID is still around. People have no time for the laptop story, no time to ask “what if”. The only people this correction serves are liberal media themselves. They will now use this (conveniently) belated admission as proof of their own honesty and integrity. Both the cover-up and the correction have served their purpose.
In the traditional democratic format, people would get to decide what they think of a story. It is an imperfect system, but it is surely better than faceless executives at media and tech giants deciding what people are allowed to believe. If it can happen in the United States, it can happen in India too. And think about some small country in say Africa or South/Central America, perhaps resource-rich and a playground for big business interests from the West. What would happen to their democracy if the information came to be controlled by Silicon Valley based Big Tech? You cannot miss the racist and colonial implications of that.
So you can imagine the panic over Elon Musk buying Twitter, and stating that he intends to let everyone speak their mind. Now Twitter is not the world’s largest social media platform, not even close. But the difference is that everyone who matters is on Twitter. Politicians, big media, academics get their cues from Twitter on how to set discourse. If we let everyone speak, it undermines the entire purpose of having a ruling class.
‘Liberal privilege’ can impact billionaires too:
Let us be clear about one thing. They don’t care if billionaires own big media. We in India are familiar with the Washington Post. That is where Indian liberals go these days in order to “speak truth to power”. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s second-richest individual, who is worth somewhere around a cool $171 billion. Most people on Earth cannot even comprehend that amount of money, and the possible conflicts of interest that would arise with that kind of business empire. And yet, the Washington Post unironically uses the slogan “Democracy dies in darkness”. I suppose we are lucky enough to have Jeff Bezos to shine a light upon all of us.
There is another billionaire who owns one of the most ‘trusted’ sources for news worldwide, especially regarding business. Did you know he once said that China is not a dictatorship and that Xi Jinping isn’t actually a dictator? How much can we trust such “news” sources? They say that a third of all Americans get their news from Facebook, owned of course by Mark Zuckerberg, another billionaire. The billionaire George Soros made his money in the most shady way possible, speculating on vulnerable currencies around the world and tearing them apart. Who remembers the time George Soros pledged his dirty money to campaigns intended to bring down PM Modi?
A rich white billionaire pumping money to bring down the elected leader of the world’s largest democracy? I do not remember an outcry then. What is the problem if Elon Musk gets to own Twitter? Those who rejoiced in the power of the billionaire-owned Washington Post to set narratives suddenly care about big business being able to shape minds?
The problem of course is not the principle, it is the person. Unlike many others, Elon Musk has not shown any sign of submitting to the woke liberal orthodoxy that is now standard among the ruling class worldwide. On the other hand, Musk has openly mocked their sacred cows, their fetish for censorship, their feel-good NGO scams, even the biggest ones, such as the UN’s World Food Programme. That makes Musk an enemy.
What is privilege? It is different from bias, because every one of us has bias. Privilege cuts much deeper, it is much harder to detect or to shake off. White privilege is when the black folks just seem naturally more suspicious to the eyes of police. Because of this, black people are stopped by the police a lot more, they get arrested much more often, they get less of a benefit of doubt from juries, and so on. Male privilege is when journalists will ask even the world’s most accomplished women how they balance their family lives, something they would never ask a man. You don’t have to be a deliberate racist or sexist to do this, you just tend to absorb the systemic prejudices of the society we all live in.
[blurb]When an establishment-sanctioned billionaire owns big media, we don’t raise eyebrows. But Elon Musk buying Twitter is described in the most sinister terms, because he is seen as someone who is outside the liberal consensus. Yes, privilege matters, even if you have over 200 billion dollars to your name![/blurb]
It works the same way with liberal privilege. When an establishment-sanctioned billionaire owns big media, we don’t raise eyebrows. But Elon Musk buying Twitter is described in the most sinister terms, because he is seen as someone who is outside the liberal consensus. Yes, privilege matters, even if you have over 200 billion dollars to your name!
Let me be clear about another thing. I do not know what Musk intends to do with Twitter, nor how it will all play out. But for a change, neither does the global ruling establishment. That is why the establishment suddenly wants us all to start asking questions.
Free speech as the enemy and the reign of the crybully:
Perhaps the most curious thing about the doomsday narrative on the liberal Left is this. They are not worried that Elon Musk will stifle the voices of people on Twitter. They worry about the opposite, that Musk might allow everyone to be heard. They fear that he might turn out to be a ‘free speech absolutist’. They say it like it is a bad thing.
How did free speech get such a bad name? How did free speech come to be seen as an enemy of civilisation? Wasn’t free speech supposed to be one of the noblest goals of the enlightenment, a touchstone for democracies worldwide? Yes it was. That is why the modern Left hates free speech. Because the modern Left is an authoritarian movement built around censorship.
How does the Left go about implementing its censorship? The problem of course is that we live in the 21st century, where the blunt instruments of censorship of old no longer work. You burn one copy of one book, but a million digital copies of that book can be created in a matter of minutes. You burn someone at stake, or send them to the gulag, and those images will haunt you forever.
The modern Left has learned from the mistakes of the tyrants of the past. They would not accuse you of being against God or Marx. Rather, they will say that your speech is a form of violence against some particular group of people. And therefore, you need to be stopped, in order to keep other people ‘safe’. They get to decide what is racist, sexist, homophobic, or even anti-science.
Once they stick a label like that on you, they can do anything to you that they want. The Washington Post recently published an article in which they linked to the possible address of a woman who ran an influential but anonymous Twitter account. They reasoned that she was transphobic, and I guess that means she would deserve anything that the woke mob did to her. The irony is that the lead reporter who wrote that Washington Post story is a celebrity victim in her own right, who campaigns against the “worst people on the internet” destroying lives by digging out personal information on others. It is only wrong when it happens to a member of the ruling class.
This is the rule of the crybully. And it is really a modern version of the British policy of Divide and Rule. The professed aim of the British Raj was always the gradual development of self-governing institutions in India. In other words, the British always wanted Indians to have their freedom. But they just had some concerns about all communities feeling secure in a future Indian state. And while the Indians worked on the endless details of that plan, the British would rule.
That is how the modern liberal establishment rules as well. They would very much like you to have free speech. They just have some concerns about the impact of your speech on “marginalised groups” of people. Why don’t you go work on improving yourself and let the liberal establishment rule for the time being?
How we know liberalism is an authoritarian movement:
You might believe that liberalism will not come for you. Because you think you are a good person. You believe that everyone should be equal. You try your best no to hurt anyone through your words or actions. You recognise historical injustices that certain groups of people have faced. You want to be an ally of those groups of people, and make society better for all.
Well, I have news for you. Did you know that “landlord” or “policeman” are problematic words that are considered not inclusive enough? Well, Google Docs just released an assisted writing feature that warns people when they are about to use problematic words just like these. Can you feel their love and their desire to help you become a better person? Can you feel how graciously they carry the Big Tech executive’s burden?
But does all of this ever make you wonder? The ruling class is always one step ahead of you in caring for the weak and marginalised. You might still be using words such as “mother” or “pregnant women”. The ruling class has already moved on to expressions such as “birthing person” or “pregnant people”. They are sensitive to the fact that not all those who get pregnant or give birth identify as women. You need to educate yourself and do better.
The ruling class already saved you from using language that was deemed racist, sexist or homophobic. Now they are helping you get rid of your transphobia. How nice of them.
But if you remember, this is not how history generally works. The ruling class fears change, they don’t promote it. Because they have the most to lose. They serve their interests, not yours. And they are doing that again. Liberalism is a top down authoritarian movement. Their high priests descend upon us and tell us that we need to be saved. And for that, we must turn over everything we have to them, including the thoughts in our head.
They are constantly updating what is acceptable, and which words are considered a form of violence. You can never keep up. And at some point, you will get tired of trying to keep up, get too scared of the consequences of saying something “problematic” and just shut up. That was the idea all along. The fact that you don’t exactly know where the boundaries are, is a huge positive for them. That way you will self-censor with abundant caution and say nothing at all.
The age of ‘Al Jazeera liberalism’:
We were talking about big money owning big media, and how liberals have suddenly discovered the dangers of that. Here is a challenge. Name one thing about the state of Qatar that qualifies as ‘liberal’. Let’s see. Qatar is an absolute monarchy run by Islamic religious law. There is no democracy and no free speech. The legal system uses flogging for “crimes” such as adultery or even drinking alcohol. There is even death penalty for homosexuality or for a Muslim woman having “adulterous” sexual relations with a non-Muslim man.
On top of that, Qatar makes its money from fossil fuels, which they use to build their glittering city. For this, they bring in large numbers of migrant workers from poor countries, who have almost no rights and live in near-slave like conditions. Then, what exactly is ‘liberal’ about Qatar?
Well, there is Al Jazeera, the state funded global television network. Switch to Al Jazeera any time and you will find them raising their fearless journalistic voices for the rights of minorities, women, and members of the LGBT community. Everywhere in the world there is injustice, there is Al Jazeera speaking truth to power. Everywhere except in Qatar, of course, where the state religion is Islam, and homosexual acts can be punishable by death.
But the state of Qatar is ‘liberal’ in the most important way possible. As in, the fact that it pays good money to liberals to appear on their channel and talk about liberalism. This is not an irony. This is the model. If you ever want to understand liberalism, remember that they fear an electric car maker, not the ruler of the fossil fuel-producing state of Qatar.
A roadmap from over a hundred years ago:
Remember how it was only a few months ago, when liberals would gloat about the fact that Facebook, Twitter and such are all private corporations? And free speech rights in this context would make no sense, because the private corporation had a right to decide who could be on their platform. If they wanted to censor someone, they could, even a sitting President of the United States. This triumphalism was back when the liberals thought they would be the people doing all the censoring. Go build your own social media platform, they would say. Then build your own web hosting service, your own servers and finally your own internet.
Then Elon Musk bought Twitter, and their dream fell to pieces. The liberals had never counted on anyone fighting back. That’s what bullies always do. So now they whine. If the rich have so much power, it makes us all vulnerable. I hope Al Jazeera does a segment about this very soon.
It is always fun to see big bullies get hit by their own karma. But the underlying question still remains. What do we do about the overwhelming power of Big Tech and its implications for democracy worldwide? Now that both sides can feel the sting, perhaps we can cooperate.
Believe it or not, there is a roadmap. It comes from America of the gilded age, the era of Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, Gould, Huntington and Vanderbilt. In the late 19th century, the big monopolies in America were the railroads which crisscrossed the vast country. If you wanted your goods to reach the market, you had to go through them. There was no other way. You had to pay their prices. A big business, such as Rockefeller and his Standard Oil, could negotiate lower prices with the railroad. This effectively shut down all competitors, who had to pay more to transport their goods. The railroads argued that they were private corporations, and had a right to decide who to allow on their network, and at what cost.
Now a railroad is in many ways a natural monopoly, just like the internet. If you already have one railroad, it takes way too much money to build a competing one on the same route. Just like it would be nearly impossible to build another Facebook. Anyone looking to get information out today would have to abide by rules set by the Big Tech platforms, just like a small business would have been subject to the whims of the railroads a hundred years ago.
Then, Teddy (Theodore) Roosevelt happened. Riding on a wave of public support, Teddy Roosevelt broke down the power of railroad monopolies, the Standard Oil Trust and more. The railroads came to be “common carriers,” which meant that they could not discriminate between businesses in terms of pricing. Within a generation, the power of the railroad trusts, the oil trusts, the steel trusts, the sugar and tobacco trusts, were all gone.
We must remember that Rockefeller, Gould and Carnegie were all great men, who built the industrial and financial might of America that dominates the world even today. But when their power went too far, the democratic system produced the checks and balances to regulate them. Our generation faces the same challenge. To regulate the power of Big Tech. The tech visionaries have built wonderful things that we all use and enjoy. But it is time for some balance.
I conclude with an anecdote. The liberals just took down a statue of Teddy Roosevelt that had been in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Because some woke liberal ruled that Roosevelt’s posture was “racist”. Yes, the president who put all that power back in the hands of common people has been canceled. Teddy Roosevelt is not alone in his plight. Even Abraham Lincoln was canceled a few years ago. For racism, apparently. I guess your average woke liberal on Twitter has done more for racial justice than Lincoln ever did.
Let me put a spin on the slogan of the billionaire-owned Washington Post. Democracy dies in wokeness.Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.