The Bird, The Former President, and Retaliation

Tis folly to retaliate over one solitary finger.

I am aware that conservatives believe they are being censored. I happen to disagree with their view that they are being censored in the news and on social media. If I want to get conservative views online, I know where to find them. They have plenty of access on Facebook and on Twitter. All they need to do is steer clear of promoting violence and I can find them.

I can find the Proud Boys, the 3%’ers, and the Oathkeepers online. There is some competition among search engines and if Google won’t find them for me, I can use another search engine to find them. Yes, it is true that the biggest social media players frown upon the hard right organizations, but as long as they can keep a domain name and a hosting provider, or even host their own servers and content, those extremist groups will find a place online. They are not being censored.

Want to know what censorship looks like? Try living in Myanmar. Try living in Russia or China. Those are places where the ISPs must do exactly what the government tells them to do. The government decides what you can see and what you can’t see. Those governments own the DNS servers and they block any site promoting views they disagree with. They can block a range of IP addresses at the boundaries of their country at will. That’s censorship. Governments engage in censorship, Google, Twitter, and Facebook do not. They have private competition that the government cannot completely restrain.

This distinction about censorship seems lost on most people who feel like they’ve not been heard. And conservatives think they’re the only ones getting censored. I remember how the press ignored Bernie Sanders while giving Trump all the press he could ever want. They still ignore Bernie. So if you think your conservative cause has been maligned, talk to a Sanders supporter. That’s editorial bias, not censorship.

Long ago, I read a story about a woman riding a bicycle who gave a passing Trump motorcade the finger. Someone took a picture of that scene and the picture went viral. Her boss fired her when he found out. Was that censorship? No. Word still got out. After she was fired, and her story got out, she received hundreds of offers for a job. Those employers were celebrating the First Amendment when they offered the Bird-Flipper Lady a job. The employer who fired that lady? Didn’t get the last laugh.

Retaliation is futile. Retaliation usually results in blowback with retaliation in return, in a not so virtuous circle. Retaliation can make the news and it can go viral. Employer retaliation against employees can give rise to boycotts, lawsuits, and government intervention.

A little more than a year ago, a Virginia court affirmed the right to give the cops the finger. A man riding in a friend’s car gave a cop the finger. The officer pulled over the driver, detaining both of them for 20 minutes. The purpose was clearly retaliation. The court recognized a protected expression and indeed, they protected that expression by awarding attorneys fees to the man who was detained.

Yes, there will always be people who do not respect authority. I see them all across the spectrum. I see them in the news, on YouTube, and on the editorial page of the local paper. I saw them at the capitol on January 6th, 2021. I see them doing dirty work in exchange for “gifts”.

And there will always be critics, and even they have their own critics. I generally try to avoid blocking, unfriending and muting in social media. I see criticism as feedback, not a value judgment of myself as a person. I don’t seek retaliation against my critics. I don’t expect retaliation when I criticize the government. You know, in places like China, Russia, and Myanmar, the government will retaliate if you criticize them. Officials in American governments may try to retaliate against critics, but in most cases, the courts are our side. And that would look a lot like censorship. So I’d say we have it pretty good here compared to other countries.

At the moment, there is a movement among conservatives, especially states where conservative Republicans rule the statehouse, to hinder or repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. You might like to know that the Communications Decency Act was written by Democrats and Republicans back in the 90s when bipartisanship was a thing. Section 230 was written by Chris Cox a Republican from Newport Beach, California. If you know Newport Beach, you’d know that it was a stronghold for conservative Republicans. They knew what they were talking about when they wrote the bill.

What we call “censorship” online is really just content moderation. This is something that every business with a website has a right to do. As Parler discovered, if they did not moderate the content, a lot of really disgusting content appears. It got to the point where people were posting pictures of their turds on Parler. Then the staff at Parler learned how to moderate the content so that their social media site would still have visitors. And they also found that moderating content at scale is extremely difficult.

I can recall a few years back how employees at Facebook were literally making themselves sick checking flagged content consisting of videos and pictures of violent acts and other abuse. This stuff is hard to look at, even if it’s about people you don’t even know.

I personally don’t believe in silencing adversaries and critics. I believe in rebutting them. But if the best they can do early in the morning is “bruh stfu”, I’m going to mute that one simply because it doesn’t add much to the conversation. It’s rare that I ever actually block someone, too. I just rebut them if I disagree with them.

When Facebook, Google, and Twitter limit “conservative views” on their respective platforms, I see content moderation. I don’t view their actions as censorship or even editorial bias. And I’d expect that if the big three social media platforms had swung the other way, against liberals, conservatives would be quietly snickering in the halls of Congress. I have noticed also that Trump talked a good game about how badly the DNC treated Bernie Sanders. Yet, I’ve not heard a single word from Trump about how the press ignored Bernie Sanders.

Write on.

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