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(en) France, UCL AL #313 - Digital, Digital giants: Trump banned from talking (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Sun, 21 Feb 2021 11:55:57 +0200

Following the momentary invasion of the US Capitol, the big platforms of surveillance capitalism censored the accounts of the ex-president, as well as the far-right social network Parler. So much the better ... but when will it be our turn? Reflection on the necessary dismantling of the oligopoly held by these platforms. ---- We didn't think we would have to come back to this subject again, and so quickly. After a press release from UCL in November[1], an article in Alternative Libertaire in January[2], we are now forced by the news to take over the keyboard to talk about censorship and Internet giants. ---- Censorship by the giants, again and again ---- It was Twitter that first decided to censor Trump following the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by pro-Trump and far-right activists. Very quickly, other platforms followed suit: Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch ...

Whether it is out of opportunism - impossible to be less firm than the competitor Twitter, and the Democrats being on the point of taking over the White House, you might as well give them this little gift to put them in their pocket - because of the pressures internally, hundreds of Twitter employees signed a petition asking for this ban shortly before the firm's action - or out of sincere ideological conviction - but we doubt it! - the facts are there: overnight, Trump was effectively muzzled by the giants of Silicon Valley, by the richest capitalists of the country of which he was nevertheless the president. Unthinkable a few days earlier. In the process, the far-right social network Parler where the Trumpists took refuge was targeted by similar censorship.

We will not come back to the many reactions left and right, in the United States and elsewhere, and we will not return to the elements of analysis already presented by UCL. Far from us the idea of claiming any gift of premonition, moreover. We would have preferred that those who pretended to discover this possibility of censorship in January and were outraged at it loud and clear to avoid double standards. We would have preferred that they step up to the plate and denounce the scandal when censorship hit, for example, the social news media Relations de force and the pro-Palestinian associations.

What it seems useful to come back to is the legitimacy of this censorship. Platforms like Twitter or Facebook are private properties, and as such it may seem legitimate to consider that "at home, my rules are applied; if you don't like them, you can always go elsewhere". Not all censorship is a bad thing. If racist or sexist speeches were held within the UCL for example, they would be censored - euphemistically, we call it "moderation", but it is indeed, factually, censorship. In French and American law at least, the person who runs a bar always has the right to evict a customer who would go into a spin.

Whatever the famous First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, may say, the only censorship that actually raises questions and deserves a democratic debate is censorship in the public space. Censorship in private space is legitimate by the very definition of what a private space is. Be careful though: to say that it is legitimate is not to say that it is politically, morally, acceptable in each particular case. A private space in which only Nazi speeches are allowed is obviously unacceptable; but what must be denounced is not the illegitimacy of this censorship.

This raises a more delicate question: if the platforms of surveillance capitalism are private spaces, then isn't the space for public expression on the Internet reduced to heartache? And as such, should we not rather consider these platforms as forming public space, a public space looted by surveillance capitalists? This question is none other than that of the oligopoly (monopoly shared by a few) held by these platforms. We could talk about the strict application of antitrust laws and the dismantling of digital giants, in order to restore the freedom to choose the platform where one expresses himself, and therefore the rules of moderation of this platform, as was done Canadian-British journalist Cory Doctorow[3]. But does changing the oligopoly ruled by ten capitalists into an oligopoly ruled by a hundred or a thousand capitalists really fix anything?

This is where libertarian communism comes into play: if public space is effectively despoiled by these capitalist firms, it must be taken back from them, re-socialized public space and entrusted with its management - technical (maintenance of servers), political (moderation), financial, etc. - to the people themselves in a process of self-management.

Dismantle the prison networks
In the short term, we must encourage the massive migration of Internet users to the free and decentralized social network Mastodon, by letting each individual choose an authority whose moderation rules suit him. In the medium term, it is necessary to politically impose the interoperability of social networks, so that Facebook, Twitter and the like are no longer prisons locking up their users and that communications between Internet users are decompartmentalized. Simultaneously or in the longer term, we must demand, as Cory Doctorow suggests, the dismantling of these giant platforms, in order to explode these centralized prison networks into a multitude of decentralized open bodies. As we said above, exploding a capitalist enterprise into several capitalist enterprises is not a revolutionary measure, but it seems to us that in the present case it is necessary all the same, because the economic model of the capitalists of surveillance is really based on this tendency to monopoly. Finally, in the very long term, we must obviously aim for the world revolution and the socialization of the capitalist companies of Silicon Valley.

While preparing for the revolution, go to Mastodon, then!

Leo (UCL Lyon)


[1]"Big Tech capitalists should not arbitrarily censor speeches that disturb them," pressrelease from the Libertarian Communist Union, November 27, 2020.

[2]"Censorship: Force rapport (s) with Facebook" , Alternative libertaire , January 2021.

[3]"Censorship, Parler and antitrust" , on the Pluralistic site: Daily links from Cory Doctorow, January 9, 2021.

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