Censorship by Proxy: It’s Better (Worse) Than the Real Thing

Published: 2017-06-19

If you violate my rule(s), I’ll punish you with fines, or at least a formal charge that you’ll have to overcome in court to avoid the fines. What are my rules? Well, just violate them and you’ll find out what they are.

Such are the threats with which the German and other governments in Europe bully Facebook and other social-networking sites into doing their censorship dirty work for them—and doing it far more oppressively than they (the governments) could ever get away with doing it, and bearing the expense of all that dirty work on top of that.

 

How could site operators do the government’s censorship work for it more-oppressively than the government could, and get away with it? Well, being private firms, they are not accountable to the public for explanation or even reports of what they do; choosing what’s on their site and what they delete from it is their prerogative as owners of the sites, and they don’t ever have to tell anyone (other, perhaps, than the publishers of the material itself) what they’re doing, much less why. Thus, when on March 7, 2017 Amazon delisted over one hundred book titles on its site (some of which it had carried for many years) that provided disfavored histories of the Holocaust, it never made information concerning its act available to the public, and still doesn’t. If a government (say, the US government) had ordered any such thing: (a) the fact of its having done so would perforce be public information; and (b) the (US) government is bound by the First Amendment (freedom of the press) to the Constitution, on grounds of which its action could be opposed. The First Amendment doesn’t bind Amazon, nor Facebook, nor Google, since they aren’t the government.

Why would site operators do the government’s censorship work for it more-oppressively than the government might do it? Costs. For the government to censor more works involves at least slightly greater costs for it, if only to defend against challenges from citizens (never mind that the government is funded by taxes that must be paid even by people who disapprove of what the government is doing). With self-censorship under threat, the shoe is on the other foot: private operators avoid costs by censoring more. Could it bring on one of those fines? Delete it, just in case. A successful policy avoids all those towering fines (fines in Germany could go as high as €50 million for a single instance), and overshooting costs nothing at all. And private operators are under no obligation to defend anything they do in the way of deleting anything from their sites; they don’t even have to tell anyone they did so, which might even be the real beauty of the scheme.

The entire evil matter was brought to light in a June 12 op ed in the New York Times by none other than Daphne Keller, former associate general counsel at Google and now director of Intermediary Liability at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Her article covered Facebook and her former employer Google, but it didn’t cover Amazon, erstwhile Library to the World, which is now missing some volumes that most people wouldn’t notice are missing.

This Holocaust scholarship (admittedly of a minority persuasion) is now tracelessly missing from Amazon for the entire Anglosphere that includes the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and the pressure, governmental or otherwise, could have been applied in any of these venues; Amazon’s conformity therewith would impose its blackout on the global whole. It is even possible that Holocaust-denial sanctions might have been imposed on Amazon from outside the Anglosphere, say from Germany or France. What other politically incorrect points of view have sustained the same treatment on Amazon is impossible to say, and probably will forever.

Freedom of expression, wherever traces of it might still exist, does not spread. Rather, like any organism reacting to exposure to a toxin, it shrinks, it retreats, it dries up, evaporates. It is a precious and exquisitely delicate thing. And it is fleeting as well. Say good-bye to it, for it may not be anywhere tomorrow.

And you’ll never see that it’s missing.

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Author(s) Jett Rucker
Title Censorship by Proxy: It’s Better (Worse) Than the Real Thing
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Dates published: 2017-06-19, first posted on CODOH: June 19, 2017, 3:30 p.m., last revision: n/a
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