Now that we’ve opened the door for ordinary users, politicians, ex-security-state creeps, foreign governments and companies like Raytheon to influence the removal of content, the future is obvious: an endless merry-go-round of political tattling, in which each tribe will push for bans of political enemies.
In about 10 minutes, someone will start arguing that Alex Jones is not so different from, say, millennial conservative Ben Shapiro, and demand his removal. That will be followed by calls from furious conservatives to wipe out the Torch Network or Anti-Fascist News, with Jacobin on the way.
We’ve already seen Facebook overcompensate when faced with complaints of anti-conservative bias. Assuming this continues, “community standards” will turn into a ceaseless parody of Cold War spy trades: one of ours for one of yours.
This is the nuance people are missing. It’s not that people like Jones shouldn’t be punished; it’s the means of punishment that has changed radically.
Under the new manorialism of our age, it’s moral authority and consensus which have splintered and withered, rather than political authority. The centralized state grows ever larger and more invasive with the help of technology, but the ability of citizens to communicate and informally settle their disputes inversely shrinks. Through laziness, cowardice, and general stupidity, we’ve abdicated our responsibility to order ourselves from within our social relationships, and have thus resigned ourselves to being governed from without by employers, bureaucrats, and corporate moguls. We’re content to be granted a steady job and a small plot of social-media turf to tend; whatever useful data we produce there is handed over to our lords, and occasionally we may be called upon to march off to battle with petitions and disingenuous boycotts against hostile media territories. In contrast to the previous era of manorialism, though, our corporate lords are not bound by any restraints or obligations regarding us. Your service on behalf of your liege will not protect you should a mob target your job or public reputation. There is no manor court system to grant any rudimentary protection.
It’s further evidence, perhaps, of Campbell and Manning’s argument that we are transforming from a culture of dignity to a culture of victimhood, where pride in one’s self-sufficiency gives way to toadying and currying favor with powerful authorities in the hope of convincing them to extract petty vengeance on our behalf. Additionally, it’s also perhaps further confirmation of a related theme Philip K. Howard developed over a pair of books, that responsibility and judgment decay as a legalistic bureaucratic culture grows. As we focus increasingly on individual rights to the exclusion of questions of responsibility, the imperative becomes covering one’s ass and looking for any legal loophole that can be cynically exploited. Sure, you have the right to declare personal economic embargoes against anyone for whatever vindictive reason you wish. Certainly, when you’re determined to parse it closely enough, no one has a right to a particular job or platform. The question, as always, is whether or not the purported cure is worse than the disease, or, more importantly, whether empowering faceless corporate entities to exercise judgment on our behalf will turn out to be far more costly than we expected. In the new manorial landscape we’re cheerfully creating, where only the independently wealthy can speak their minds or act without fear of crippling social sanctions, whom do you expect to thrive? To ask the question is to answer it.