Samizdat America

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America is now at the Samizdat stage.

For those not hip, Samizdat refers to the underground press in the old Soviet Union. The government had almost total control over public discourse; today, it’s private corporations. Which is worse because it has the sheen of “free market” and “private property” – which provides the basis for doltish intellectuals to defend it.

Only government can censor, they exclaim!

Very true.

But when private companies can suppress speech generally – it amounts to the same thing.

A privately owned newspaper, or magazine – or web site – has every right to not publish anything it prefers not to publish and for any reason it likes, without any obligation to explain why.

That is not censorship because in the first place there is no law prohibiting you from attempting to get your work/views published elsewhere and in the second because you are free to publish them yourself.

The dissidents in the old Soviet Union who published the underground press were subject to arrest for airing unapproved views.

That is censorship – in the legal sense.

But what if the means of publishing fall under the control of a handful of powerful entities who use their general control of the means of publishing to suppress the airing of unapproved views?

Would it not amount to the same thing?

A worse thing?

Most people instinctively rear back at the idea of government muzzling people’s freedom to speak or otherwise air their views. Especially their contrarian views.

It is a healthy instinct, for all the obvious reasons. If the government can criminalize criticism of itself then – ipso facto – government can do no wrong. At least no wrong that people are allowed to speak of, openly. In which case, the government is free to do as it pleases; the fact that no one’s (officially) complaining taken as dispositive that whatever the government is doing must be synonymous with good.

Hence the First Amendment, which was written not to grant but to elaborate the right of the people to freely speak and write – whether the government liked it or not.

The government, of course, did not like it – and almost right away.

America’s second Decider – John Adams – decided he did not like criticism of himself or the policies of his Decidership. He characterized such criticism as “seditious” and issued a fatwa to that effect.

People were caged on the basis of displeasing the Decider.

The Alien and Sedition Acts only remained in force about three years but the idea was never thoroughly put to rest. When another Decider – Abe Lincoln – decided the Southern states could not be permitted do what the 13 colonies had done (i.e., withdraw their consent to be governed by a central power they considered abusive) he made it unlawful to question his polices and had people caged and even deported when they did so – including Clement Vallandgham, a leading political figure in Ohio who had the effrontery to publicly disagree with the Decider.

Who ultimately succeeded in rescinding the consent of the governed Southern – as well as rescinding the right of those in the North to object – at least in the open – until the deed was done. Once done, of course, objecting to it amounted to crying over spilt milk and so could be indulged.

That indulgence was rescinded once more a few decades hence, when a new Decider – Woodrow Wilson – decided to jump into a war on another continent which wasn’t being won by either side and was being fought over things unrelated to anything occurring on this continent. It was decided that Germany and her allies were the apotheosis of evil and thus to speak in defense of anything German would henceforth be verboten. Germans on this continent were almost verboten as well.

These episodes come and go – but what’s coming may stay.

There is no law forbidding a privately owned publisher from declining to publish. Nor a law requiring advertisers to support publications whose views they disagree with.

No should there ever be such a law . . .

So long as there are alternative means of publication.

And so long as all or nearly all advertising is not under the control of a handful of privately owned companies acting in concert to suppress the expression of any views they decree to be “dangerous” – without even the courtesy of defining exactly what is meant by that.

Which, for the historical record, is precisely what the second Decider – John Adams did when he issued his fatwa.

Today’s Tech Oligarch Deciders – none of them elected by anyone – are far more clever.

Why censor speech when you can suppress it?

This has been achieved –  is in the process of being achieved – not by laws but by recondite and inscrutable codes imposed by the Tech Oligarchy which effectively controls the means of expressing views – the Internet and social media. These “platforms” – as they are styled – are the modern era’s functional equivalent of the printing press, since almost nothing is actually printed anymore.

Instead, it is transmitted – over the ether, via the Internet – which is effectively our era’s public commons. Outside of that commons, free speech is becoming effectively irrelevant -because no no one’s listening (or reading).

And that commons is now effectively under the control of the Tech Oligarchy, which decides who may and not express views according to opaque internal standards which are “violated” without explanation – beyond their having been violated.

It’s more than Orwellian. It is Brave New Worldian. People aren’t caged for unorthodoxy.

They are socially and economically excised.

The Tech Oligarchs not only control expression, they control the economics of expression because they control almost all of the advertising online. It is no longer the case that a given advertiser takes issue with a given article/viewpoint or the publisher of that article/viewpoint.

That power has been transferred to the Tech Oligarchies and made general. The individual advertisers have proxy-powered the Tech Oligarchies to blanket indict “dangerous” (but never defined) expression and pull all the advertising from that publisher at their whim.

A publisher – or an individual writer – who fell afoul of one or two or even three advertisers who objected for one reason or another to the views expressed could, in the past, find other advertisers. The publisher or writer also dealt directly with the advertisers, who directly advised the publisher exactly why they objected – whenever they did.

This was a free market – of commerce and of expression.

It had checks and balances. If newspaper “A” didn’t like your opinion piece, newspaper “B” might publish it. If you were politically conservative – or politically liberal (or even politically Libertarian) there were publications – and advertisers – who were agreeable.

No one was censored – or suppressed.

Today, anyone who transgresses the glaucomic “terms of service” of the Tech Oligarchs can be suppressed and ruined. The heretical views kept from the public by denial of access to the means of dissemination and the source of those views punished not with prison but with penury.

Which brings up an interesting thing.

In the past, most advertisers would stick with a publication that was read – unless outrageously egregious – because it was profitable. But the Tech Oligarchs are willing to lose money if it gains them power – which they exercise via their near-monopoly/proxy power over advertising online, which is the lifeblood of publishing.

And not for reasons of differences of opinion merely – which they regard as egregious but never explain why (knowing how ridiculous they’d appear if they did).

Instead, the blanket indictment: “Dangerous” – and “derogatory.”

The Oligarchs have caged the system to their advantage to such a degree that one must grudgingly give them credit, for it is truly due. Try the latest holiday deals on your favorite food here. They took over means of publishing which they did not create – i.e., the Internet – and then succeeded in claiming it as their property while at the same time excusing themselves from any legal liability for what was published by claiming they are merely “platforms” – i.e., conduits or the means of publishing – and then began to Thought Police the publishing they deny they are engaged in.

The effrontery of it would startle Nicolae Ceaușescu – even Stalin, perhaps.

In the old Soviet Union, pre-Internet – the Samizdat press had the advantage of the same fundamental means of publishing as Pravda (the official organ of the Soviet Union’s communist government).

Both had to rely on the printed word. And on physical distribution.

The underground Samizdat could be produced in largely the same manner as Pravda and passed around as easily an issue of Pravda. The government could censor speech – but suppressing it was harder.

Today, it is easy to suppress speech – and far worse than censoring it.

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  1. Eric,

    Though I commented on this piece when it was new, I have some more thoughts after reading it again. One, most of the Big Tech companies are tied to the gov’t; the gov’t helped ’em get their start. Two, the Internet was designed by a gov’t psychologist, JC Lickliter. Though I can’t comment much on the second point (David Knight has discussed that), I have a thing or two or three to say about the first point.

    DARPA and the CIA are behind the Big Tech companies. IIRC, DARPA had something called LifeLog, which was a predecessor to Facebook; in fact, soon as LifeLog ended, Facebook started. The CIA had a venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, as a front. They provided startup capital. Oh, and BTW, high ranking officers from the CIA and NSA sit on the boards of Big Tech! IOW, Big Tech is the gov’t, and the gov’t is Big Tech.

    You and I both know that the gov’t would LOVE to censor us; they’d love to squash WrongThink! Ah, but they have these pesky little obstacles, COTUS and the BoR, in their way; they’re handcuffed and can’t censor, because that would violate the 1A. What to do? Have their Big Tech front do it for them.

    Another thought I have WRT private companies censoring content, there are a couple of point. Though NOMINALLY private, they’re arms of the gov’t and have been since they started. Two, they monopolies, so they’re more like public utilities than they are a free enterprise, private company. Just as the phone company can’t deny you service if you pay (thanks to their monopoly status), Big Tech can’t deny service either. Then, there’s the matter of their business model; they bill themselves as the digital public square. Even if a private company owns the public square, they can’t deny people their rights. That was decided in Marsh v. Alabama.

    In Marsh, a private company owned the town and the public square therein; it was a company town. A religious group (Jehovah’s Witnesses, IIRC) was preaching in the public square. The company forbade this, so this was challenged. SCOTUS said that, even if a private company owns the public square, they cannot deny people their rights in the public square. Since Big Tech companies bill themselves as the modern public square, I think Marsh is on point, regardless of what more recent lower court decisions have decreed.

    Then, there’s the question concerning what to DO about Big Tech. Regulation is an option, but how to enforce it? Also, what happens when another party gets in power and changes the regs? Stripping their Section 230 exemption is an idea, but it would take too long to do at this point. Besides, the Dems in Congress would never go along with that, since Big Tech is doing their bidding. An anti-trust action is a thought, but that would take too long to do also.

    The best way to deal with Big Tech malfeasance would be to charge the Big Tech CEOs with lying to Congress. They all were testifying in front of Congress a year or so ago, and they were denying that they were censoring anyone. They were lying their asses off, and anyone with a brain knows it! That being the case, charge ’em with lying to Congress. Maybe when these a-holes get the silver bracelets on their wrists, they’ll learn a lesson.

    Those are my thoughts on Big Tech censorship…

  2. It became glaringly obvious to me where this was all going a few years back when i started to notice MSM sites starting to disable or completely eliminate the comment sections on their “news” articles. Having said that, kudos to you Eric, for the articles that you write, the depth of your thought process, and the company that you keep. Gentleman all.

    • Thanks, Victor!

      I also got a chill when I noticed the comment sections being shut down. And I have discovered, as an aside, that one of the reasons Dagoog has a problem with me is because it has a problem with… some of the comments posted here. But I’ll be damned if I serve as the piss bucket carrier for Lord Dagoog and silence people on its behalf.

      So long as enough readers toss a few bucks in the hat each month, I can do that. So, it is no exaggeration to say that the readers have it in their hands to keep freedom of speech alive.

      Here, at least!

  3. “Facebook” was

    A) a noble mission founded by Mark Zuckerberg, et. al. more or less as promulgated in the movie “The Social Network”

    B) the extant system that existed at Harvard and deemed ready for world wide release by the political class.

    C) an American copy of the free national communications network of the socialist republic of France.

    D) Both B & C.

    The core modus operandi, the tl;dr marrow of the marrow of this site and forum, of every of everyman who meekly consents to living by debased irrational political means, instead of blunt emotionless economic means…

    Murder by Numbers

    • Hi Tor,

      It’s hard to know, exactly or even proximately – but here’s what I suspect:

      The elites – a term I will use to identify/characterize the people at the very apex of the corporate-government pyramid – consciously saw the Internet as the digital panopticon it is becoming. They used people’s narcissism and laziness to get them to freely give up what governments previously had to use secret police to get.

      I do not believe GesichterBuch arose spontaneously; nor that it was the creation of a few young whiz kids. These whiz kids are the front men for the money and power – i.e., the elite – behind GB and the other tech oligarchies.

      I assert this because it’s become obvious what the goal is – and ergo, always has been. GB, et al, have not been corrupted. They are merely maturing into their planned final state.

      • And don’t forget that the elites really liked the 3 broadcast network world. And the three record label world. And the 3 big city newspapers. And the 3 weekly news magazines. (detecting a pattern?)

        They started to lose hold when cable TV hit big. Then the desktop publishing revolution. So they had to rein it back in. They invited Ted Turner to join their club. They relaxed local TV ownership rules, allowing for huge conglomerates to own all the media in secondary and tertiary towns. And cable channels became “multiplexes” with a whole lot of cross-ownership and incestuous relationships between cable companies and networks.

        Then came the Internet. And MP3 players. Then smartphones that could receive streaming video. And along with that came Nappster, showing that most of us don’t really care about their distribution models and how fragile they really are. Didn’t take long for other “subversive” media distribution platforms to come online, culminating with bit torrent.

        And the revenue dried up too. Craigslist killed the classified section, eBay motors killed the bread and butter car ads, and online shopping killed the local stores (note that the grocery stores were largely absent from the online world until recently).

        Meanwhile, longtime and well known columnists starting putting up blogs where they could say what they wanted. This further eroded the status quo from the middle out.

        Something had to be done. So they got “piracy” laws passed, made ISPs quasi-responsible for the content of their customers and then set about regaining control. This led to the information silos we have today. Google and Facebook likes to talk about their algorithms that can flag content automatically. In reality there are thousands of contractor pouring over content, looking for kiddie porn and copyright infringements (note that in the eyes of FB, both are equally bad). It is a horrible job, from what I’ve heard, with a lot of anti-depressants being consumed. Or maybe that all made up to remind us how important it is to have someone sifting through the mess…

        Oh, and all those content pirates? They’re still around, and they still post pristine copies of unreleased films and other content without permission. But they’re in China, which has no copyright law (well, when everything is owned by the state, there’s really no reason for creators to need protection for their work). Interesting that Trump has brought up copyright infringement by China and it’s largely been ignored by the very people who should be upset about it.

        So despite our best efforts to decentralize, the powers in charge are hell bent on getting their three networks back. And for us it’s just a distraction. For them it’s their livelihood. When your next meal depends on maintaining the status quo, you bet you’re going to fight every change there is.

  4. IMHO,,,, Digital will eventually subject the entire human race to a new and never ending dark age. The difference being this new dark age will make the old dark age look like the Renascence.

    This is just the beginning…..

  5. There is another way. Sue the social media networks for violation of the “public accommodation” part of the “civil-rights” acts.
    A similar tactic is used to sue misbehaving police officers to get around their “official immunity”-deprivation of “civil-rights”…

  6. If Facebook, Twitter, et al, want to ban people for ‘dangerous’ views, then they should lose their legal protection from liability for what’s said on their platforms. Section 230 exempts them from liability because they weren’t publishers. The moment they decided to control content on their platforms, they became publishers. It’s time to TREAT them like publishers.

    • Amen, Mark – and that’s for openers.

      My hope is that enough people of all persuasions will recognize the threat poses to everyone, regardless of persuasion – and a tsunami of outrage will wash over the landscape and render Thought Policing as anathema as fag bashing – as both should be.

      The other upside – already remarked upon by a poster – is that the Tech Oligarchs have overplayed their hand. It’s a measure of their fear that they let the cat out of the bag before having euthanized him.

    • But there’s the DMCA too. They needed both to keep from becoming common carriers, which is really what they should be, IMHO. Of course ideally we’d all just have our own servers sitting in the back of the hall closet, producing content for each other, no middlemen. A lot of what I read in the 1990s assumed this model. But because of the way the Internet evolved in the US, by utilizing existing infrastructure (first dial-up, then unused cable TV spectrum), it required that remote servers and asymmetrical bandwidth allocation was necessary. Cable TV mostly fixed the intermittent nature of dial-up (at least when it worked). But by that time home computers became terminals for the World Wide Web servers.

      The next generation of cable systems will allow for full-bandwidth connections in both directions, but I’m certain cable companies will oversubscribe service areas and continue to limit upstream bandwidth for residential customers just because they can. And we’re so far down the road of client-server dumb terminals I doubt that anyone really would understand why you might want a server in your home. So we’re going to have to deal with third parties controlling our data.

  7. There seems to be a breathtaking level of immaturity….juvenile….babyish…..wimpish….with the people involved in these companies.

    I envision them sitting around in diapers….sucking their thumbs…..and having to be burped every so often.

    • It’s the equivalent of a toddler sticking his fingers in his ears and sing-songing “La la la LA, I can’t HEEEEEEEEAR you!”. The technocrats who run these websites don’t want to be exposed to any ideas that conflict with their own, so shadowbanning, suspending, and, for the really egregious offenses, outright banning, allows them to live in their safe spaces without the cognitive dissonance fire alarm ringing constantly.

  8. 15 years ago when I walked past the 2004 Republican Party Convention in Madison Square Garden daily, I became convinced that we were set upon the path of Totalitarianism where the creation of dissidents needing to be silenced was the order of the day. At that time, everything was controlled, perception manufactured, opposition purposely not broadcast.

    Back then I believed it would be a systematic denial of dissidents to log in, voice and share opinions and speak out. I was wrong only about the methodology. Then, I figured it would be denial of use of the internet but attributable to user incompetence, user technological illiteracy – something that would easily be dismissed. The thinking being that if dissident groups were too idiotic to even use the internet, their dissident ideas could be easily dismissed.

    What we now have is less easily dismissed. Conversely, the ideas of us dissidents are given even more legitimacy by the desperation exhibited in having us banned. I knew this was coming, but the arrogance of the censors in destroying entire dissident works draws attention to what is being silenced.

    In the last months many sites I visited regularly are have been erased from the internet. I believe this is a miscalculation by the order. They reveal themselves too much.

    The paradigm I believed they would use gave them too much credit. Though they are ruthless, they are not smart. Nuance is far more an effective tool, but these sledgehammer wielding totalitarians haven’t the intelligence to wield such power without grandiosity.

    The day is fast coming where we will all be “deplatformed.” It will not be attributable to user incompetence whose “unsound” ideas being befitting of their lack of technological sophistication, but a ham fisted act to place their meaty hands over our collective mouths, before they are place around our throats. They have miscalculated in their greedy lust of power.

    Too many are awake now. Too many can draw their own conclusions in the waning hours of the digital sunlight.

    The hardest tyranny is the one that the oppressed do not see. We see it.

    The Digital Dark Ages are coming. There elongated shadows are so visible in the waning light of the digital dusk we find ourselves in.

    We will never be convinced of the truths they tell us. Perhaps that will necessitate the force it is increasingly obvious being readied against us. We once comforted ourselves by saying aloud “these things could never happen in America” – America no longer exists but in the myths we keep of our youth and of the mantle politicians claim they will bear. The golden age has passed. We are not in America anymore and we are going to have to learn to adapt to these coming horrors.

  9. Look at the back of any electronic equipment. There’s a stylized FCC logo. That’s an indication that the design passed the various interference tests that the FCC requires manufacturers to perform to insure the device does’t pollute the airwaves as an “incidental radiator.” And of course there’s all the regulation for radios (like WiFi and cellular phones). Oh sure, it’s purely an engineering requirement, not a political one. But perhaps Google’s data centers that use bare motherboards in racks might need a little more verification…

    Or Apple’s refusal to release the encryption keys after the “terrorist” attack in San Diego a few years ago might just mean an unannounced visit from the FCC regulators for an audit. Can anyone prove causation? Remember, the regulators are just doing the work that the American people are paying for, right?

    Perhaps Comcast, who owns NBC-Universal, isn’t keeping up with their Emergency Alert System logs? DHS might be interested in making sure the system works “when” there’s a disaster. Or maybe they aren’t keeping up with their cable plant maintenance, meaning the signals might be “leaking” out into the airwaves more than the acceptable standards? The FAA requires a lot of checking for signal leakage because of airliner safety. If a localizer locks onto a stray cable TV signal instead of the runway system it could cause a crash. Better make sure everything is in order…

    Is Verizon overcharging their legacy wireline customers? Better send out a few auditors to make sure.

    And of course the IRS can open an investigation pretty much any time they wish.

    If the state wants to, they can make a business’ life extremely difficult. For most of the last 30 years or so the government has had a fairly laissez-faire attitude toward business, mostly because of incompetence and lack of funding (at least that’s what we’re told). But that could turn around at any time, and you bet everyone knows it. So when Zuckerberg is brought before the Congress it sends a message to everyone in the telecom world: Get your house in order or else. Everything going over the Internet is running on regulated infrastructure, at the local, state and national levels.

    And let’s not forget the sad case of Joe Nacchio, former CEO of former Qwest communications. By not playing along with the NSA he basically destroyed the company and went to jail. This actually happened.

    • Your logic is wrong. You are assuming these corporations are acting without official government support. FaceBolshevik, Googhoul and Twatter are so immeshed with the government that they were and still are regular visitors to the White House.

      They may play Good Cop/Bad Cop before the carefully manufactured press, but they still are on the same plain. They may play lipservice, but they have no intention of doing anything. The arrangement is too lucrative for both parties.

      2016 showed us all just how interconnected they are in their failure to produce the desired election result.

      All of these companies provide unprecedented data on citizens. Where once entire divisions of KGB and similar intelligence agencies gathered information on dissidents, many willingly volunteer high resolution photos of themselves, their family, their friends and all of their acquaintances along with ideologies and politics – all of it in a easily searchable database made all the more powerful by Artificial Intelligence and interconnectivity. Trained agents spent lifetimes building dossiers and ferreting out information, that now is volunteered by the targets themselves in far more detail than a division of field agents could have ever produced.

      • Or maybe it’s just that they all went to the same colleges and continue to stick in the same circles.

        I’m reminded of the old Eddie Murphy bit about the first slave off the boat. When master told him to do something his answer was “F*** YOU!” Then came the whip and that was the last anyone heard from that one.

        And the flip side, from Johny Dangerously is the “play ball” scene. Just play along and look at all the great stuff in store for you. You want to be respected? You want to look successful? You want the house in Aspen and the trips to Davos? Just play ball and we’ll make sure it happens.

        But no matter what I’m certain anyone who doesn’t toe the line is going to be in a for a tough haul.


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