By: James Sherrod
The fable of the boiling frog described how a frog can be boiled alive as long as the water is heated very slowly. Raise the temperature too fast, and the frog will recognize it is in danger and leap out of the pot to safety! This metaphor is often used to demonstrate how incremental threats are often tolerated until it is too late.
This is the case of liberty.
None of us would outright agree to give up our right to free speech. In fact, when an obvious attack on free speech occurs against a public figure, like in the recent case of Julian Assange, there is an outcry! Petitions get signed and protests are held – and all the while, our own freedoms are subtly under attack.
The internet is changing. Everyday the war of information results in more and more of the internet being controlled by less and less people. We are experiencing the internet through a handful of very large corporations. Even worse, in exchange for a favorable business environment these corporations have entrenched themselves within the government. This consolidation of power has resulted in some very dangerous consequences. One of which is the ability to boil away your freedom of speech and liberty without you knowing.
For the majority of us, our opinions, ideas, and criticisms are largely expressed through social media. This gives us the impression of “free speech” by using these platforms to reach a larger audience. And it is true, the internet has dramatically increased our ability to communicate with one another. But what if this great ability to communicate could actually be used to silence you without you knowing? Here are three major threats to your freedom speech as a result of social media:
Instead of silencing you, this attack on free speech attempts to change your thoughts.
Our thoughts and actions are based on information. By controlling the information we are exposed to, our thoughts and actions can be manipulated. This is the basic idea of advertising, but it becomes very dangerous when we get most of our information through a single access point like social media. This makes us more vulnerable to manipulation by those who have control and influence over that social media platform.
Things like trending topics, celebrity personalities, and YouTube channels can all be censored, promoted, and even generated to subtly influence society towards certain ideologies or actions. On an individual level, the content you see is only there because you have been “allowed” to see it. In many cases this is controlled by artificial intelligence that can alter the content you see whenever necessary.
All of these things can be used to influence your views on the world. The information you see can be manipulated to shape your thoughts and understanding. Instead of silencing your opinions, they may simply be… altered.
The goal of this attack to subtly replace Free Speech with the illusion of Free Speech.
Probably the most common analogy to use here is “The Truman Show”. In this movie Jim Carrey’s character believes he has all of the freedoms of a normal person only to find out that his freedoms were all an illusion on the set of TV show.
Similarly, the liberty you enjoy online may very well be just an illusion. We all exercise our freedom of speech online. We make comments and videos, we share links and ideas, and we even give unwanted criticism. But what if, unbeknownst to you, no one else could see the information you are trying to share? Commonly known as “Shadow Banning”, this is when you or your content is blocked from the rest of an online community without you knowing. Everything appears normal to you, but the things you post online simply don’t show up for anyone else.
Secret censorship is not the only method used to fool you. Sometimes your voice is being heard, just not by humans. Your followers, subscribers, and readers may simply be lines of code on a computer. You may have even had a conversation with a robot without realizing it thanks to advances in “chat bots”.
All of these things give us the impression that we are exercising our freedom of speech, when, in fact, it is actually being limited. Instead of actual freedom of speech, it may simply be an illusion.
The Complete Destruction:
The goal of this attack to erase your digital life.
If you were deemed a traitor in Ancient Rome you could be punished by “Damnatio memoriae”. Literally translated, Damnatio memoriae means “condemnation of memory”. The intent of this punishment was to erase every trace of your life in Rome. Considered worse than death, every evidence of your existence was destroyed.
Keeping that in mind, consider how much of your existence is being stored and controlled by Google, Apple, Facebook, and government surveillance. Among other consequences, this makes it very easy to silence your freedom of speech. At any moment your social media accounts could be removed, and your ability to communicate destroyed.
In the blink of eye, every image, thought, or idea could be erased. It may sound far fetched but it already happens. Often after a mass shooting the suspect’s social media account are swiftly deleted. This seems acceptable because they are criminals, but even criminals have a place in history. Imagine a world without the influence of Galileo, Jefferson, or Mandela, all of whom were enemies of the state.
In exchange for convenience we have allowed our entire digital existence to be stored and controlled by a few very powerful organizations. In doing so we have made our free speech extremely vulnerable. In this ultimate attack on free speech, your voice is simply deleted.
All of the threats outlined here originate with the issue of control. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have complete control over their platform and your information. These companies have have complete influence and control over hundreds of millions of people. This has resulted in a very predictable abuse of power and erosion of liberty.
Many argue that the government needs to regulate these corporations to protect the people. Unfortunately, these massive corporations and the government work very closely together, especially in regards to surveillance. The only real solution is to distribute the power so it cannot be abused. Instead of all of our information being controlled by a single organization, no one has complete control.