There was a time, not so long ago, when big tech companies asserted that they were committed to freedom of speech, with reasonable limits on things like inciting hatred, or being overtly racist. If that was true, and all that they did, there would be very little controversy about so-called “big tech censorship”. But of course, it is not all that they do. A few years ago, they moved away from hate speech and racism towards adopting a role in “combating misinformation”. They did so, incidentally, after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, with the almost explicit goal of making sure that nothing like that could ever happen again.
Here’s the latest effort at “combating misinformation”:
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has been suspended from YouTube for seven days over a video claiming that masks are ineffective in fighting Covid-19, according to a YouTube spokesperson.
YouTube indicated that examples of the offending content in the video included the line: “Most of the masks you get over the counter don’t work. They don’t prevent infection.”
It also included the quote: “Trying to shape human behavior isn’t the same as following the actual science which tells us that cloth masks don’t work.”
Is that…. misinformation? Hardly. In fact, it is the official position of the Government of France, which banned home-made and cloth facemasks in January, on the grounds that they do not work:
France has issued a decree banning certain homemade masks from being worn in public, saying they do not offer sufficient protection from the newer, more contagious Covid-19 variants.
Olivier Véran, the health minister, said a decree published on Friday came after recommendations from the country’s health experts.
“The high council for public health recommends, as do I, that the French do not wear masks they have made at home,” Véran said. He said the advice also covered industrially made fabric masks with lesser filtering qualities, listed as category 2.
The science on this is not, actually, in any dispute at all: Many, if not all, purely cloth facemasks will not protect you from Covid 19 for the simple reason that covid is small enough to pass through the little holes in the mask. If you want protection, you need something more heavy duty (personally, in our house we wear Cambridge masks, which are more comfortable and have the benefit, if we really must wear them in shops and the like, of at least being effective).
Youtube, then, is declaring as “misinformation” something which – at the very, very, very least – is actually a live debate amongst Governments, authorities, and science. This is not protecting the public from a bad actor – it is putting their thumb on the scales to censor ideas and arguments that – for whatever reason – they do not like.
In any case, right or wrong is not even the point here. Senator Paul, at his last election for US Senator, received over a million votes in Kentucky. That is over a million more votes than Youtube has ever received. He was elected to represent his constituents, and his constituents have a right to know what he is saying, and to hear it directly from him if they wish.
It is not hard to divine the point of all of this. 2016, and the election of Donald Trump, was widely portrayed as a moment which radicalised the right. The truth is that it actually radicalised the centre-left, and made it increasingly intolerant, and determined that nothing like it should ever happen again. In the aftermath of that election, a whole new industry broke into existence, determined to ensure that the public would never be “mislead” again (mislead in this instance meaning “tempted to elect somebody awful”).
The objective here is explicitly and obviously to control the flow of information in order to prevent the public from embracing “dangerous” ideas. Because those behind the censorship believe themselves to be morally right, there is very little that they cannot now justify in order to prevent the disaster of the wrong people coming to power. What we are now seeing is widespread abuse of power by progressive corporations and media outlets, with an explicitly political aim.
It will not work, of course. It might work for a while, but Youtube, and others, are shredding public trust in their platforms, and actually driving people to alternative sources of news and information. That has downsides too, of course: Not every alternative news source can be trusted, and bad actors on the right of politics are eager to radicalise people, too. But it is happening nonetheless. And it is a direct result of absolute nonsense like this.
Youtube should be ashamed. Here’s Rand Paul:
We are at a moment of truth and a crossroads. Will we allow these people to use fear and propaganda to do further harm to our society, economy, and children?
Or will we stand together and say, absolutely not. Not this time. I choose freedom. pic.twitter.com/XrI2tjdAHW
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) August 8, 2021