Update: as of Monday, February 15, 2021, Parler is back online.
A sitting US president is suspended from Twitter, Facebook, and email service provider Campaign Monitor. A pillow entrepreneur not only loses his personal and business Twitter accounts but also ten retail stores for believing that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Bank of America (BOA) gave federal law enforcement authorities records of 211 of its customers who made purchases with a BOA credit or debit card in Washington, DC, around the time of the January 6 capitol riot.
These and myriad other revelations have sparked a fury among conservatives, conservative pundits such as Tucker Carlson, nationalists, and Trump supporters. But what do many of them think is at root responsible?
For the record, Gab was never “nuked” but slow at times because of a tidal wave of new sign-ups. Trump has started using the platform. While Parler lost its Amazon hosting, it would be back by now but for differences between its owners and the CEO about what speech will and will not be allowed on the new Parler.
Public squares are bastions of free expression? Where? In Havana, Caracas, Pyongyang, and Singapore? In Riyadh, Deera Square is nicknamed “Chop-Chop” for its gruesome public beheadings, sometimes dozens per session. And there’s the infamous Tiananmen, where one man legendarily stood his ground in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989. In return for his courage, depending on the source, the hero of Tiananmen was either executed or forced to flee into permanent hiding.
And then there’s Tucker “Markets Crush Families” Carlson, who has pounded libertarians on his show every week this year. Carlson regularly asserts that the American corporate state is a project enthusiastically supported by libertarians, even taking aim at Austrian economics for some heinous yet curiously inexplicable crime.
In assessing these charges against advocates of truly free markets, let’s first examine the nature of traditional media, then the web and social media. Next we’ll consider the conservative nationalist solution (antitrust and more regulation), antitrust in practice, and then look at who really bears more responsibility for the current economic state of affairs in the US.
State Capture of Press and Television Media
Ruling classes have an active interest in controlling mass media, as they correctly recognize their power in swaying public opinion to the benefit or detriment of the public and private interests that serve them. In 1975, a US Senate select committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) was assembled to investigate abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as well as Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The committee’s report, released in 1976, found that the CIA had formed “a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and … direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.”
As for domestic penetration, the committee found that about fifty employees of US media organizations were CIA assets working as either journalists or contributors. More than twelve news organizations and publishers provided cover for CIA agents working overseas.
The following year, former Washington Post and Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein accused the Church Committee of a cover-up. Bernstein discovered CIA documents showing that the agency had been recruiting journalists since at least 1953, when it sent Joseph Alsop to the Philippines to observe an election. From Alsop on through the next quarter century, more than four hundred US journalists completed various CIA assignments ranging from facilitating espionage to espionage itself.
Regardless of its true extent, state infiltration of traditional US media was unquestionably successful and well known. Whistle-blowers from Christopher Boyce to Edward Snowden concluded that disclosures to the mainstream US media would almost certainly earn them nothing more than negligible publicity and long prison sentences.
Government Control of Websites and the Capture of Social Media
There are differing views on when the foundation for the current wave of suspensions, bans, and restrictions on speech was first laid. On September 4, 2010, seventeen state attorneys general forced Craigslist to close its Adult Services section for allegedly facilitating prostitution and child trafficking despite the fact that Craigslist had enacted a number of safeguards including manual reviews of ads, phone verification, and user monitoring, and had always cooperated with law enforcement.
Craigslist predicted that the government shutting down its Adult Services section would only transfer adult services to other venues, many with fewer safeguards, and it was right. Prostitution, for example, was increasingly repackaged as “sugar dating,” with payments to dates now classified as “gifts” to circumvent laws.
Before Parler, They Came for Wikileaks
Much has been made about Parler being recently kicked off Amazon’s servers, but where was a similar outcry when Julian Assange’s Wikileaks was kicked off Amazon’s servers on December 1, 2010? Whoops, conservatives had no problem with that. In April 2010, Wikileaks published Collateral Murder, video footage showing US troops killing sixteen civilians and two Reuters journalists in Iraq.
Six months later (October 22, 2010), Wikileaks published almost four hundred thousand documents relating to the Iraq War which recorded 66,081 civilian deaths and implicated US commanders in ignoring torture of Iraqi detainees with electric drills. On April 24, 2011, Wikileaks began releasing the Guantanamo Bay Files, almost eight hundred secret reports which revealed that about 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis (never more than taxi drivers, food service workers, and agricultural laborers) were incarcerated for years in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base without charges.
For conservatives at the time, these leaks made Assange equivalent to a terrorist because they made “our troops” and the US military look bad and weakened the post-9/11 legacy of George W. Bush. Some nationalist conservatives only began to change their minds about Assange after October 7, 2016, when Wikileaks published the John Podesta emails, which damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and helped Donald Trump win the 2016 election.
(One other item of note with respect to Wikileaks: after Amazon removed Wikileaks from its servers, Wikileaks moved to OVH in France, and the French government immediately began pressuring OVH to stop hosting Wikileaks.)
On Twitter, mass suspensions go back to at least 2014, when the US military and national media pressured the social media giant to shut down accounts presumably opened by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In August, Twitter shut down twelve official accounts. From September to December, it suspended over a thousand more that were allegedly promoting ISIS. In just a single day (April 4, 2015), Twitter suspended approximately ten thousand alleged ISIS-related accounts.
While few denizens of the Twitterverse objected to bans of ISIS, more than a few were surprised when the platform seamlessly pivoted to targeting another establishment enemy: the US alt-right. One of the first well-known activists permanently banned was Charles C. Johnson on May 23, 2015, for “participating in targeted abuse.” Notable is that even progressive Slate, no fan of Johnson, found the reasons given for the ban flimsy. The next comparable big name to fall was Milo Yiannopoulos, permanently banned on 19 July 19, 2016, for the same alleged offense.
Trump’s presidential victory four months later was the clear catalyst for another three waves of bans from multiple platforms, the last (May 2, 2019) snaring Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Paul Nehlen, and Laura Loomer, who were all permanently banned from either Facebook or Instagram for allegedly being “dangerous” and promoting “violence and hate.”
Establishment Blockade of the Hunter Biden Laptop Story
It is difficult to name an event in which the actions of the state, the legacy media, and social media seemed to be in greater conspicuous unified action than in the spiking of the Hunter Biden laptop story. On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, the New York Post broke the story, and its Twitter account was immediately locked, before a fact check of the story could even be completed. The legacy press and television news media quickly and jointly agreed to ignore the story. Then, perfectly timed for release at the beginning of the following week (Monday, October 19) was an open letter signed by fifty former intelligence officials dismissing the story as “Russian disinformation.”
Back to Trust Busting?
While it was understandable for the new nationalist Trump conservatives to reject the corporatism promoted by Conservatism Inc., many of them never learned the difference between true free markets and corporate-state cartelization and monopolization, even with prime examples from Solyndra to US healthcare right before their eyes. Many also fail to understand property rights and how private ownership can be rendered meaningless by regulation.
Led by Tucker Carlson, they are urging a return to Teddy Roosevelt (TR) “Bull Moose” progressivism. Carlson calls TR “America’s greatest president.” Carlson, with his nightly audiences numbering sometimes nearly 5 million, has unfortunately been very influential. Not only has his economic sophistry fueled the type of ignorant tweets on display in this article, it has persuaded Baylor University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom to rebrand itself the Baylor Bull Moose Society.
However, our new Bull Moose central planners, ready to begin charging forward into antitrust prosecutions, corporate breakups, and enactments of new byzantine regulations and bureaucracies, seem to be forgetting about the most important 99 percent duopoly of all.
Who Will Bust the Government Trust?
The Democratic and Republican Parties control about 99 percent of elective party offices in the US. Both parties have colluded over decades to cement their dominance via ballot access laws, front-loaded primaries, proportional allocation of delegates (which favors establishment candidates and makes a comeback against an opponent with a lead difficult), and blatant barriers to entry such as superdelegates and massive multistate contests such as Super Tuesday and Super Tuesday 2, where antiestablishment candidates usually have little chance of winning. Recall Trump’s struggles against some of the duopoly’s state party machines: for example, in Colorado in 2016 the state GOP didn’t even hold a vote, it just gave its delegates to Ted Cruz.
It is exactly this collusion that gave the American public its current state-protected two-party cartel that is a conduit for enriching big interests at the expense of the public.
Nationalize Big Tech Firms as Public Utilities?
The other New Bull Moose solution is to nationalize Google and perhaps other Big Tech firms as “public utilities” in the vein of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), a state monopoly that sets government-mismanaged forests on fire and can’t even keep the lights on in California. In other words, consumers get higher prices, worse customer service, and a lot more in-your-face woke lecturing about their racism/sexism/homophobia with their utility bills or web services. Brilliant plan there, Carlson.
Regulation and antitrust have always been the tool of big, incumbent, and politically connected firms to hinder their outside competitors. For more empirical evidence, let’s look at the most prominent recent antitrust case and some of the Big Tech players of yesterday involved in it.
Antitrust and Microsoft
Microsoft was accused of using Windows to put Sun, Oracle, RealNetworks, and Netscape at a competitive disadvantage. These allegations were prominent in the mainstream media and formed the basis of federal action against Microsoft in the 1990s. Meanwhile IBM, BEA, and SilverStream were making the same complaints in 1999 against Sun with respect to its control of Java. While Sun didn’t write the code behind Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE), it insisted that firms using J2EE pass compatibility tests and pay a royalty of 3 percent of their sales to Sun. An infuriated IBM, which produced 80 percent of J2EE, refused to pay the royalty.
Why was antitrust action taken against Microsoft but not Sun? At the time, Sun had more and better-funded lobbyists in state capitals and Washington, DC, to fend off adverse legal action. Microsoft, despite being widely known as a profitable company with a very wealthy and famous CEO, at the time when government legal actions against it began was politically inept and had nowhere near the force of lobbyists it has today.
While Microsoft escaped breakup in September 2001, what really made the three-year antitrust tying case against it look as absurd as it does today was the complete resurrection and dominance of Apple in software and hardware with a string of product hits (iMac in August 1998, iPod in October 2001, iPhone in June 2007, iPad in April 2010). Microsoft’s only answer was the still-popular Xbox (November 2001), towering over forgettable bombs such as Zune (November 2006).
The Cartel That Tucker Carlson Would Rather Not Discuss
Here’s a question about TR’s Square Deal for the new Bull Moose brain trust to chew on: if trust busting really worked, why did it leave us with one of the most rapacious and dangerous cartels ever, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–Big Pharma cartel? Using Big Tech platforms never killed anyone. In contrast, an FDA physician found that FDA-approved COX-2 inhibitors caused as many as 140,000 cases of serious coronary heart disease, killing as many as sixty thousand patients. Yet the cable news demagogues are completely silent about this.
They Never Learn
“Unleash this monster and one day it’ll come for you.” –Glenn Greenwald
When evidence of deep-state infiltration into US popular media became indisputable by the end of the 1970s, libertarians and progressives (the latter at the time still dedicated to preserving civil liberties) sounded the alarm. Conservatives, on the other hand, usually held back nothing less than unbridled contempt at such concern: the CIA were “our patriots” fighting the worldwide good fight against communism.
This stance was hardly surprising: two decades earlier, in 1955, the conservative movement and National Review were founded by William F. Buckley Jr. (CIA), James Burnham (OSS/CIA), Willmoore Kendall (OSS/CIA), and William Casey (OSS/CIA).
The movement enthusiastically approved all of the following: the growth of the national security state from the mid-1950s through Obama, the Bush family wars on Iraq (1991 and 2003), the PATRIOT Act (2001), the forming of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA; 2001), the absurd megaconsolidation of twenty-two executive agencies into a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS; 2002), and the dramatic post-9/11 expansion of the federal NSA domestic spy and FBI police states.
Fully on board all of these ominous projects were the movement’s up-and-coming pundits, such as Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and yes, even Bill Kristol’s then fellow warhawk pal Tucker Carlson. The only post-9/11 GOP-led explosion of big government that these pundits were not wildly enthusiastic about was the $500 billion unfunded Medicare Modernization Act (2003). It was only libertarians or fellow travelers such as Neal Boortz and Walter Williams who strongly opposed it.
Carlson’s routine assertion that Facebook, Twitter, and Google represent “the greatest threat to your freedom,” more powerful than today’s nuclear-armed megastates, is as laughable as it is delusional. Furthermore, if Big Tech’s fiercest critics really and truly believe their own complaints about Big Tech’s platforms, why can’t they tear themselves away from them?
Every tweet in this article bitterly complaining about the dominance of Big Tech firms was sent via Twitter. Carlson still has active accounts on all of the most popular Big Tech platforms (Tw, FB, IG), helping them earn profits so that they can continue to be the “biggest threat to freedom that you face.”
Real Market Freedom, Not Bull Moose Mythology, Is the Way Forward
Contrary to being at all at fault for the current wave of suspensions and bans, we should be thankful for the influence, limited as it is, of the few genuine libertarians left on the national stage, such as Ron Paul. They (not Trump, not MAGA, not conservative nationalists) accurately foresaw the slippery slope of traditional and social media speech restrictions we see today. As Glenn Greenwald notes,
Parler was not founded, nor is it run, by pro-Trump, MAGA supporters. The platform was created based in libertarian values of privacy, anti-surveillance, anti-data collection, and free speech. Most of the key executives are more associated with the politics of Ron Paul and the CATO Institute than Steve Bannon or the Trump family. One is a Never Trump Republican, while another is the former campaign manager of Ron Paul and Rand Paul. Among the few MAGA-affiliated figures is Dan Bongino, an investor. One of the key original investors was Rebekah Mercer.
As Parler works on its return, there are still many more social media platforms that can rise to challenge Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What will certainly kill any challenge is a new Square Deal paying lip service to competition but actually cementing in place the current dominant players. No wonder a smart and leading progressive military-industrial complex site along with the rest of the establishment is all-in on more antitrust and regulation. Unlike nationalists, it understands the real game being played, loves the current trends, and wants more of them.