ORWELLIAN: YouTube censors all videos from an academic conference on the dangers of censorship

By PatriotRising -February 18, 2021

censored

An academic conference on media censorship and the dangers of free speech infringements online has, ironically, been censored by YouTube.

The Google-owned video platform decided to pull all videos from the Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas 2020 for violating its “community standards,” which include never saying anything bad about censorship.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” said Mickey Huff of Diablo Valley College in California, as quoted by MintPress.

“My initial reaction was ‘that’s absurd;’ there must have been a mistake or an accident or it must have gotten swept under somehow. There is no violation, there was no reasoning, there was no warning, there was not an explanation, there was no nothing. The entire channel was just gone.”

The two-day event featured a number of esteemed speakers and panel discussions about Big Tech censorship and online violations of the First Amendment. So naturally it had to be pulled in its entirety in order to keep We the People from hearing the truth.

“Each video was a different panel and every panel had different people from the other ones, so it is not like there was one theme or person or copyrighted content in all of our videos,” added Nolan Higdon of California State University, East Bay, who was one of the event’s organizers.

“This seems to be an attack on the conference, not on a singular video.”

Big Tech needs to be broken up and publicly run so everyone has a voice

Higdon and his colleagues actually went out of their way to ensure that there was no copyright infringement in any of the talks or panels. Many of them were conducted in lecture format similar to a Zoom call, and included some of the best-known names in media studies.

“This wasn’t a keg party with Parler users: It was an academic conference,” Huff explained, noting that the event was sponsored by reputable schools like Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“These are pioneering figures in critical media literacy scholarship. It’s mind-numbing that all of this was just disappeared from YouTube. The irony is writ large … This is part of a potentially algorithmic way of getting rid of more radical positions that criticize establishment media systems, including journalism.”

Google reportedly told MintPress that it has no idea where the missing videos went, and claims they were never even uploaded to YouTube. The company found only one video in its archives and reinstated it.

This explanation does not cut it for Huff or Higdon, though, as the two seem to recognize that corporations like Google and YouTube have become digital tyrants that forcibly control the free-flow of information online to the degree that free speech no longer even exists.

“I don’t think they should have achieved this kind of power over our communication systems in the first place, and these should be publicly run platforms regulated the same way our government regulates and enforces the First Amendment,” Huff commented.

Higdon had much the same to say about the situation, warning that the tech giants have amassed so much power that they are now blatantly trampling the constitutional rights of millions of Americans without consequence.

“By empowering these tech companies to decide what is and is not appropriate, they are going to look out for their vested interests, and people who are critical of their business model and practices are going to be targets,” Higdon says.

“These lefties right now who are advocating for censorship … the outcome of this is going to be on them.”

More related news about Big Tech censorship can be found at Censorship.news.

Sources for this article include:

TheFreeThoughtProject.com

NaturalNews.com

The Google Archipelago

The Google Archipelago

November 20, 2020

By Jimmie Moglia for the Saker Blog

During the cold war the West called dissenters those Russians in the USSR who voiced their complaints against the system. A definition – ‘dissenter’ – which, processed through the lexical grinding machine of the CIA and associates, was actually stripped of its original meaning to become a weapon of trivial instrumental imperialist propaganda. Said it another way, it was the dissenters who gave the pigs of the animal farm the tools for the pigs’ full spectrum propaganda.

But none can halt the inaudible and noiseless foot of time. And with the fall of the Berlin Wall it has come to pass that Western propaganda itself has created the dissenters. Meaning people who have been persecuted or even tortured, as is the case of Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning. Plus a hefty list of others – uncomfortable men, daring an escape from the Twilight Zone, thus dangerous by definition, and therefore marginalized or branded as traitors, maladapted or plainly mad, for to define true madness what is it but to be nothing else but mad.

However, increasingly, such criminalizing or demonizing measures appear inadequate – notably in the current phase of the ‘great reset’, meaning a global theft of freedom in exchange of a pseudo-security or pseudo-salvation from system-fostered terrors, dangers and apocalyptic ills.

And yet it is not enough. Unlike with dictatorships, Western pseudo-democracies have established a soft and practically invisible censorship consisting of the concentration in a few power groups of all main sources of communication and information, so as to drown any dissenting voice into the bottomless ocean of silence.

It may help that our Zionist “elder brothers in the Abrahamic faith” (that’s how the current Vatican calls them, reversing 1000 years of Catholic theology and practice), own and control 90% or thereabouts of all communication media, printed, Hollywood, academia, radio-TV and Internet.

Still, he who does not submit is jailed, or simply marginalized, rendered irrelevant in the Google archipelago, a wondering atom among the million molecules of deplorables.

Yet the strategy is increasingly proving inadequate, while freedom is hijacked in exchange for a pseudo-security that is fake, proclaimed and accompanied by threats. Nevertheless it is a pseudo-security made inevitable, following the train of provoked and questionable epidemic threats, possibly set up by the very security-providing system. 9/11 may serve as the master key or copy.

Therefore sundry ‘free’ countries have passed or are passing legislation involving punishment for the crime of opinion. This is inevitable for the greater the enforcement of the official ministerial truth, the more likely are desertions of the ministry by the unbelievers. So far, desertions are limited and rendered noiseless by a thousand-eyed censorship. And yet they risk to garnish attention and rip the curtain cloth that shelters fiction from fact.

For example, Germany has pending laws to prevent the questioning of vaccine(s), a remarkable instance of a new medical theology. And with the spirit of rebellion growing at large, so grows the violence of repression, even though the ‘elder-brothers’ owned media waters down the reports to dampen or hide their impact.

Much as, in another continent and settings, the same media all but ignored Trump’s mass rallies, while extolling Biden’s, often attended by eight people and a dog.

Massive censorship is justified on the ground that social media companies are private, therefore entitled to establish what is and isn’t true. What more evidence is needed to demonstrate the ethical and intellectual rotting decline of the West.

Clearly the escalation of threats and repressions is a sign of weakness among the globalist masters. For to establish their own truth they need to cast off the mask of liberty. Though given the flow and development of pandemic-related events even that mask may be redundant.

The legitimation of what is but an influenza wave, branded as a bubonic plague, falsified in the numbers and yet lethal for the cure of other illnesses. The imposed obedience clearly inconsistent, contradictory, ridicule in scope and medieval in appearance, should open the eyes of those who like to use them.

That may not be the case. Hence the path is open for the cashiering of constitutions and the introduction of freedom-killing legislation.

It is questionable whether generations educated to passiveness and in love with the ephemeral, may attempt a defense. They have but a rudimental notion of liberty, mainly associated with the liberty to purchase and consume. It is equally questionable whether their defense may trespass the borders of disillusionment. And even disillusionment is uncertain, as for many belonging to the herd can overcome the fear of being led to slaughter.

Therefore it is not with a large mass of inert followers of the mainstream media from hell that the West can defend its position of some kind of leadership.

In my archive, there is a video snippet where the ‘spokesman’ for a band of Pakistani migrant hooligans in the North of England says, “In 20 years we will take over f—ing England.”

I know I am but one of many living in the Google archipelago, where the godfathers of globalism reign supreme.

It seems we cannot bring light to darkness or call forth the mutinous winds of rebellion. As rhetorical as it may sound, we may as well dispel the illusion of redemption, bury it in the earth and, deeper than did ever plummet sound, drown the book that extols the values and worth of European civilization.

PS. For this article I relied on material provided by an anonymous European writer whom I would gladly cite if only I knew his name.

Social media’s erasure of Palestinians is a grim warning for our future

Jonathan Cook

26 October 2020 12:39 UTC 

Facebook, Google and Twitter are not neutral platforms. They control the digital public square to aid the powerful – and can cancel any of us overnight

Palestinian critics say Facebook has become ‘another face of occupation’ (AFP/File photo)

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability. 

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump. 

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know. 

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants. 

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.How Facebook threatens vulnerable Muslim communities Read More »

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”. 

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer. 

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true. 

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful. 

Social media algorithms help drive decisions on content removal (AFP/File photo)
Social media algorithms help drive decisions on content removal (AFP/File photo)

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally. 

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight. 

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal. 

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly. 

The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.Facebook accused of censoring Palestinians under pretext of fighting hate speech Read More »

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights. 

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites. 

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism. 

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia. 

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a 2019 cyber industry conference in Tel Aviv (AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a 2019 cyber industry conference in Tel Aviv (AFP)

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services. 

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.  

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised. 

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity. 

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute. 

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists. 

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag “FBcensorsPalestine”. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”. Leila Khaled shutdown shows how corporate tech is enemy of free speechRead More »

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed. 

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations. 

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown. 

New houses are built in the Nokdim settlement in the occupied West Bank on 13 October (AFP)
New houses being built in the Nokdim settlement in the occupied West Bank on 13 October (AFP)

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible. 

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank. 

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.” 

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians. 

Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”. 

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful. 

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.Jonathan CookJonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at: http://www.jonathan-cook.net

Tiktok – How Trump Failed America

Tiktok – How Trump Failed America

October 18, 2020

By Allen Yu for the Saker Blog

Donald Trump was elected with a mandate to make deals and “drain the swamp.” I had my doubts he could make a difference in the geopolitical realm. But even on economic matters, he has not had a lot of success. His Tiktok saga reveals just how far he has left people down.

Trump’s demand for a fire sale of Tiktok hit a legal wall two weekends ago when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction. Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, questioned whether a President had the legal authority to so broadly ban and restrict a “personal communication” and “informational” service such as Tiktok on “national security” grounds.

But even without the injunction, Trump’s vaunted deal-making skills were fast morphing into a freak show. From the beginning, Trump made unsubstantiated accusation that Tiktok was being used as a platform for Chinese espionage even when the CIA found no evidence of Chinese espionage. The EFF – which traditionally has been critical of China’s Internet companies – has also concluded that there is no evidence that TikTok is less secure than other social media apps.

Side note – Lesson #1: if you want to negotiate from a position of strength, you should not start out with a preposterous position, as you will soon lose the trust and belief of the other side. A negotiation is the art of find a deal that both sides walk away happy. If you just want to pummel the other to submission, any “gains” you get will not last.

In late September, after months of negotiations, a surprise deal was announced between Byte Dance and Oracle whereby Byte Dance’s operations outside China would be transformed into a new global company headquartered in Texas. Under the deal initially announced by Oracle late last September, Tiktok would be transformed into a new company headquartered in Texas. Oracle and partner Walmart would co-own 20% of the new company. Oracle would be designated a “trusted technology provider” to manage and store all of Tiktok’s user data.  It would have the authority to audit source codes of Tiktok and parent company Byte Dance.

In addition, four of the five board members of the new Tiktok would be Americans, with one being a data security expert appointee approved by the U.S. government and holding a top-secret U.S. security clearance.  A security committee whose members would be US citizens approved by the US government would be formed and chaired by the appointee.

Based on Chinese social media responses, this state affair was a big loss of not only face but business interests for China. Yet, from the jaws of defeat, Byte Dance was complimented for salvaging something out of nothing.

After initially giving his “blessings” to the deal, Trump backtracked just days later to demand that the core algorithms and AI behind Tiktok – designed, owned and controlled by Byte Dance – must be sold and handed over, too.

The fact that Tiktok is getting all this attention over data security is quite puzzling. Tiktok is a video sharing service for short, hip, fun videos popular among teens, hardly a target for international spying. An email, chatting, or cloud storage service would have represented far juicier targets for Chinese agents!

Furthermore, the U.S. currently does not have any federal-level data privacy law, let alone data security law. Authorities generally leave it to the “market place” and “competition” to keep companies in check. If the U.S. government is truly worried about the data security of American citizens, it should have gone after Facebook, Twitter, and Google and forced a change of ownership some time ago!

Some observers have suggested that the real reason for Trump’s attack on Tiktok is personal vengeance after K-pop fans on Tiktok allegedly sabotaged his first “post-Coronavirus” rally in Tulsa back in June. If so, this would be a major strategic blunder.

While the world’s Internet is currently dominated by American companies, strong political backlash against U.S. based Internet companies are already brewing across the globe, from Europe to India. If Trump manages to whip up nationalistic fervors around the world to carve up Internet companies on trumped-up “national security” charges, it will be mostly American companies that will be on the chopping blocks.

Side note – Lesson #2: you should negotiate with a solid understanding of the end goals – with good strategies. Merely appearing good “reality TV” fashion for political gain will net you little in the end. One can argue, the U.S. “wars on terror” and fights for “democracy” are such. They will hurt many … but they will not gain the U.S. much. Same here in the economic realm … as here with Tiktok.

Many Americans have falsely taken comfort in the thought that Trump’s actions constituted long overdue payback against Chinese government’s banning of U.S. Internet companies. In actuality, Trump’s actions are much more destructive than any policy enacted by the Chinese government.

Contrary to popular beliefs, China has always welcomed U.S. Internet companies to operate in China, provided they follow Chinese laws and respect government’s concerns over information that incite, misinform, defame, or that otherwise endanger national security. While some companies – such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter – have avoided China with much fanfare over “censorship” concerns, others – such as Microsoft and Apple – have done quite well after setting up Internet operations within China.

America has often made China into the world’s bogeyman over censorship. But China or not, there is no such thing as “freedom of speech.” Today American companies, including Google, censor on behalf of governments the world over on diverse issues such as privacy, blasphemy, defamation and hate speech to disinformation, copyright and national security. Just look to Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s “transparency report” for some shocking statistics.

Today, the Trump Administration is trying to make another bogeyman out of China over “data security.” But of course, the real question is whether the U.S. – and the world – can accept a second generation of globally spanning Internet companies that are not necessarily American.

Should only companies from certain nations be trusted?  Is corporate governance sufficient to regulate globally spanning multinational companies?  Or must we rely on some sort of forced nationalization?

Side note – if there is ever one topic I fundamentally and deeply disagree with the Saker about, it is on the notions of “freedom of speech.” For me, there is no such thing as “freedom of speech.” There are always limits and contingencies to speech, limits that depend on a society and its history, whether it be blasphemy, defamation, misinformation, disinformation, a violation of privacy or of copyright, hate speech, speech that incite, speech that spur violence, speech that undermines national security, and so on.

I find it fascinating that so many “liberal” free speech zealots have no qualms about the government making rules to ensure food and drug labeling are accurate yet … at least until very recently … these same folks are ok with disinformation and misinformation in the political arena.

In China, disinformation and misinformation has been recognized as a problem since the earliest days of the Internet. This is why China built its GFW. Let me give you an example.

Just earlier this week, there was an interesting story about Facebook and Twitter restricting the spread of a controversial New York Post article critical of Joe Biden and his son’s relationship to a Ukrainian company. Facebook restricted links to the article on grounds it couldn’t independently verify the story. Twitter restricted on the ground that they don’t publish “private” information or “hacked” information.

Would they be so gracious about restricting things when it comes to China?

I say, to the extent the West seems “freer” in the past, it’s only because of two things. One, in recent history, the West had been so much stronger than others. It was under so much less threat than others. There was just always so much less that constituted a threat to its social and national security. But this might be changing. Two, at least in modern history, the West has always monopolized the narrative regarding the social and political issues of our days. What is “censorship” by others is always anything but censorship when done in the West. There are always some righteous and obviously legitimate reasons to limit speech – whether it be defamation, privacy, hate speech, violence, blasphemy, national security, whatever. The issue of “freedom of speech” never even enter the analysis.

Here are a few recent examples.

Just two years ago, Zuckerberg cited Holocaust denial as an example of permissible free speech. However, just this past week, Mark Zuckerberg is saying that Facebook would ban content that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

Also consider this thing about Russia meddling in America. In the last few years, national security concerns have loomed large as many Americans became paranoid about Russia’s spending of a mere $100K could sway the 2016 elections. Social media companies are urged to do all sorts of things to limit “foreign influence.” Left undiscussed is what about the “foreign influence” this country perpetrates in other countries? Let’s not even go into the armed or political support – what of the voice of America, the national endowment for democracy – institutions that spew “foreign paid” misinformation and disinformation around the world?

Some Americans may reply: what of “foreign influence” if it helps to dig up the truth? Well, if that’s so, why do America care so much about “foreign influence” then? Also, why is there such focus on “foreign” interest but almost nothing on “domestic” special interests? To the extent some powers are “distorting” the “free marketplace of ideas,” aren’t “domestic” special interest just as dangerous to democracy as “foreign” interests?

In an explosive report by the Wall Street Journal, we have learned that it was Mark Zuckerberg who had been instilling in Washington “national security” concerns over Tiktok. Zuckerberg had privately lobbied Trump to do something about Tiktok. Coincidentally, Zuckerberg’s company Facebook owns a service called Reels that had thus far competed unsuccessfully with Tiktok and that would have the most to gain from continued uncertainties at Tiktok.

The specter of Larry Ellison – a personal friend and ardent supporter of President Trump – has also raised eyebrows. While Microsoft was the clear front runner to purchase Tiktok in early August, it was Oracle that ended up as the “surprise” victor in late September. According to a report by the Washington Post, Microsoft’s deal would have given the U.S. even more control over Tiktok’s data and in that sense addressed Trump’s concerns about “national security” even better.

Mixing private and public interests has always been an unfortunate hallmark of the U.S. government.

In targeting Tiktok, Trump has boasted that he expected political and financial paybacks for his attacks. On several occasions, Trump publicly demanded that whoever buys Tiktok pay a “finder’s fee” to the U.S. Treasury. After the Oracle deal was announced, Trump bragged that Tiktok had agreed to pay $5 billion to the Treasury and a special education fund to teach American children “the real history of our country.”

In an age when Americans have been on openly edge over foreign governments’ spending money on social media to influence elections, what should Americans think about their President soliciting billions from a “foreign adversary” to support his “pet barrel” projects?

It is really too bad that Trump’s rally cry of “America First” has turned into an ideology based on xenophobia. When Trump became president, I was fascinated by his tentative outreach to Russia and China … and his criticism of NATO and other aspects of the American “empire.” However, after four years, he has shown he is incapable of changing the course of this aspect of American history.

If the West wants to decouple with China, so be it. If the West wants to give up the Chinese market, so be it. In Trump’s view, the West had helped to “built up” China. In my view, to the extent the West “built up” China, China also “built up” much of today’s West.

America and Europe were in despair with high inflation, unemployment, and low productivity growth at the end of the 1970’s. China’s entrance into the global trade system ushered in a new period of continued prosperity in the West. China not only provided the West with steady and reliable supply of basic goods and services, it also built up a new prosperous middle class and opened up its huge market to the world. U.S. corporations reaped disproportionately huge profits – profits that are used to fund the R&D needed for further advances in chips, Internet, among others.

Whether Tiktok or Huawei survives the Trump Administration, the Chinese are no longer willing to indefinitely subsidize American R&D going forward. Efforts are afoot for Chinese companies to remove their dependence on critical American technologies – from electronic parts to chips to software to machinery – throughout their supply chain. They will demand this of themselves and of their partners in Europe and Japan and S. Korea and everyone around the world. A new ecosystem will soon arise that is intentionally stripped of critical “American” components and technology to better serve the Chinese market. This will be the lasting influence of Trump. China has no choice. China may suffer in the short term, but China is determined to win in the long term.


[note: a short, much abridged version of this article was initially published as a “commentary” on the South China Morning Post]

Allen Yu is an IP attorney in Silicon Valley, a founding blogger at blog.hiddenharmonies.org, as well as an adjunct fellow at the Chunqiu Institute for Development and Strategic Studies. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a D. Engr., M.S., and B.S. from UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

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