In the past, torching texts was a tactic used by conquerors to wipe the slate of history clean… Then there are those who have burned books to silence opposing views.
Recent discussions about an executive order that would “help protect” conservatives from bias on social media have brought a bone of contention to the forefront. Are alternative and conservative media actually being censored or are non-mainstream journalists and bloggers just whining?
As the owner of a website that is demonstrably facing censorship, I can tell you that from my point of view, we Americans are currently in the midst of a virtual “book burning” akin to the ones we look back on in shame.
The history of book burning
As early as 221 BC in China, the burning of books has always foreshadowed a crackdown on dissent and information. It’s probably no surprise that Adolph Hitler ordered the burning of “subversive” books in Nazi Germany, and the McCarthy era brought public burnings of any book that could be – if one’s imagination was stretched to the absolute limit – related to communism. There are many cases of modern-day book-burning, and it generally links to opposing views, either religious, social, or political.
Nothing like a handy memory hole, right?
These days, as more and more people turn to the internet for essays and news, dissenting views are more often found online than in paperback. And there are people in power who want this to stop because particularly after the last election, they’ve seen the power the internet has to change the entire course of a country.
Big Tech and Big Media hold most of the microphones and they like it that way. They tend to be united politically and they’ve been busily working toward silencing opposing views on the internet, branding them as “dangerous” or “ignorant.” Members of the alternative media, writers of alternative health news, and opinion bloggers are being censored at a rapid clip.
How is silencing opposing views on the internet any different than burning a library filled with inconvenient information?
First, we need to define modern censorship.
Opposing views on the internet can be silenced in a number of ways. Keep in mind you don’t have to like the examples I provide here. If they came for these people or websites, they can come for your favorites next until all we have left is a government-controlled media. This has happened in China and Venezuela, just to name a couple of places.
.Some of the ways our virtual books are being burned are deplatforming (when people can no longer publicly express their opinions), being hidden by search engines (when readers can no longer find the information), and financial starvation (when site owners can no longer afford to keep running the website or pay writers and researchers.)
Some examples of deplatforming
The first way is called deplatforming. This means that all of the places where a person or entity was once able to be heard are taken away. Next, they attack the earning potential of websites. Soon, the sites under attack are only able to be located if you’ve bookmarked them. If they’re able to even stay in business. I wrote recently about the costs of running a website the size of mine, which is only a fraction of the cost of big sites like Infowars or Natural News
Let’s go into more detail about deplatforming. Again, it doesn’t matter if you think these sites are the best thing since sliced bread or if you think the people running them are lunatics. Free speech doesn’t just mean the speech with which you agree.
Take Mike Adams of Natural News for example. Love him or hate him, he has a massive following of people who have found his work valuable. He has been removed from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Because Adams has the financial means, he responded by starting his own version of YouTube for the banned and censored called Brighteon.
But even worse for Adams is the fact that he got delisted from Google. In this business, Google is just about everything. You can talk about Duck Duck Go and Bing all you want. Google is the leviathan of the industry and most readers use it. Being delisted means that even if someone searches for an article on your site with your site name, the article will not show up in the results.
This also happened to Alex Jones and his site Infowars. He was deplatformed by Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify, all at about the same time, which certainly suggests all the Big Tech companies are in cahoots. It wasn’t long after that Jones’s days at Twitter were also over.
This has happened to quite a few other alternative media sites, as I wrote last year.
Another prime example of deplatforming was Sawyer Ji’s newsletter service suddenly closing down his account without notice or appeal. Ji’s website, GreenMedInfo, had hundreds of thousands of subscribers when MailChimp closed them down for “anti-vaccine content.”
GreenMed Info was also banned from Pinterest.
Why don’t we have the right to get information from an expert researcher who disagrees with the status quo? Why don’t we have the right to opposing points of view on a wide variety of topics? Are we deemed too ignorant to figure out what’s fact and what’s fiction?
Do you know what they call a government that has a total lock on information the public is allowed to access?
Pick your communist government of choice where alternative information is outlawed.
Google keeps “updating” alternative media out of business.
Google is a massive purveyor of traffic to any website. Whether you personally use Google as your search engine doesn’t matter. 117 billion people do use Google. So when they type in a question looking for the answer to a question and alternative sources are five pages back, those people are unlikely to get that far and find our information.
You may or may not have heard about Google’s infamous algorithm changes. Every few months, the web search engine performs an update and sites either win or lose. Sometimes they lose big. The most recent update, nicknamed the Medic Update, is analyzed here.
Example.com begs to differ with the claim that they gained.
The “Medic Update” seemed to focus in particular on websites that provided information about vaccine choice and alternative medicine.
I personally got hit in the tweak of this algorithm change, about a month after the original, although out of more than 2000 published articles less than 5% contains alternative medical content. (This article probably isn’t going to help my case.) The graph below is my traffic only from Google, which is a massive highway to get readers to my website. You can clearly see the plummet.
Ouch. This has definitely hurt. Not in just getting fewer people here, but in the pocket, too. Which leads me to the next way our virtual books are being burned.
Alternative sites are losing money hand over fist.
When Alex Jones got deplatformed, not only did he lose access to millions of followers, he lost a massive chunk of money too. First, his advertising network dropped him, then other advertisers headed for the hills, leaving him with an estimated $5 million a year in lost revenue.
And Jones is not alone. In the same article where I outlined the costs of running my website, I also explained in detail previously how websites like mine make money. When blogs and websites lose the ability to fund the expenses, at some point, they’re going to have no option but to fold.
There are multiple ways that alternative media outlets are losing money.
The Mind Unleashed, a fantastic website where I get a lot of my own news, was recently dropped without warning by their advertising network.
The AntiMedia and The Free Thought Project were both hit by the alternative media purge that I mentioned early, resulting in a loss of reach to millions of followers, which in return leads to a loss of revenue. And in this business, believe me, out of sight is out of mind. This has happened to me, too. Suddenly, with the last update, my pageviews plummeted from about 20,000 per day to 6,000 per day. When your income is dependent upon people getting to your website, that can dramatically decrease your income.
Other people have suddenly lost their merchant accounts that process credit card payments for their products, Alex Jones being one of them.
Basically, Big Tech and Big Media can and will starve content creators out of business if they don’t like what the websites and videos have to say.
Don’t get me wrong. I find some of the points of view that have been censored to be repugnant. But free speech is free speech. If you truly believe in our First Amendment right to dissent, share our grievances, and have a free press, even abhorrent opinions are covered. While the extreme levels of this crackdown have hit more extreme websites first, never think that it won’t continue until only a homogenized and politically correct media is all we have left.
The new catchphrase to brush of any web content you don’t like is “fake news.”
While some information out there is decidedly slanted (in this article I had videos from CNN before and after the clip was cut to portray a completely different story – of course, the videos were promptly removed from YouTube) other information that is called “fake news” is just stuff the reader, search engine, or social media outlet doesn’t like. This article from Salon delves into the phenomenon of calling any outlet with which you disagree “fake news.”
Facebook has rolled out its own Ministry of Truth ala Orwell by having their “fact-checkers” go through posts and add an article from a site they like better to inform readers about the veracity of the article. Trouble is, the fact checks come from decidedly political outlets but are presented as the unbiased truth.
Of course, if your website is branded “fake news” then you are on the road to Silenceville in any of the multitudes of ways discussed above.
So how is this like book-burning?
Back to my main thesis now, this purge of alternative points of view is nothing less than virtual book burning. If content creators are discredited, financially starved, and hidden from view, we’ll soon only have one point of view available. It will be that of the people who hold all the microphones, the people who control all the platforms.
Sure, we will still have our loyal friends and readers, but we will lose the ability to reach other people. And even if those other people come looking for the information we provide, they won’t be able to find us. Libraries and libraries of alternative content will be online but the doors will be chained shut by search engines and social media outlets. Other pieces of information – information that is critical of the government or the politically correct cause of the day – will be completely destroyed, removed from the internet, removed from Amazon, and turned into virtual ash.
Maybe because the purveyor couldn’t afford to keep it online because he or she was stared out of business. Maybe because the decision-makers of what we’re allowed to see decided we weren’t allowed to see that.
Decisions are made based on the information available to people. When that information is limited, so too are our choices.
You may think it’s fine when it’s the work of people you consider “extreme” being burned.
A lot of people reading this (and more who would refuse to read it) probably think that I’m nuts, defending extremists and people who may not be very nice. But, if you look closely, you’ll see I’m not defending those people or their points of view. I’m defending the right to express what one believes, regardless of how heinous I may find their opinions.
We’ve all read this quote by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Lutheran pastor during the days of Nazi Germany.
The thing that many people don’t realize is that Niemöller was originally pro-Third Reich and enthusiastically embraced the teachings of Adolph Hitler. But then in 1934, he met Hitler and discovered his own telephone had been tapped by the Gestapo. He suddenly saw that he had been complicit through his support in what had become a maniacal dictatorship and ethnic cleansing and from that day forth, vehemently opposed Hitler.
You see, everything changed when he got more information.
It changed when he learned the truth about what was espoused by the Riech Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, the only news available at that time in Nazi Germany. It changed when he learned things that the government kept hidden.
Those people cheering the fall of Alex Jones, Mike Adams, the “Alt-Right,” and any other politically incorrect information will be very surprised when they are targeted next. They’ll be shocked when their writings are destroyed and their websites are hidden.
That’s how the slippery slope of censorship works. It’s fine when it happens to the crazy people or those with whom you disagree.
But it’s going to be a shock when your own books are thrown on a bonfire because the needle of what the government or Big Tech deems acceptable has moved.