On the Matter of the 'Twitter Files,' The Victimhood Is Increasingly Tiresome
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In his excellent 2014 book on China’s modern evolution, Age of Ambition, Evan Osnos optimistically observed that “the internet had long ago exceeded” what China’s censors could handle such that “words were being expressed first and censored second.” Put another way, technology is way too fast for those in the employ of government, and too leaky. Indeed, while official Chinese history doesn’t include the atrocities at Tiananmen Square, Osnos reports that anyone in China possessing reasonable facility with technology can read all about what truly happened in 1989.

Osnos’s memories of China have come to mind a lot as the ‘Twitter Files’ have revealed censorship at the social network about Hunter Biden’s laptop, along with censorship more broadly of commentary hostile to the lockdowns related to the coronavirus. About the latter, if readers can find an individual more hostile to the thoroughly mindless lockdowns than the person you’re reading now, I want to meet this person. With the possible exception of my good friend Jeffrey Tucker (Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute, and organizer of essential Great Barrington Declaration), it would be very challenging to find anyone who has written more (including a book, When Politicians Panicked) than I have against governmental force that was so tragically anti-health, life, economy, and freedom.

All of the above is ideally contextually useful ahead of what I’m going to say now: critics of Twitter’s censorship policies, and of censorship more broadly on Facebook, Google, and other technology behemoths, need to relax. All this victimhood is not becoming. Worse, it’s embarrassing when it comes from individuals who’ve long caucused with the Right. Please stop.

To begin, the endless whining presumes that those censored had a right to have their ideas featured on Twitter, Facebook, Google, and the rest. Really? How? Since when do conservatives and libertarians believe that a private business owned by shareholders is actually owned by its users? Precisely because Twitter et al were and are private, they can mute or erase whatever they want. If conservatives and libertarians are for freedom, and they claim to be for freedom, then they should support private property rights that include muting or locking out entirely views that they don’t agree with.

From there, conservatives and libertarians have long cheered those who set out to out-compete the existing order. Think more traditional media. For the longest time members of the Right felt not unreasonably that ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post largely leaned Left in their coverage. Sure, but if true (and it was and is), what an opportunity. Rupert Murdoch acted on the opportunity. He would profit from it with Fox News. Rush Limbaugh did on radio.

What applied to old media arguably applies to the new. If Twitter et al really were unfair to the Right leaning on the way to banishing Alex Berenson, Donald Trump and others, that was and is the opportunity to create what wouldn’t banish or mute them.

Again, private property is just that. If Twitter wants to cancel Alex Berenson, or shadowban my good friend Jay Bhattacharya (he blurbed When Politicians Panicked), it should be able to do just that. It’s ultimately an economic decision. Thank goodness it’s an economic decision, simply because the latter signals an opportunity for the outlets who wouldn’t ban Berenson and others. Conservatives and libertarians claim a love of markets, freedom and private property, but somehow this was a bridge too far during the mindless lockdowns.

All of which brings us to somewhat of an inconvenient truth. Or anecdote. In my case, I wrote nearly every day against the lockdowns beginning in March of 2020. Not once did Twitter or Facebook ever ban me. Did they shadowban me? It’s possible, and it would have been their right. Was I not important enough or notable enough to ban or shadowban? That’s possible too. Whatever the answer, I’ll say both my Twitter and Facebook feeds reflected my passionately anti-lockdown ideology. The guess here is that more than a few lockdown critics who similarly are finding fault with Twitter and Facebook would sheepishly admit the same. It’s quite simply untrue to say, as is said now, that the anti-lockdown viewpoint was censored in total. Not even close. Considering Jeffrey Tucker, someone I consider a hero for relentlessly pushing back against what vandalized reason, his Twitter following soared amid the tragic taking of freedom based on a virus. In other words, the greatest critic of lockdown mindlessness saw his profile skyrocket amid them on Twitter.

To which some will ask me to consider the unseen; as in how many more followers Tucker et al would have had absent shadowbans. Maybe. It’s not an unreasonable presumption. Except that Twitter is yet again not a public square. It’s once again private property. Private businesses can censor whomever they want.

Except that they really can’t when you think rationally about it. Which brings us to the close of this rant against conservative and libertarian victimhood. The simple truth about censorship is that per China, it’s not very effective as is. Worse for the censors is that to censor anything is to amplify it. We conservatives and libertarians know this deep down. Really, who didn’t know about Hunter Biden’s laptop, and who didn’t know about contrarian viewpoints regarding lockdowns, herd immunity, pathogens, and anything else related to the virus? In my case, and as the footnotes in When Politicians Panicked vivify brightly, my best source of anti-lockdown information came not from Facebook and Twitter feeds dripping with skepticism, but from the New York Times. No joke. Check out my book. While reporting in alarmist fashion, the Times couldn’t hide through its reporting just how mindless it all was.

Whatever one’s source, let’s stop pretending private businesses are public and that they need to cater to us. They don’t. They have owners. Conservatives and libertarians must stop playing the victim. It’s very unattractive, and worse, it’s anti-conservative and libertarian.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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