I guess I missed the chance to watch Judy Mikovits’s Plandemic, a 26-minute video viewed more than 8 million times on Facebook and YouTube. That’s because censors on Facebook and YouTube took it down because it contains what The New York Times called “baseless” and “dubious claims.”
That’s all right, I suppose, but when I picked up my copy of the Times this morning and learned that a story about Plandemic was Sunday’s most read article, I suddenly felt as though I had missed something important, some vital piece of information about what passes for thinking in these pandemic-ridden days.
I’m not referring to high-culture or the rarefied conclusions of epidemiologists or the peer-reviewed assessments of scientists. There is a reality “out there,” a universe that responds to stimulus independent of what we wish, fear and connive to achieve.
I gather Dr. Mikovits’s isn’t the sort of doctor you’d rely on for advice about your own health or the health of someone you love. Her claims that the coronavirus is actually stimulated by wearing face masks, that going to the beach is fine, and that the virus was most likely manufactured in a lab aren’t true.
But we are such stuff as our dreams are made of. Culture, politics, the fragile bonds that hold a society together aren’t the minimalists’ claims of “objective reality.” Max Weber noted this a century ago when he wrote about disenchantment.
What’s the appeal of claims such as Dr. Mikovitz’s? And why are we so threatened by the claims that they are struck from public view rather than merely rebutted in the marketplace of ideas?
I’m more afraid of censors than I am of the purveyors of outlandish ideas. I can ignore the crank shouting that the end is nigh; I can’t ignore the censor’s order when I am regarded as the crank. There is something chilling about social media companies harvesting our clicks for profit while at the same time telling us what we can or cannot view or communicate.
Facebook recently announced creation of a 20-person appellate tribunal that would “hear” appeals by those who were banished from the site for violation of so-called “community standards.” Just who sets these standards? Who selects the appeals board? The process is largely opaque and under the control of those who own Facebook.
Facebook’s new appeals board is, to be sure, impressive. It is staffed – one most likely cannot say “manned” without running the risk of offending someone’s sensibilities – by folks with seemingly impressive credentials. Among the members: Michael McConnell, a former federal appellate judge and now professor at Stanford law school; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former Prime Minister of Denmark; and various law professors from throughout the world. It’s a decidedly diverse and international group.
I can’t help feel that this group represents something like what the conspiracy theories among us would call a “globalist” coup. Traditional American concepts of freedom of speech? That’s too much to expect of Facebook. We want something broader in scope, something with more teeth to take a bite out of hate-speech, something with a greater sense of social responsibility to eliminate the cranks in our midst.
Welcome to the age of algorithmic attenuation. The company man, the conformist creature of the 1950s, now gives way to the digital idiot. Unless speech is either trite or reduceable to the safe and reductive logical of the digital era – it’s all x’s and o’s folks – it cannot be uttered. There is no community but the global community.
It doesn’t work. It is offensive to first amendment values. I don’t want a law professor in India or Israel, or an international human rights activist, deciding what I can read, view or say.
Yet, I have no choice. I have no choice because that is how Facebook’s owners want it. How did this happen?
Someone, please, send me a link to Plandemic. Tell me it hasn’t been struck from the universe of ideas I can read, reject or adopt depending on what suits me. Don’t force me to drink from a faucet so antiseptic that all seven billion of the world’s inhabitants can find the taste inoffensive.
The reason videos like Plandemic go viral is that folks are looking for answers. There is a crisis of legitimacy in the land. We don’t trust the institutions and individuals we perceive to be in control.
Giving these individuals and institutions the power to censor inspires contempt, not confidence.