At the Breitbart News event “Masters of the Universe: Big Tech vs. Free Speech and Privacy” in Louisiana on Thursday night, author Ann Coulter said that Internet speech controls have gone far beyond criticizing flawed reports as fake news. “It is actual censorship, and it is terrifying,” she declared.
Coulter praised the Internet as “the greatest thing to happen to the Right,” so naturally the Left is now desperately trying to assert control over it.
“I just think we’ll all wake up one day and I’ll try to go to Breitbart, and I won’t be able to get there,” she said. “I’ll try to email you, and it won’t be able to get there. I won’t be able to find the Drudge Report.”
“The Internet has been a disaster for the Left,” Coulter pronounced. “The Left already controls all the institutions. They have all the networks. They have all the newspapers. They have the schools. They have the universities. They’re teaching preschoolers ‘white privilege.’ They can’t possibly gain anything from the Internet.”
She said this is why the Left views the Internet as a problem to be solved, a wild frontier to be tamed. It used to be a matter of playing “games” with conservative sites and users, “but now it’s just direct censorship, as is happening to Breitbart.”
“Any attack on the Internet, on total free speech on the Internet, is a disaster for conservatives,” Coulter warned. “It’s absolutely shocking what is being done to Breitbart. This is a major threat.”
She praised President Donald Trump for adroitly turning the charge of “fake news,” which was originally intended to stifle conservatives, back against the mainstream media.
“That was the first attack on places like Breitbart: Oh, it’s inaccurate, you can’t trust it,” she recalled, citing the mainstream media’s belief that average Americans are “ill-equipped” to determine which news is reliable, so media gatekeepers must do it for them. She decried the tendency of those media gatekeepers to stifle news that does not fit their preferred narratives, as in the case of the recent shooting at YouTube.
Coulter saw the praiseworthy tendency of younger news consumers to get their information from the Internet as a distinct threat to old media. “No one under 50 is getting news from the mainstream media anymore,” she remarked.
“Basically all the mainstream media is, is like a notice — ‘There’s been a shooting at YouTube!’ — and then you go to the Internet to find out what happened. Okay, look up YouTube online! It’s driving them crazy. So they start by attacking the crowdsourced news as inaccurate. Now, as I’ve been finding out from the brilliant Professor Epstein, it’s way more than that. It’s actual censorship, and it’s terrifying.”
Coulter was praising the work of fellow panelist Robert Epstein, whose seminal June 2016 essay “The New Censorship” argued that Google “isn’t just the world’s biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world’s biggest censor.”
Epstein took the topic handed off by Coulter and explained that Big Tech poses troubling problems of both surveillance and censorship. Facebook, Twitter, and especially Google are gathering massive amounts of information about us, and they are also influencing what information we receive.
“Even Twitter makes decisions about whether or not Ann Coulter’s tweets are going to go to her followers or not,” he pointed out. “That is called shadowbanning, and that has been documented. They actually do that.”
“I could go on forever about the censorship problem,” Epstein said. “These companies, they determine what we’re going to see and what we’re not going to see. Sometimes they put fancy language on it, like they’re going to suppress fake news stories.”
“The fact is, we don’t know what rules they’re applying, and there’s lots of evidence now that they are systematically suppressing political views that they just don’t like — not just on the Right, by the way, but progressives as well. They just go after anyone they want to, and there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no recourse,” he said.
Epstein observed that much of this stealthy censorship is carried out automatically by algorithms that are completely inscrutable to the general public.
“If Breitbart published a nice satirical piece, brilliantly written, wouldn’t that look like a fake news story?” he asked. “And wouldn’t it get automatically censored, because the algorithms — and for that matter the people who are making these decisions, they would look at what he just said as something that’s false, invalid, unreasonable, and it would get censored.”
“This kind of power should not be in the hands of a handful of executives in Silicon Valley who are not accountable to us, the general public. They’re accountable only to their shareholders,” Epstein warned.
Later in the panel, Coulter disputed the libertarian argument that censorship is only a serious problem if the government does it, a notion that she found increasingly inapplicable in the era of Big Tech.
“If your speech is silenced, your speech is silenced. I don’t really care who’s silencing me,” she pointed out.