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Coordinated prior restraint does not encourage healthy dialog

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Is there any question that a coordinated attempt is being made to reduce the level of free speech allowed in America?

The effort may not be wiping it out entirely – yet – but key messengers are being specifically targeted to ensure others who want to express certain viewpoints are discouraged from doing so through “prior restraint.”

Prior restraint is a self-imposed prohibition on expression before the message is even uttered. The goal is to make people shut up before expressing an opinion or conveying information because the results of moving forward with that activity will be very severe.

Over the last several days, there has been a coordinated effort among social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove the same people and organizations from their platforms.

Then Google and Apple stepped in to remove apps from their platforms that convey news and opinions from those people or groups. Google and Apple control 100 percent of the cell phone market in America.

Next, mighty Amazon steps into the fray by announcing that it will no longer host websites that convey certain messages from those people and groups. Even email providers, like Campaign Monitor, are preventing those organizations from sending messages to their members. It wouldn’t surprise me if GoDaddy soon stepped up and started turning off domains for the same key people and groups.

By taking out key voices, the coordinated strategy is intended to send a message to others. “If you espouse viewpoints or you convey information that we, in our sole discretion, determine is ‘wrong’ or ‘offensive’ or ‘divisive,’ then you will be removed from our platforms and nobody will be able to listen to you or consume your content. You will become invisible.”

So, for example, if you want to express an opinion that there were irregularities in the 2020 presidential election and you have what you think is evidence to back up your claims, prior restraint will strongly encourage you to keep that information to yourself. Otherwise, if you convey that idea, you may be removed from all your platforms, lose your job or be endlessly harassed.

It’s either take your chances and express an opinion, or play it safe and keep your mouth shut.

You can see it happening now. If Facebook and Twitter want to silence speech, the natural reaction will be to develop a different platform. But, now other tech players step in to stop that from happening by preventing websites from even being hosted and working to eliminate the ability for people to use apps to access the content.

The biggest problem is that all the platforms and companies engaged in this activity are owned or controlled by the same small group of like-minded individuals. Only their viewpoints, facts or opinion are allowed. All the rest are deemed “dangerous.”

I’ve said before that the relationship between government and social media is way too cozy. While the Constitution restrains government from censoring speech, social media is free to do so for violating “community guidelines.” That’s why you don’t see any serious government crackdowns on social media overreach. The platforms are silent government partners.

Away from the public eye, government conveys hints to social media to ban specific speech and, in turn, social media asks government not to interfere in their efforts to track the activity of Americans and develop profiles of each person.

Ostracizing dissidents

In the past, we saw similar coordinated tactics deployed in countries behind the iron wall, like China, North Korea and the former Soviet Union. People who harbored opinions that differed from the government’s position were ostracized and jobless until they “changed their minds.”

All that is missing is targeting family members of such “dissidents.” It is much easier to encourage opinionated people or those with damning information to keep their mouths shut if there is a chance their spouse, parents, children or siblings will be detained, harassed, fired or imprisoned because of something a relative wrote or said.

The bottom line is to get people to think it’s just not worth the hassle to dare express a contrary opinion or provide information that counters allowed “facts.” Like Theodore Roosevelt said, “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

America is a powder keg, as events of the last year have clearly shown. It’s an explosion waiting to happen. And why is that? Effective dialog has been abolished.

If you dare to express an opinion, it is guaranteed that half the country will vehemently disagree with your position. As a result, people who are offended believe you must be punished. You must lose your job or your business must be shuttered.

“There is no place in America for opinions like that,” the machine will say as it reacts to the “hate speech.”

Afraid to speak

The CATO Institute released a survey in July that showed 62% of Americans are afraid to express a political or social viewpoint.

In a country where freedom of speech is one of the cherished first elements of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, nearly two-thirds of citizens are afraid to express an opinion. Thank you, cancel culture!

Effective dialog would allow for different perspectives to be debated. It is from that healthy communication that progress is truly made as minds are changed. For example, a society can outlaw racism, but if its citizens harbor racist thoughts in their hearts and minds, has racism been eliminated?

But, America no longer values healthy debate. Shouting down your opponents is the key. And the best way to shout them down is to effectively silence their voices entirely. If I can’t hear your opinion, then it probably means you think like me.

Social media is really good at this by using algorithms to show only those posts a viewer is likely to agree with. The documentary Social Dilemma proves in great detail that is exactly what happens and how it works.

So, because you are only exposed to voices you agree with in your own little echo chamber, you are under the mistaken impression that everyone agrees with you. Therefore, because everyone agrees with you, those other voices must be suppressed. They are too dangerous to even be uttered, let alone rationally analyzed and considered.

That, boys and girls, is how wars start. In a culture with two diametrically opposed viewpoints on a major issue, rather than debate the merits or simply agree to disagree, it becomes incumbent upon one side to clobber the other into submission.

Somehow I don’t think simply silencing opposing viewpoints will work to defuse the current climate.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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