Orwellian ‘guidelines,’ not laws, are now dictating permitted speech and acceptable behavior
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June 16, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) - When swashbuckling pirate Captain Barbossa in Disney’s 2003 Pirates of the Caribbean said that the Pirates’ Code was “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules,” he meant what most people mean by “guidelines:” an informal set of recommendations that a person may choose to obey or disobey at will.
Definitions include: “A practice that allows leeway in its interpretation” from the Law Dictionary, or this useful description: “guidelines are general recommendations; they're not mandatory or required,” from policy management company PowerDMS.
But that is not the way guidelines have come to be used in 2021.
Today, many guidelines have the force of law and the power to oust undesirables from public discourse and even the public square. Those who run afoul of the accepted orthodoxies of the ascendent zeitgeist risk having their public platforms and places of business or worship shut down.
The systematic shutting down of those challenging the mainstream narrative
It is a reality reminiscent of George Orwell’s increasingly prophetic dystopian novel 1984, in which laws have been abolished but failure to comply with the expectations of the “Party” warrants immediate punishment, with violators often disappearing from and being written out of society.
Today, social media users and creators frequently find themselves warned, censored, and banned for violating a communications platform’s “Community Guidelines,” an ever-shifting milieu of internally-determined policies which must be accepted upfront for permission to use the service.
Social media companies’ “Terms of Service” (or “Use), which are usually hefty documents written in incomprehensible legalese, require that users abide by the service’s “Community Guidelines” in order to get and maintain access to the platforms.
Even if a conscientious user reads every document before agreeing to it, the terms are often subject to change at any time at the discretion of the company.
As the American Bar Association further notes: “some businesses that operate online attempt to reserve the right to change their online terms at any time, without giving any notice to the user of the site… Other sites and services warn that their terms have changed or are about to change, but simply direct users to the new terms without marking or explaining changes.”
Twitter’s Terms of Service says the company revises its terms “from time to time.”
“We will try to notify you of material revisions,” the contract reads, adding that “by continuing to access or use the Services after those revisions become effective, you agree to be bound by the revised Terms.”
In effect, social media companies like Twitter are empowered to take whatever action they feel is politically or financially expedient, controlling the flow of information while modifying or interpreting their guidelines to fit their own interests. Content creators who break no laws are vulnerable to finding their businesses demonetized or shut down completely by social media platforms whose policies and guidelines are controlled by an elite few without the input of their users, some of whom depend upon the platforms for their livelihoods, and many of whom rely upon them for news and information.
In this stifling atmosphere, social media users can never be assured that their content will not suddenly be determined unacceptable, or that they themselves won’t be kicked to the digital curb.
Big Tech ‘guidelines’ used to shut-down Hunter Biden story and control the political discourse during the 2020 US election
In October 2020, social media oligarchs caused a firestorm of controversy among conservatives when they flexed their power over the flow of information by throttling the New York Post’s blockbuster story about the contents of a laptop allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s scandal-ridden son Hunter just before the 2020 election.
Facebook claimed that the Post’s story was “potential misinformation,” couching its blatant censorship by saying it was simply temporarily reducing the distribution of the article pending review by a so-called “third party fact-checker” in accordance with its policies outlined in its measures to “protect the 2020 election.”
Twitter joined Facebook in burying the story, disabling the New York Post’s original tweets linking to their Hunter Biden coverage, then blocking users from tweeting the story, even via private message, adding an error message that warned Twitter users that the links were “potentially harmful.”
The social media giant claimed that the New York Post’s story had violated their “hacked material policy” which bans “Unauthorized access or interception, or access that exceeds authorization… to a computer, network or electronic device, including breaches or intrusions,” a complaint which ironically granted credence to the Post’s allegation that the laptop was Hunter Biden’s and not Russian disinformation.
Twitter’s authenticity in using the excuse is additionally suspect. The company has allowed other stories containing potentially “hacked” materials to proliferate on its platform, including President Trump’s tax returns as released by the New York Times in September 2020.
“Censor first, ask questions later,” remarked the New York Post’s editorial board. “It’s an outrageous attitude for two of the most powerful platforms in the United States to take.”
After receiving substantial blowback from conservatives, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey issued a quasi-apology for Twitter’s actions, saying: “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”
However, Dorsey did not acknowledge that the outrage wasn’t because of a lack of “context,” but rather because the social media company apparently saw fit to act as the arbiter of truth and moderator of nationwide political discourse in the midst of an election. Even after Dorsey’s statement, Twitter still did not immediately allow the article to be shared or reactivate the New York Post’s account until two weeks after it killed the story on its platform.
“Our policies are living documents,” the company said in a tweet after allowing the New York Post to tweet again. “We’re willing to update and adjust them when we encounter new scenarios or receive important feedback from the public.”
But the ease with which media platforms’ Community Guidelines can be changed and reinterpreted for political purposes is worrisome. This same malleability facilitated the January ban of then-sitting-President Donald Trump from nearly every social media platform, from Facebook to SnapChat, for allegedly “inciting an insurrection.”
Meanwhile, Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, remains an active member of Twitter despite frequent inflammatory tweets including one calling Israel a “savage, Wolf-like Zionist enemy” and another claiming that the “preparedness” and “display of power” of Palestinian youths and Jihadists would cause the weakening of the “malicious Zionist regime.”
COVID-19 ‘laws’ used to destroy freedom
Censorship and control of information through the selective enforcement of “guidelines” has certainly been evident in the cases of the Hunter Biden story, the 2020 presidential election, and the Capitol riot on January 6 2021, but the crack-down on freedom of speech is perhaps no better exemplified than in the case of permitted and prohibited speech regarding COVID-19.
Earlier last year, as “lock-down,” “mask-mandate,” and “social-distancing” suddenly became part of the familiar lexicon, social media companies acted swiftly to include so-called COVID-19 “misinformation” in their Community Guidelines lists of verboten topics.
Users were, and still are, forbidden to state views which contradict the WHO and the CDC, to argue against the efficacy of masking and social-distancing, or to suggest alternatives for COVID-19 treatment which do not involve hastily produced vaccines from massive pharmaceutical companies, even as top health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci have repeatedly flip-flopped in their own recommendations.
Censoring, suspending, banning, and slapping warning labels on any user or news outlets that questions the approved narrative about the coronavirus has come to be expected. Mentioning forbidden words like “hydroxychloroquine” or “ivermectin,” may be enough to get one’s Facebook account deactivated, while using social media to communicate about an anti-lockdown protest led to the physical arrest of a pregnant woman in Australia last year.
Such harsh penalties are particularly galling considering Facebook’s recent reversal of its policy to squelch posts which suggested that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. After the lab-leak theory picked up support from the mainstream media following President Trump’s ouster, Facebook graciously decided it would now permit users to consider that possibility.
But social media is not alone in wielding its “guidelines” as a cudgel to shut down politically-incorrect ideas and control behavior. Over the past year citizens have watched in horror as churches have been locked up, businesses have been shut down, and ordinary individuals have faced arrest for breaching the CDC’s contrived “guidelines” on COVID-19 measures like masking, social distancing, and attending business, social, and religious venues.
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and other bureaucratic functionaries of the government have made ample use of the same strategy used by social media execs, issuing reams of “guidelines” about coronavirus response since March 2020.
These guidelines, which have undergone no bicameral legislative process, have not been voted on, and have not been submitted to judicial review, but have been imposed by states and local governments around the U.S. and the rest of the world under perpetually expanding “states of emergency” in which executive power circumvents the legislature and “health guidance” becomes the law of the land.
Public health guidelines have been used as the rationale for police to threaten a Dallas mother with trespassing charges for attending Mass without wearing a mask, harass orthodox Jews in New York for having a funeral for their rabbi, and for an airline to kick a family of five off a flight because their 2-year-old failed to consistently wear a mask.
Each one of the rights outlined in the First Amendment has seen unprecedented suppression. Freedom to speak about COVID-19, to peacefully protest infringements of personal freedom, or to attend church amid crippling restrictions have been crushed under the boot of the new authoritarian health dictatorship.
In a post on the University of Kent’s Law School blog referencing Orwell’s 1984, the author observes:
One compelling aspect of the novel is how “crime” and thus, “law” are perceived. First, law does not exist at all in totalitarian Oceania. Nothing can be illegal as laws do not exist anymore. Yet, if Winston is caught writing his thoughts down in his diary, he could be executed or given 25 years of forced labor. The Thought Police has unlimited power to enforce the Party’s views and ideologies and if anything goes against these ideologies or is not in line with the Party’s views, they are classed as illegal.
Small liberties in exchange for our compliance should never be acceptable
Unlike 1984, in our present moment the social media and public health guidelines exist alongside real laws. Although the radical left would like to abolish the police and prisons and “dismantle the systems of oppression,” as of yet the traditional legislative authority remains.
This, indeed, is a good thing. Traditional laws, which are subject to the checks and balances of legitimate government, are a safeguard against the tyranny of the fluctuating opinions and interests of corporate and bureaucratic elites. In response to the past year’s colossal infringements on personal liberty, some governors and lawmakers have now finally begun to implement laws and pass executive orders curtailing the government’s emergency powers, limiting the power of social media giants, ensuring the integrity of future elections, outlawing vaccine passports, banning boys from playing girls’ sports, and prohibiting critical race theory in schools.
Moving forward it is important to remember what we have been through. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it,” Orwell observed, and we should not assume that those in power today are any different.
Small liberties doled out to us in exchange for our compliance should never be acceptable. Now is the time to reassert our God-given dignity and promote a culture of true liberty rooted in faith, courage, and adherence to the truth.
The past year and a half have showed us what we have to lose. Now we ought to focus on what we can gain by taking back control of our political institutions in order to regain our freedom and secure it for future generations.