Power & Market
Back in the ancient news cycle of August 6, 2018, Alex Jones, host of The Alex Jones Show and curator of Infowars.com, was deplatformed in a coordinated effort by multiple social media and content streaming services. The list of companies, whose simultaneity was surely a coincidence, is quite impressive: Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Vimeo, Pinterest, MailChimp, and LinkedIn. The debate on free speech versus hate speech raged on for the customary week or two as the news cycle dictated, with many libertarians and conservatives willing to leave Jones to the proverbial wolves. Perhaps Alex Jones wasn’t an attractive enough martyr for the cause. But to those who stood on principle against these social media giants, this was a sign of things to come. Editors for the Free Thought Project spoke out against such censorship on the grounds that it may only be Alex Jones today, but FTP would be next.
How right they were.
At thefreethoughtproject.com, Matt Agorist wrote, “What makes this recent purge from Facebook and Twitter so egregious is that the pages like the Free Thought Project, the Anti-Media, Press for Truth, and dozens of others, did not fit the hate speech narrative these same companies used to wipe out Alex Jones. Instead, these pages were dedicated to spreading peace, bridging the divide, bringing humanity together and holding government accountable.”
It’s true that Jones has made more than his share of controversial statements, including claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was a hoax, but this kind of controversy does not follow sites such as the Free Thought Project; Facebook even admitted they were not targeted for promoting violence or spreading “fake news.”
So what were the determining factors that led to this round of deplatformings? According to a statement co-authored by Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Nathaniel Gleicher, the 559 pages and 251 accounts purged had, “consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The statement continues, “This inauthentic behavior consists of sensational political content, regardless of its political slant, to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites…posting in dozens of Facebook Groups, often hundreds of times in a short period, to drum up traffic for their websites.”
As Caitlin Johnstone wrote at Medium.com, Nathaniel Gleicher is also the former White House National Security Council Director of Cybersecurity Policy.
What a small world!
Is there any truth to Facebook’s claims about “inauthentic activity”? It’s easy to become instantly enraged by the censorship, considering that it appears to be punishing alternative media groups for “driving traffic to their websites.”
This hardly seems like an egregious sin. And if consistently applied, would this standard not also include major news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News?
Additionally, the deplatformings seem conspicuously coordinated, as a number of affected organizations found their accounts suspended all at once, one the same day, on multiple social media sites.
There is some logic to Gleicher’s explanation, but Facebook’s application of its rules has been wildly inconsistent. People rushed to share tales of the purge, showing account holder screenshots with multiple banned pages and profiles. Unfortunately, it’s the operation of so many pages and accounts by the same individuals that possibly got them caught in this little sting operation. When users were identified as sharing their clickbait in “dozens of groups, hundreds of times over a short period,” they were attempting to game the system by boosting likes and shares in an attempt to drive themselves higher in news feeds. An issue with consistency notwithstanding, this sort of activity is considered spam and inauthentic behavior by Facebook. They are hardly the first to adhere to such a policy. Reddit.com bans users who are found to operate multiple accounts in order to up-vote the submissions by their primary account.
To be clear, I am not criticizing indie media for doing everything they can to spread their message. Those of us in the liberty community will remember Congressman Ron Paul and his foreign policy warnings against “blowback,” — the CIA-coined term for the unintended retaliation for U.S. foreign interventions. But blowback is not limited to the world of foreign policy; it’s also a social phenomenon. When Facebook made drastic changes to its algorithm crippling the reach of alternative media and independent content creators, it prompted these same creators to find ways to circumvent the algorithms. This kind of “throttling” is nothing new. The Gold Standard with Alan Mosley once enjoyed a reach of over 70,000 for its updates and episodes, even without any budget for Facebook Ads. These numbers were common as recently as May, but even with the purchase of Facebook Ads, results have been catastrophically lower since June. Now The Gold Standard is fortunate to receive a quarter of the reach, even though it sports all-time highs in likes and follows.
So what will the community-at-large do in response to this latest social media purge?
Sure, there were some that rushed to defend Alex Jones, but many more decided to put their momentary e-safety far above the principle of defending free speech. But those of us who believe in the free market should put our money where our mouths are. There is more than just circumstantial evidence to suggest that many of the major media outlets are coordinated, both with each other and Big Brother, to silence dissenting voices. When you read an article, listen to a podcast, or watch a video, make sure to like/share/subscribe to the original feed in order to keep them in the public view despite the reproach of the elite. Better yet, follow these content creators to their new destinations, and prepare to unplug from outlets that don’t respect your freedom to choose what information to consume.
I've been following Lew Rockwell's work pretty closely for more than 15 years, but there's a lot of good stuff I haven't heard before in this new interview between Tom Woods and Lew. He goes a little more deeply into some of his work with Ron Paul in Congress, and Lew apparently has a new book coming out soon, called Against the Left.
Mises Institute Associated Scholar has been named the BB&T Professor of Economic Freedom within the Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University. Dr. Manish, a former Mises Research Fellow, has been a member of the Troy faculty since 2012. His research focuses on Austrian economics, macroeconomic theory and development economics, and teaches a course on Advanced Austrian Economics for the university's Masters program.
His Mises Institute work can be found here.
Dr. Manish and his wife, Dr. Malavika Nair, are regular members of the Mises University faculty.
Donald Trump renewed his attacks on trade this week, announcing new tariffs with China and extending his steel and aluminum tariffs to previously exempted Europe. Since this is Trump, it’s certainly possible that this is another example of “maximum pressure” designed to get some sort of concession. Should this represent a genuine long-term embrace of protectionist trade policy though, American consumers will pay the price.
Of course none of this is surprising; it’s what he explicitly campaigned on. (Unfortunately he’s been more willing to deliver on these promises than his attacks on the Fed.) It’s worth pointing out, however, that Trump’s critics – though correct in their criticism of his tariffs – often over-romanticize the global view of free trade pre-Trump. Nothing illustrates this better than the reaction to Trump’s moves.
After all, for all the flowery talk of leaders like Xi and Merkel of their dedication to free trade, their reaction to Trump’s tariffs have been to push tariffs of their own. China has tailored their retaliation to impact Trump’s voter base, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has threatened to make American icons like blue jeans and bourbon victims in an escalating trade war. Their willingness, however, to respond to bad policy with more bad policy highlights the truly shallow grasp of the benefits of trade.
Just as it does not benefit a country to respond to a neighbor increasing its own taxes to follow suit, retaliating to a new US tariffs by implementing one of their own only serves to hurt their own citizens. This is why Austrians have long lauded the benefits of unilateral free trade, while acknowledging the long term goal is genuine global free trade among all. To quote Louis Rouanet:
Instead of a top-down promotion of “free trade” driven by supranational institutions, we should consider unilateral free trade as an important part of a liberal political agenda. Sir Robert Peel, when announcing the repeal of the Corn Laws in the House of Commons in 1846, brilliantly warned: “I trust the government ... will not resume the policy which they and we have found most inconvenient, namely the haggling with foreign countries about reciprocal concessions, instead of taking that independent course which we believe to be conducive to our own interests. ... Let, therefore, our commerce be as free as our institutions. Let us proclaim commerce free, and nation after nation will follow our example.”
Unilateral free trade is a boon for both parties involved in trade regardless of whether or not one of them continues to impose tariffs. For those engaged in unilateral free trade, free trade means they need to export less to import more. In other words, it makes the free traders richer.
Naturally the global reaction to Trump’s tariffs is as unsurprising as the tariffs themselves. After all, while Merkel may have saw herself as the defender of the “liberal world order,” what she and the “globalists” Trump loves to rail against was really a “neoliberal” status long departed from the ideas of true classical liberals like Ludwig von Mises. For them, and their preferred presidential candidate, the aim is not “free trade” but managed trade – and the differences there are significant.
Of course, that powerful governmental bodies are acting hypocritical to their stated values is the least surprising move of them all.
President Trump declared last week that the law enforcement should “take the guns first, go through due process second.” But the history of federal firearms enforcement shows that due process is often a mirage when federal bureaucrats drop their hammer. Before enacting sweeping new gun prohibitions, we should remember the collateral damage and constitutional absurdities from previous federal crackdowns.
Gun control advocates have called for prohibiting possession of AR-15 rifles — a ban that could create five million new felons overnight, since most owners would not meekly surrender their firearms at the nearest federal office. Others advocate outlawing all semi-automatic firearms — an edict first floated by the Clinton administration that would create tens of millions of new offenders.
But before vesting vast new power in federal enforcers, the record of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency must be considered. A 1982 Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution report on ATF concluded, "Enforcement tactics made possible by current firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible.” Outrageous abuses have continued to the present day. An analysis conducted for the University of Chicago found that ATF heavily targeted racial minorities in its entrapment operations. And across the nation, ATF has been caught using mentally handicapped individuals in sting operations.
Sweeping new firearms prohibitions would enable the feds to selectively target unpopular offenders. The biggest debacle resulting from prior such targeting occurred 25 years ago last week outside of Waco, Texas. The federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agency saw the Branch Davidians — a fringe Protestant group that quickly became maligned as a cult — as the perfect patsies for a high-profile raid that would make G-men look like heroes.
January 20 marks the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s swearing in as the 44th person to succeed George Washington as President. Looking back, we can see that not only were the principles of civility that animatedWashington as America’s “indispensable man,” in historian Forrest MacDonald’s words, missing from the electoral process, neither our President nor his often harsh critics (particularly those who have given rise to what is now called Trump derangement syndrome), has since reflected the demeanor that helped make Washington “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
We see this in the tooth-and-nail verbal melee the beltway is today, where even basic civility is routinely violated between members of opposing factions. Given the importance of comity to every form of social cooperation (supposedly advanced by the gargantuan Washington apparatus), perhaps a somewhat different approach may help. The hordes of finger-pointers and rhetorical bomb-throwers there could all benefit from reading GeorgeWashington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Written before Washington was 16, it summarized important facets of necessary for him to behave “according to the custom of the better bred.”
Consider some of George Washington’s advice to himself and its relevance today for our current President, his admirers, and his attackers.
- Every action...ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
- Speak not when you should hold your peace.
- Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another.
- Always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
- Undertake not to teach your equal in the art [he] professes; it savors of arrogance.
- In reproving, show no sign of choler but do it with all sweetness and mildness.
- Take all admonitions thankfully.
- Mock not nor jest at anything of importance.
- Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself.
- Neither curse nor revile.
- Let your conversation be without malice or envy...And in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
- Utter not base and frivolous things amongst...very difficult questions or subjects.
- Speak not injurious words, neither in jest nor earnest.
- Detract not from others.
- Be not obstinate in your own opinion.
- Reprehend not the imperfections of others.
- Think before you speak.
- Undertake not what you cannot perform.
- In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part.
- Contradict not at every turn what others say.
- Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same manner of discourse.
- Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
George Washington’s commitment to decorum has been thoroughly trampled in America’s ongoing political uncivil war whose post-inauguration phase is now celebrating (or, more frequently, denigrating) its first anniversary. Americans could benefit greatly from deflating the incivility that besets us, in his honor. However, even more important to our well-being would be once again looking to the principles Washington articulated for governing.
- The cause of America [is] liberty.
- Express your utmost horror and detestation of the Man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our Country.
- Liberty will find itself...where the Government...[will] maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
- Under [government’s] protection; everyone will reap the fruit of his labors; everyone will enjoy his own acquisitions without molestation and without danger.
- [Government] has no more right to put their hands into my pockets, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours.
- Government is not reason. It is...a dangerous servant and a terrible master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
George Washington’s character was important to our founding, but even more so, his actions were essential to our revolution’s success and the creation of America as “this land of equal liberty.” Both helped provide America with what he celebrated as “the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man.” His core principles would provide a far more useful model for the city named for him than what we are witnessing today.