By Edward Liger Smith, Carlos L. Garrido, and Noah Khrachvik originally published by Countercurrents.org
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law… Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet in 2023 the United States is attempting to extradite Julian Assange because he published proof of U.S. civilian executions in Iraq, systematic torture at Guantanamo Bay, and the DNC rigging of the 2016 primary election against Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, which is itself a violation of the Democratic rights enshrined in the American Constitution. The U.S., with its supposed constitutional guarantee of free speech and media, has indicted four leaders from the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and Uhuru Movement on flimsy claims of “advancing Russian propaganda,” simply because they challenge the narrative of the imperialist financial cartels and war mongers. Even if we look only at these examples, how can we say there is freedom of speech or press in our modern age of neoliberal capitalist-imperialism? The Political establishment has shown that it will crack down on anyone who shares information that is damaging to its foreign policy interests, and most social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter, owned by wealthy shareholders like Mark Zuckerberg and others, have proven not only to be impressionable to the influence of US intelligence agencies like the FBI and other institutions of the ruling class, but (after the release of the Twitter files) directly steered by them at times.
No social media platform is more tightly linked to the intelligence community, NATO, or US State Department than the incredibly popular Tik Tok app. In 2020 the Midwestern Marx Institute for Marxist Theory and Political Analysis, within a few months of work, amassed 375,000 Tik Tok followers when the app was still owned and operated by the Beijing, China based company Bytedance, a testament to the people-oriented algorithms of Bytedance that allow any content that is genuinely popular to go “viral”, and a stark contrast to the money-centered way our Western software works. Unfortunately, that year the Biden administration would force ByteDance to hand over management of their U.S. servers to the Texas-based company ORACLE, a company with intimate ties to the CIA. No sooner had news of this forced change of control happened would the Institute have its account, which received millions of views on many videos containing factual information that challenged the narratives of the US war machine, banned from the platform. A second account that we started when the first one was wiped quickly accumulated 200,000 followers, and right when a growth parallel to the previous account was evident, the second account would also be banned. This blatant censorship would continue without explanation as the Institute had five more accounts banned by Tik Tok after they started to quickly gain popularity. It was later revealed that Oracle had hired a litany of former US State Department and Intelligence Operatives to manage the content for Tik Tok, as well as a few NATO executives for good measure. Tik Tok said that they deleted 320,000 “Russian accounts” which included many American socialist organizers who have never been associated with Russia in any way, such as an account ran by an organization of socialist organizers called “The Vanguard” that had over 100,000 followers when it was deleted.
Countless hours of our work that helped inform millions of people were stripped from the internet with little to no explanation, while truly hateful and incendiary accounts were allowed to remain up. Our institute’s co-founder and editor, Eddie Liger Smith, was doxxed twice during this period, having his phone number, job, private social media profiles, and location shared by two creators working in tandem to attack Midwestern Marx. Both responsible accounts, Cbass429 and ThatDaneshGuy, were allowed to remain up until recently, when Cbass429 was finally banned for a completely unrelated incident. However, ThatDaneshGuy still has 1.6 million followers on Tik Tok, where he consistently calls for his political opposition to be fired from their jobs. ThatDaneshGuy called for his followers to contact Eddie’s place of employment and ask for his firing, claiming that it was deserved because of Eddie’s stance against US backed regime change efforts in Iran, which Danesh conflated with support for the Iranian Government executing people. Similar campaigns to these have been waged against other Institute co-founder Carlos Garrido and Institute contributor Kayla Popuchet, the latter who, like Eddie Smith, was fired from their place of employment because of the work they do for the Institute. On Tik Tok, the voices which speak the truth and champion peace are quickly banned, while those who harass and deceive people with imperialist lies are upheld by the algorithms.
Since the transfer of power to US entities, Tik Tok users have been fed a steady diet of neoliberal and imperialist propaganda, while critical voices are systematically being censored by the app’s content moderation staff. Neoliberal commentators like Philip Defranco are never made to retract errors, such as when Phil claimed that Russia blew up the Nord Stream Pipeline, despite all the evidence at the time pointing towards a Biden Administration sabotage. Award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later proved this to be the case in his detailed report on the incident. Despite all this, Defranco never had his account suspended or removed for posting this misinformation, and his video remains on the platform to this day, as do his comments accusing anyone who suggested the US might have sabotaged the pipeline of believing “Putin propaganda.” The Midwestern Marx Institute had predicted that Biden sabotaged the pipeline before it was revealed in detail and was unsurprisingly attacked and reported for doing so.
Censorship, clearly, does not emerge out of a void. And so, we must ask the question: what are the social conditions which make censorship necessary? Who does the censored speech threaten? Who does it uplift? In whose interests is censorship carried out? On whose side is truth – a category our moribund imperialist era, dominated by postmodern philosophical irrationalism, scoffs at? The liberal ideal of freedom of press can never be actualized so long as the press is owned by a small ruling class, by corporations and shareholders who profit from war and the exploitation of the mass of people. They will always censor dissent and push coverage that suits their foreign and domestic interests. This has been the case throughout history, and the modern Western ruling class is, in this regard, no different from any other. It lies, it manipulates, it misinforms to the best of its ability. It needs a population that can view its actions as ethical and just, and so it must spend countless hours and dollars papering over every crack that appears in the facade its media apparatus has built around the minds of the people.
A revolving door between the media, intelligence agencies, NATO, and the U.S. State Department is only the logical result of a society based on capitalist relations of production, where capitalists not only control the production of material goods, but the production of information as well. The ruling class sees the media, including social media, as a vital part of the societal superstructure that is needed to maintain and reproduce the relations of production at the core of society. In other words, they see it as an important tool to convince you that capitalism and U.S. Imperialism are good and eternal. Under these social relations, the constitutional right to free speech and media have always been exclusive – it excludes all speech and media which substantially challenges the dominant forms of societal intercourse. The freedom of speech and media is, therefore, actually the freedom of pro-capitalist speech and media. V. I. Lenin’s description of the media in capitalist society rings truer than ever in the 2020s, it is dominated by an “atmosphere of lies and deception in the name of the ‘freedom and equality’ of capital, equality of the starved and the overfed.” Any absolute statements about the freedom of the press must be followed by the Leninist question: “freedom of the press… for which class?” The capitalist media’s freedom to deceive the masses in their defense of the existing order is in contradiction to the masses’ interests in searching for and publicizing the truth.
Those who keep our people misinformed and ignorant, who have made their life’s purpose to attack truth-tellers, do so under the insidiously categorized guise of ‘combating misinformation.’ In their topsy-turvy invented reality, as Michael Parenti called it, they posit themselves as the champions of truth and free speech – a paradox as laughable as a vegan butcher. Anyone with the courage to fight for the freedom to speak truth to power should unite in fighting this blatant attack on our constitutional rights. We must stand against this censorship from our ruling class, those who are the worst purveyors of misinformation imaginable, and who now, in the backwards-world name of ‘fighting misinformation,’ censor the truth.
There is ‘fighting misinformation,’ and there is fighting misinformation. The divide of class interests between the ruling class of the West, and the good, honest, hard-working people who live under their regime could not be clearer. One side finds it necessary to invent a reality, under the guise of fighting the ‘mis-informers,’ that paints the world in a disfigured backwardness, the other side, on the contrary, is sick to death of being lied to by the media machine, and their screams of “fake news” grow more and more common every day. The American people not only deserve the truth, but absolutely need its existence to find commonality in the world, stability, and the ability to pursue lives of meaning and dignity. They are tired of the private monopolization of media that has erased the ability for regular working people to speak on an equal playing field; they feel their voices drowned in a sea of well-funded lies by MSNBC, Fox News, and the rest of them. This struggle has crystallized into a fight over The Truth itself.
And so, if fighting misinformation is to be done, we must begin by asking: Where was the crackdown on the media outlets who got 4.5 million people killed by claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Where are the crackdowns on those who are lying us into a third World War with nuclear-armed powers? Where are the crackdowns against those who play the drums for those marching humanity towards nuclear Armageddon? Why is it only the outlets calling for peace that are dubbed “Putin propagandists” and wiped from the internet? Where are the crackdowns on the blood-thirsty warmongers? The answer is: they are nowhere, and they will continue to be nowhere while giant corporate financial interests control the lives and realities of regular Americans. Truth is censored and lies are proliferated because it serves the interests of the ruling capitalist class, and only through the overthrow of this class can a real freedom of thought, not an abstract empty freedom to deceive the people, be achieved. Until then, all we can have – it seems – is a media and culture that elevates the most odious imperialist voices while suppressing those who seek truth and peace. Nonetheless, the fight must continue, and with the dignity that comes from the incessant speaking of truth to power, the enemies of humanity will fall.
Let us remember the words of Julian Assange, whom the imperialists have rotting in a prison because of his sterling bravery… because he is a true journalist and not a lapdog of the powerful: “if wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by TRUTH.”
Edward Liger Smith is an American political scientist and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy teacher at Southern Illinois University, editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute, and author of The Purity Fetish and the Crisis of Western Marxism and Marxism and the Dialectical Materialist Worldview.
Noah Khrachvik is a working class organizer, teacher, and editor at the Midwestern Marx Institute.
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