Tuesday, January 12, 2021

When Apple Became Big Brother

Remember this iconic Apple ad from late 1983?

In a gray world where everyone looks the same, dresses the same, and even walks, stands, and sits the same, a group of drone-like humans take their seats before a video screen. A Big Brother figure on the screen bleats out his propaganda to the masses:
Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology — where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!
Meanwhile, an athletic blonde-haired woman is rushing toward the auditorium with a sledgehammer in hand, being chased by a group of helmeted police. She hurls her hammer at the screen, and it explodes in a blinding flash of light.

Then the voiceover:
On Jan. 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984.
So the new Mac, symbolized by the woman, will smash computer users out of their hypnotic stupor and stultifying sameness — at that time, no doubt, represented by IBM computers and their users. Apple, the cutting-edge “Think Different” company, would loose the binds of conformity, leading the world away from an Orwellian dystopia and into an era of original and independent thought.

That was then.

Fast-forward three and a half decades, and Apple the corporate behemoth, with a $2 trillion-plus market cap that’s larger than the GDP of most nations on the planet, is now officially the Big Brother on the screen.

In booting upstart social-media company Parler off its App Store, Apple demanded a level of moderation that (1) would be impossible to enforce and (2) attempted to set a standard that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not demand of either Parler or Apple. Section 230 gives online-facing companies immunity from what its users may do or say on their platforms.

Apple knows this. Apple also knows that it doesn’t set the bar so impossibly high for any other company whose apps appear in the App Store.

But Apple decided to become part of the hysterical rage mob that’s demanding Parler be canceled. Because celebrating an entire summer of BLM and Antifa violence is A-OK, but Parler was supposedly a breeding ground for the dangerous insurrectionist white supremacist radicals who invaded our sacred Temple of Democracy and took selfies with the cops.

Apple didn’t deliver the fatal blow. That came from Amazon, which caved in to its crybaby employees demanding that Parler be kicked off Amazon Web Services’ browsers.

So Google and Apple got the ball rolling by banning the app from their stores, but then Amazon piled on, in a breathtaking act of anti-competitive collusion by three massive tech monopolies to take down a comparatively tiny company that was getting too popular, too fast, for their liking.

Remember, these were the people telling you that if you didn’t like Silicon Valley’s censorship, go build your own social media. So Parler did. And now the same people who said “go build your own social media” are canceling Parler.

They don’t want conservatives to have a voice anywhere. They’re trying to pressure cable providers to drop conservative TV channels like Fox News and Newsmax. They won’t stop until they’ve purged every conservative voice in the media.

Of course, this entire effort is framed in terms of a pearl-clutching moral panic: We can’t let people coordinate any more violent insurrections using these dangerous right-wing echo chambers. (But, again, letting people celebrate far worse BLM/Antifa mayhem is just fine.)

Why are they acting like this? Because this seems to be the way people with this fearful mindset deal with things. It’s a pattern. Just as we’ve seen a massively hysterical overreaction to COVID, with the enactment of draconian lockdowns and mandates that far outweigh the danger the virus poses, and the suppression of any narratives critical of the official narrative, so we are now seeing the exact same thing with the insanely overwrought and completely irrational reaction to the Capitol incident. Rather than take a moment to reflect on why the incident happened in the first place, let’s instead wring our hands and claim that we’re facing a national emergency that imperils the safety of the entire nation, and the only way to stop it is to silence every single person who might share even a single viewpoint with the dangerous insurrectionists threatening our very democracy.

It’s essentially another woke witch hunt. This one just happens to come with an apocalyptic 9/11 level of panic from the usual suspects.

What’s so baffling about people who act like this is that they sincerely seem to think that if you just ban enough websites and news networks, it won’t enrage and even radicalize the banned. No, they’ll just go quietly away, never to be heard from again. And then you can step out of your safe space that protects you from scary opinions, and everyone will be secure and happy again.

It’s an astonishingly childlike view of the world that fails to think through the actions and consequences of behaving like this. For example, people like Amazon’s employees have no concept whatsoever of the slippery slope they’re creating. Not only have they eroded trust with current and future customers who wonder when they’ll be targeted next for their politics, but they also don’t seem to comprehend how quickly the same censorship weapons they wield against others could so very easily be turned around on them one day.

And that’s why you set an extremely high bar for silencing someone. It’s also why you defend speech you don’t approve of. The cost of living in a free and open society is that you get to say and do things I may not like, and vice versa. As Noam Chomsky once famously said, and as the woke censors need to be reminded, if we don’t believe in freedom of speech for those we despise, then we don’t believe in it at all.

Moreover, what does it say about people who are so eager to hand unbridled power over what we can say online to a tiny handful of tech billionaires? By silencing the de facto leader of the free world, Twitter has served notice that it thinks it’s more powerful than the president himself. And you know what? Twitter is not necessarily wrong about that.

That should scare the hell out of any rational human being, because it’s setting us up for the kind of tech dystopia that already exists in places like communist China, whose heavy-handed example we unfortunately followed on our response to COVID. The next step will be denial of banking and credit services based on your political beliefs. We’re already seeing websites being shut down by their server hosts and domain registrars. Trump has even had his ability to send emails banned.

If they can do all this to the president of the United States, what makes you think they can’t do it to you, too? Yet your raging case of Trump Derangement Syndrome blinds you from the consequences of the actions you support today. If you really want to make the argument that private companies can do whatever they want, then you’d better be prepared for it when a private company decides it can do whatever it wants to you. Because eventually, it will.

With all the tech overlords in bed with the government, all this censorship is just a convenient end-run around the First Amendment anyway. The tech overlords are simply doing for the politicians they own what the politicians are barred from doing by law. The resulting censorship is the same for the person being censored, just one degree removed. But it’s also worse because the person being censored has no constitutional recourse against an unaccountable corporation that has monopoly control over the public square. At least you can (in theory, anyway) vote out politicians who abuse their power over you. Multibillionaire CEOs, you’re stuck with.

The censorship nightmare we’re living through now is precisely why these social-media monopolies needed to be either broken up or regulated when Republicans had the power to do it. They did nothing, and now we’re heading into an administration that wants to give Big Tech more power, not less, to censor its users.

I’ll concede that some of these companies being deplatformed have only themselves to blame. If you know that the company that provides your Web hosting is run by people who have nearly unlimited power and are likely to bow to the rage of a woke mob, then you’re stupid to have put the fate of your company in their hands in the first place. This is exactly why Gab has its own servers. You have to take defensive measures against these corporate monopolies that have shown time and time again that they will censor and silence people without a second thought and then, in a page from Kafka, never tell you what you did wrong, with no real chance to appeal.

This is why I started looking for an alt-tech company to call home back in the fall. It’s not enough to just sit there on Facebook and complain about how much you hate Facebook. You have to do something. No one is going to do it for you. And eventually it’ll be too late.

Parler, for its part, should be fine. CEO John Matze says there are plenty of server providers willing to work with his company. It’s just a matter of getting everything ported over, which could leave Parler offline for 12 hours to a few days. Hopefully this incident will lead to better things and leave the company less vulnerable to attacks from woke mobs and corporations. May it be a lesson learned.

And so here we are, with Apple having “secured us from the pests purveying contradictory truths.” We can now all enjoy Unification of Thoughts, in our gray world of sameness and conformity. We can take refuge in our “garden of pure ideology,” where we are “one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause” — and no contrary thoughts to shake us from our ideological unity.

The woman coming to set us free was shot down by the helmeted cops chasing her.

1984 may not have been like 1984. But 2021 is very quickly turning out to be.

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