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It was fascinating to watch, really. In the days after the 2020 election, as I scanned around my social media accounts, I began to notice a trend. A huge number of my conservative friends had made a decision to abandon the traditional social media networks — namely Facebook and Twitter — in favor of going to new platforms, like Parler and MeWe.
Their underlying reason is pretty simple. Throughout the last several years, the tech giants have been increasingly turning the screws on the speech of platform users, censoring certain topics, and punishing users by putting them in what has become known as “Facebook jail” for their transgressions.
I have found myself behind the virtual bars, despite my being incredibly careful about what I share. My story is illustrative of why so many on the right are irritated by companies like Facebook.
In December 2016, I posted a story that talked about an attempt by ISIS to use the Syrian refugee crisis as a cover for smuggling a handful of terrorists into the European countries that were taking in refugees. This was not crackpot stuff. The New York Times reported on the situation after Germany began claiming that terrorists were posing as refugees.
My post was a link to a journalistic story on the subject, coupled with a sarcastic statement of mine saying “it is almost like such a story would be logical and relevant to a real world audience.” At that moment in time, Donald Trump was talking a great deal about the Syrian refugee crisis, and was making accusations about terrorists infiltrating refugee groups and was getting hammered by the mainstream press for it. Given the story I was sharing, I thought a little sarcastic ribbing was in order.
Ultimately, in September 2019, somebody apparently went looking through my old Facebook posts from years prior, found the article I shared, and reported it to Facebook as “violating community standards.” Facebook then pulled down the three-year old post and restricted my access to the platform for a short time.
That is ultimately why conservatives are choosing now to flock away from the platform. The Silicon Valley affinity for censorship is troubling enough as it is, but the real problem is that censorship seems to be noticeably applied to one side of the political spectrum far more than to the other.
In the past few weeks, this has been put especially on display as discussions related to the presidential election, and accusations about voter fraud have spread pervasively through social media. And to be fair, most of what has been removed, blocked or otherwise squelched has indeed been utter nonsense.
For example, one of the earliest rumors that was spreading on the internet was that there were more voters in the state of Wisconsin this year than there were registered voters in the state.
Of course, when anyone spent more than a couple minutes doing their research they would have learned that the accusation was nonsense, and that voter registrations in Wisconsin were numbered at 3,684,726 on Nov. 1, which didn’t count the additional registrations that came in from same-day voter registration, while roughly 3.2 million people actually voted. In other words, Wisconsin’s turnout was about the same as Maine’s was this year.
That wasn’t the only whopper. Whether it is the notion that Joe Biden mysteriously gained 138,000 votes out of nowhere, or that any of the other hundreds of things being passed around right now, there is a lot of misinformation.
But make no mistake, my friends, absolutely everyone shares junk and misinformation on social media. Shall I remind everyone of Hillary Clinton baselessly claiming that 200,000 voters were victims of voter suppression in Wisconsin in 2016, and that is the real reason she lost the state?
Silicon Valley is making a huge mistake in their increasingly hostile treatment of speech on their platforms, and they rightly deserve to be abandoned wholesale.
But rather than retreating to a place like Parler, I have a better idea: Delete your social media entirely. What I once believed to be a democratizing, positive influence on the world has shown itself to be the ugly underbelly of everything that is wrong with human beings. I am a much happier person since I have mostly abandoned these channels in favor of a more personal connection with people I know.
Get off Facebook. Get off Twitter. But don’t replace them with anything. Get the phone out of your face, stop scaring at the blinking screen and try reconnecting to people. You’ll be much better off.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.