Musk, Twitter, Google: Censorship and the National Security State

Elon Musk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

By Barry Sheppard

The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, is buying the social media company Twitter for $44 billion. If he was in Russia, Western propaganda would call him an “oligarch” but since he in in the United States he is referred to as a very successful businessman, a euphemism for a capitalist who owns about $265 billion total wealth.

The top 1 percent of the population own more total wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and Musk is the top of the top.

The deal could still fall through, but assuming that doesn’t happen, what will his takeover of Twitter likely mean? He says he wants Twitter to be a place of “free speech.”

The far right Republicans and armed groups like the Proud Boys have used the slogan of “free speech” to justify their views and even violent actions like the January 6, 2020 takeover of Congress.

Republicans have expressed relief and approval of the takeover, as they assume Musk will drop Twitter’s censorship of Republican claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, etc. and reinstate reactionary Twitter accounts presently blocked, etc.

The far right Tucker Carlson, whose program on Fox News is the most widely followed of all news commentaries and who is a fountain of views taken up by the Republican hard white racist base of about 60 million voters, expressed glee, as did other reactionaries.

Leading figures on QAnon, the weird internet network of over one million solid Trump supporters, who among other things hold that the Democrats are behind a Satanic nation-wide ring of pedophiles.

Musk hails from South Africa’s apartheid era

What Musk will do can be seen from his right-wing political views.

He emigrated from apartheid South Africa. Among other things he brought with him was anti-Black racism. He increased his fortune by founding the Tesla electric car company, whose main factory in the U.S. is in Fremont, California.

His extremely racist treatment of Black workers at the plant and its suppliers has been well documented and has resulted in a lawsuit against him by some 4,000 Black workers.

The way he treats all workers at the plant has been extensively reported in recent years, with interviews of workers explaining that they were fired for going public with their complaints about conditions in the plant, including being forced to work while sick on pain of being fired.

That Musk doesn’t believe in rights for workers is another thing he brought from apartheid South Africa, where the resistance to the white rulers was organized in part by Black trade unions affiliated to the African National Congress, whose most famous leader was Nelson Mandela.

If he does take over Twitter, this single individual will determine what is allowed and what not.

Twitter has not only blocked people like Carlson on the far right for not supporting the U.S. war against Russia in Ukraine — these had their own mass media outlets — but those on the left who oppose NATO and Washington’s war, much smaller outlets.

Twitter blocks outlets for  “undermining faith in the NATO alliance.”

 It is unlikely that Musk will unblock those, or reverse Twitter’s announcement last year that it had deleted hundreds of user accounts for “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability.”

We should note that it is a mistake for progressives to call on capitalist corporations or the capitalist government to censure right wing speech, which some have done.

Experience of the class struggle for over a century has demonstrated that they will use their laws and rules (always expressed in vague terms such as opposition to “extremists”) to censure or ban left wing views and organizations much much more than the right.

After all, rightist politicians are spawned by capitalism, and funded by capitalists. They are relied on by the ruling class when challenged by the workers or oppressed nationalities.

Ban on critics of U.S./NATO war

This is seen today concerning the U.S. primary role in provoking the Russian invasion of Ukraine and leaving the Ukrainians to fight it, in order to bleed Russia. Any criticism of or opposition to the U.S. role hits hardest against socialists and other left writers and organizations (except “socialist” supporters of NATO and U.S. sanctions).

Alan MacLeod, writing in Mint Press News in April, reports, “Earlier this month, Google AdSense sent a message to a myriad of publishers, including Mint Press News, informing us that ‘Due to the war in Ukraine, we will pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war.’ This content, it went on to say, ‘includes, but is not limited to, claims that imply victims are responsible for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim-blaming, such as claims that Ukraine … is deliberately attacking its own citizens.”

Since the New York Times ran an article demonstrating (with photos and first-hand reporting on the ground) that Ukraine used cluster bombs against Ukrainian villages, under Google’s rules referring to that reporting is verboten.

Also blocked is referring to the well know fact that since Ukrainian nationalists staged a coup to overthrow the elected Ukrainian president in 2014, the new government launched a civil war against its Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine, a civil war that continues to this day in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Even the left-liberal Nation magazine recognizes that there has been a civil war “between west and east” in Ukraine since shortly after the coup in 2014.

MacLeod continues, “This builds on a similar message Google’s subsidiary YouTube released last month, which had already permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos on these grounds.”

The US. correctly denounces Putin for censuring outside news about the war, but has itself banned Russian state media such as RT America, whose entire catalog has been blocked throughout the world, and whose broadcasting across the U.S. has been shut down.

Americans are not allowed to know what Russia is saying.

“Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make crisis go away,” wrote journalist Chris Hedges who criticizes Biden from the left.

“It comforts the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, one fed back to them by courtiers in the media, government agencies, think tanks, and academia.” This cannot only be said of Putin, but of the U.S. too.

Hedges added, “YouTube disappeared six years of my RT show, ‘On Contact,’ although not one episode dealt with Russia. It is not a secret why my show vanished. It gave voice to writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third [political] parties and the prison abolitionist movement.”

Ban on debunking the Bucha Massacre narrative

Smaller independent commentators were also purged.  MacLeod reported, “My stream last night on RBN [an energy consulting firm] was censored on YouTube after debunking the Bucha Massacre narrative [in Ukraine] … Unreal censorship going on right now,’ wrote Nick from the Revolutionary Black Network.

“My video ‘Bucha: More Lies’ has been deleted by YouTube censors. No dissent allowed!” Chilean-American journalist Pepe Gonzalo Lira added.

“Other social media platforms have pursued similar policies. Twitter permanently suspended the account of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter over his comments on Bucha and journalist Pepe Escobar for his support for Russia’s invasion.”

It should be noted that Scott Ritter was one of the UN inspectors in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003. He rejected the U.S. claim that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. used this claim before the United Nations to justify its invasion.

At the time, TV stations in the U.S. reported Washington’s claims with images of atom bomb mushroom clouds in the background. We soon learned this claim was a lie. An important lesson concerning trusting media or White House claims about the present war in Ukraine.

It should be also noted that Mint Press News opposes Russia’s invasion but also Washington’s role in provoking it through NATO’s expansion to militarily threaten Russia. “Biden’s Hands Are As Bloody As Putin’s” was one headline.

Facebook’s ban on exposing the fascist Azov Battalion

Facebook blocked all discussion of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, which was created by far right racist armed groups, who were prominent in the 2014 coup — one group at the time prominently displayed at the demonstrations leading up to the coup the Confederate flag and a flag of Ukrainian groups that cooperated with the German Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

After the coup, the Azov Battalion was the spearhead of the Ukrainian nationalist army in its civil war against the east.

In February, Facebook reversed it ban on discussion of the Battalion and allowed praising and promotion of the group — as long as it was in the context of killing Russians. Discussion of its fascist character remained banned. In April, the New York Times published a hit piece on antiwar journalist Ben Norton, accusing him of spreading a “conspiracy theory” that the U.S. was involved in the 2014 coup. This in spite of the NYT having said as much at the time of the coup.

It was a U.S. diplomat who appointed the first president of the new Ukrainian government after the coup.

The close alliance of Big Tech with the U.S. National Security State was openly stated in a letter released in April by national security officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA directors Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Admiral Michael Rogers.

They warned that regulating or breaking up the big tech monopolies would “hamper the ability of U.S. technology platforms to … push back on the Kremlin.”

“The United States will need to rely of the power of its technology sector to ensure” that “the narrative of events” globally is shaped by the U.S.

Google, Facebook, Twitter integral to national security state

They concluded that Google, Facebook, Twitter are “increasingly integral to U.S. diplomatic and national security efforts.”

Commenting on the letter journalist Glenn Greenwald, who helped the publication of Edward Snowden’s expose of the NSA’s vast collection of email, telephone and other data on all U.S. citizens and many foreign governments, wrote:

“By maintaining all power in the hands of the small coterie of tech monopolies which control the internet and which have long proven their loyalty to the U.S. security state, the ability [of that state] to maintain a closed propaganda system around questions of war and militarism is guaranteed.”

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