Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Supporting free speech is easy if the speech is something you agree with. But it’s often hard to not be hypocritical about it if the speech in question is something you disagree with. Renowned free speech advocate Tony Brasunas believes that to truly advocate free speech, we need to support it in principle. And that means giving space to ideas that we may not agree with, even those that we perceive can be harmful to society in some way, because the alternative is more insidious. Tony solidified his views on this issue following a personal experience of censorship in 2016. Since then, he has been an outspoken critic of media gatekeeping and censorship and a staunch advocate for free speech, alternative media, and media consciousness. In this conversation, Tony talks about the institutional impediments to constitutional free speech and shares some key points from his upcoming book, Red, White & Blind.
About Tony Brasunas
Tony Brasunas was censored by Huffington Post in 2016 for covering the Democratic Primary from the supposed “wrong perspective”. His writings have nevertheless been published online, in newspapers and magazines, and in both corporate and independent media. He has just completed his second book, Red, White & Blind which offers unique insights into how we can take our blinders off and open our minds. Tony lives in Sebastopol, California, with his wife, son, and two dozen apple trees.
02:22 – Why Tony was censored by the Huffington Post
08:55 – We’re living in a state of deception
11:48 – We need a balanced media diet
17:18 – How social media and tech giants worsen the situation
25:58 – The most sophisticated propaganda machine
30:01 – Supporting free speech on principle
35:55 – Why social media censorship is a violation of constitutional free speech
39:39 – Shadow banning and the Streisand Effect
43:18 – It’s going to get worse before it gets better
47:22 – Media consciousness is a path, not a state
Join the Care More. Be Better. Community! (Social Links Below)
Support Care More. Be Better: A Social Impact + Sustainability Podcast
Care More. Be Better. is not backed by any company. We answer only to our collective conscience. As a listener, reader, and subscriber you are part of this pod and this community and we are honored to have your support. If you can, please help finance the show (https://www.caremorebebetter.com/donate). Thank you, now and always, for your support as we get this thing started!
Towards Media Consciousness: Bridging The Divisive Gap & Celebrating Free Speech With Tony Brasunas, Author Of Red White And Blind
In this episode, we’re going to explore concepts around free speech, idea policing, censorship, and divisiveness. This is a subject that we’ve covered from time to time beginning even with our very second episode of this show as we connected with Genevieve Smith. In that conversation, she revealed herself to be a “professional bummer.” We talked about healing divides and why we’re stuck in the divisive world of now.
Now, we’re going to deepen that discussion as we connect with Tony Brasunas. Tony was censored by Huffington Post in 2016 for covering the Democratic primary from the “supposed wrong perspective.” His writings have nevertheless been published online in newspapers and magazines in both corporate and independent media. He has completed his second book called Red, White & Blind. This book offers unique insights and how we can take our blinders off and open our minds again. Tony lives in Sebastopol, California with his wife, his son, and two dozen apple trees, which sounds divine to me.
Tony, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much, Corinna. I’m delighted to be here.
As we kick off our conversation, I think it is going to be the elephant in the room. We have to talk about out the gates. You were censored by Huffington Post. Talk to us about that. Why?
That was the birth of Red, White & Blind the book as well. It’s a great place to start the story in the conversation here. I was doing some independent journalism. I was also covering politics with the San Francisco Chronicle a bit. In the early 2000s, I took a little bit of time away. I got back and involved in 2015 and I was writing on my own. Somebody at Huffington Post contacted me based on my writings. They wanted to publish it.
It was a fine article and they published it. They brought me on board. I started writing about the Democratic Primary in 2015 and 2016. I was writing more from the Bernie Sanders perspective, which was not as widely covered in the corporate media at that time, so a lot of my pieces got a lot of attention. I would get 10,000, 20,000, sometimes 50,000 or 100,000 views on my articles. Occasionally, they would reach the front page of the Huffington Post and things were fine. I was covering it both out of interest and also support.
I was both covering news perspectives as well as writing opinion pieces. What happened is right on the eve of the convention, this was July of 2016, a little flashback, I wrote a piece. We’re going to the convention. Neither candidate had enough earned delegates to win the nomination outright, so it was going to come down to the super delegates. These people in the DNC will get a vote with the power of 10,000 voters basically. It’s a very interesting system we could get into.
I wrote this piece saying, “We don’t have a clear winner here. We now know Donald Trump has won the nomination on the Republican side. Bernie Sanders is polling better against Trump in head-to-head polling. Particularly on the question of trust, he’s way ahead of Hillary Clinton by some 50 points in the polls.” I wrote this article and the headline was, “The reason many independence and progressives will not be able to support Hillary Clinton.”
Basically, the argument was, “Super delegates, at this point, is going to be better to go with Bernie Sanders. He’s going to be the better candidate in the general election.” I thought it was a fairly straightforward piece. I put it up a couple of days before the convention. I woke up the next morning and it was gone. It was taken down. It was an interesting experience. I had touched on censorship, media disinformation, and media distortion before and in some of my other writings but to experience it firsthand was something quite different.
One of the things that I love to get into in this conversation and the silver lining that I experienced in that was what I call the New Enlightenment. It is the new awakening that we’re experiencing because of the birth of independent media. What happened the next morning is I looked around and I saw some conversation, “Where did Tony Brasunas’s article go?” People had tracked it down and put it on their own site. I was able to find it there because I had gone to Huffington Post. I wasn’t even able to log in anymore. I wasn’t just censored. I was sacked and done. I was gone from Huffington Post at that point, which is crazy.
I did finally have a lawyer friend write them a lawyerly letter to try to get at the root of it but it didn’t come to anything. I didn’t get a clear explanation. What I saw that morning was that these independent sites had put the piece back up, so I copied and pasted it into my Medium blog. I put a link to it on Twitter, got on the plane, and went to Philadelphia. I was there for the convention, covered it from my own perspective, and provided some news that wasn’t in the corporate media about the convention.
A lot of people came up to me like, “You’re Tony Brasunas. I read your piece. I don’t know why it was censored but it was interesting.” The piece became my most widely read that year for the entire year. It’s something very interesting that’s going on where, without the intermediation of that corporate media, the Huffington Post, my piece was still able to reach many thousands of people. I think that’s an interesting effect.
What is so interesting about this is that, for one, you were producing what could amount to an opinion piece. It was your perspective. You weren’t saying it was a perspective of HuffPo. You were making a deductive argument and reasoning that the situation could be difficult for Hillary to win the election. You ended up being right. It’s prescient ultimately in the end but it speaks to something that we already have some generalized knowledge around, which is that the conversations that are being had in particular media outlets are very one-sided.
We aren’t getting the same Dan Rather nightly news perspective that we used to see from the media. At least with some frequency where you felt like the newspaper articles you would read would explore who, what, where, when, and why and try to give you a balanced perspective. It’s getting harder to find a truly balanced perspective in nowadays’ media.
You end up having to go and subscribe to many different publications to try and get a more general view of what’s happening. It makes it feel almost like we are in a state that has controlled the information we see in a way that we might be critical of other countries like China. I don’t think I’m speaking anything super controversial here. What we’re learning from the media that we consume is overly one-sided now.
It’s fascinating that you bring up China. My first book was about my trips to China. I was over there teaching English. In one chapter of Red, White & Blind, I compared the American media system to the Chinese media system. We could get into it because it’s an interesting comparison. What you’re getting at is right. We’re in a time now where the media is increasingly divided. In Red, White & Blind, the goal of the book is not to be the Democrat’s book or the Republican’s book. It’s meant to look at this from a more holistic standpoint. The state that you mentioned is what Red, White & Blind is meant to convey.
We’re all in this state of deception and being deceived. Generally, we don’t even know it, or even when we know it, it’s still not as easy to get out of it as we think. That’s creating this division in the country where if you get in your red news and you read that, you have one vision of what the problem is, what’s good, what’s bad, what to fear, and what to hope for. If you’re reading the blue news, it’s the same. You get the same, “Here are your enemies you’re supposed to hate. Here’s the news that you’re supposed to believe. Here’s what you’re supposed to hope for and all of that.”We're all in this state of deception, and generally we don't even know it. And even when we do know it, it's still not as easy to get out of it as we think. Click To Tweet
Now social media only feeds us the news that we want to see or the perspectives that we already have, so we’re becoming stupider.
Stupider or at the very least, possibly stupider. It’s an interesting way to put it but certainly more divided and less aware. I think that’s what you’re getting at. Less aware of what the actual truth is and what is true in the world. Because of that, it’s my real hope with Red, White & Blind. I spend about half the book through examples, telling stories, and showing how bad the problem is, how much deception there is and how many of the stories we think we know about or we have a completely often distorted view of them.
I spend the second half of the book talking about what to do about it. It’s a little bit of a pep talk and a self-help book. I talk about a balanced media diet and about ways that we can break out of this. Actually, it’s already happening. The good news is that the new enlightenment is already here unfolding. We’re moving into a world where we can know for the first time, in the history of humanity, what is going on in the world. That’s never been true before.
I trace back. I go back to the dark ages, feudalism, the Catholic church, and how they controlled this distribution of information. We moved into the first enlightenment, then throughout the free press as it existed in the 1700 and 1800, and then what I call the Century of Propaganda from 1920 to 2020. We’re coming out of the Century of Propaganda now. It’s a very exciting but also very confusing time to figure things out, for sure.
Where do people go to build that balanced media diet? Are there particular publications that you’re seeing now that you feel offer a broader perspective?
What I do is go back in history and look at the original vision of the free press. When the free press was put in the constitution, it wasn’t that there would be this sense of 1 or 2 sources that would be objective and would be truthful. That was never the case and that’s not the case now. The Century of Propaganda began in the 1920s with the idea of objective professional journalism. It’s a myth. It was created to justify the consolidation of media ownership.Professional objective journalism is a myth. It was created to justify the consolidation of media ownership. Click To Tweet
In the 1920s or the 19-teens, we’re coming out of the muckraker era. Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and some of these people were writing the early investigative journalism and exposes that were taking apart early corporate power, standard oil, and all of that. They realized that the way they needed to fight this or the way they chose to fight this was to try to buy up all the newspapers. It was the first time newspapers were lucrative.
Pardon me, I’m going to go a little bit into history here. What ended up happening is they came up with the idea of journalism schools. The journalists will be professionals. They founded all of the journalism schools started in the 19-teens like Columbia, Missouri, and all these more prestigious journalism schools. What that did is it justified saying, “We’re going to have one newspaper in the city but it’s okay because it’s going to be objective. These are going to be professional journalists.” Whereas before that, every city would have dozens of newspapers. There’d be the Italian newspaper, the Democrats newspaper, and the newspaper of people that were suffrage jets or abolitionists.
We’re moving back into that time and it’s a little bit disorienting where every perspective has its own voice. What I do with the balanced media diet, rather than try to say, “Here’s this one source that is always truthful and objective. If you go watch this source, you’re going to get this story.” It doesn’t exist. I’m here to say, “It was hard to realize that Santa Claus didn’t exist and there was no elf bringing us gifts every year.”
The same thing, we have to realize that there is no one objective source of news. In the balanced media diet, I reviewed hundreds of news sources. I basically called it down to 40. What I propose is a different set of sources each day of the week. If you’ve got 30 minutes, pick these 2 sources each day. Over the course of 7 days, you get 14 different sources. If you’ve got an hour, then I’ll add two more each day. If you’ve got two hours, I’ll add two more. Most people probably don’t have two hours but if you want to become a journalist, then do that.
The idea is to overcome two issues. One is the fact that we’re in this deceived state and the other is the political divisions that we have, this bifurcation of society. In order to move past that, we have to be able to understand other perspectives. There are these controversial issues like abortion, gun rights, vaccines, and all these things. It doesn’t mean you have to change your mind about those ideas but by understanding what the other side says rather than them being the enemy. The people that think differently about controversial issues are the enemy.
They’re lesser humans or they’re coming for us. That’s literally what they’re saying on both sides. It is to understand that viewpoint and say, “I don’t agree with it but now, I can understand it.” That’s the first part. The other part is that through doing that, we hone our own minds to be able to understand things more deeply and overcome what you said, we’re becoming stupider.
We become smarter. Our brains, like a balanced food diet, are bracing for the body. At first, you don’t want to eat that stuff or you want to eat more of this other stuff but your body starts to engage with it and you become more healthy. It’s invigorating. It’s the same with challenging your mind with unfamiliar ideas. Your mind gets invigorated.
I would add to that because you’re talking about something that I spent a fair amount of time studying in my undergrad. I pursued Anthropology and Archeology. One of the primary tenants of anthropological research is that you try to view culture from within it as opposed to with judgment. There’s this focus on doing your best to remain objective. Even as you do something in a laboratory, your presence changes the outcome of a study. There isn’t a way to be purely objective.
The question has come up even more over the course of the past few decades as we look at human rights initiatives. We say things like, “Universally, female genitalia, mutilation and/or castration, that’s mutilation and that’s bad.” There’s judgment there. We are saying ultimately that we’re not objective about this that this is universally wrong and we need to protect women.
Something like that is not an objective view. You’re making a judgment. Even having this idea that there was ever something as simple as a truly objective press, we’re fallible. People are fallible. We bring our perspective no matter what we might try to do to remain as broadly informed as possible. I want to bring to light another trend that we’re seeing and this is backed by the tech giants. Google dictates a lot of how we see the things that we search for.
Of late, they have gone through some updates to how they have optimized their search engine. One of those things is to tell us that they are going to show you preferentially content on sites where a site has demonstrated that they are specialists in one particular thing. Typically, it isn’t specialist. It’s news outlets. It’s news across many different subjects. What I think will happen with this shift is that we’ll start to see these microcosmic news outlets that are focused on one thing that get more airtime and come out of the rafters.
I have one example that I pay attention to, which is high-country news. It’s very much a climate-first perspective. They cover things like oil use, fracking, air pollution, indigenous lands, and all sorts of subjects that relate. They have different contributors from around the globe. Some of them create video content that they offer on YouTube and in other spots. I’ve found that there are journalistic efforts to lift the skirt on issues that the general public may not be aware of. It’s very well thought out, very well done, incredibly well written and they help you deeply understand an issue.
It’s coming through this environmentalist lens for sure. If you don’t believe that climate change is real then you’re not going to like this publication. As it stands now, I do think that Google has essentially set us up to enter a worsening situation in a way because they’re not going to, at least from what I’ve seen, give a general news outlet of somebody trying to be balanced more air time. They’re going to hyper-focus you on these particular specialist sites.
I spent a lot of time in Red, White & Blind looking at social media and the way that the internet is now. The Silicon Valley giants are manipulating our news. Particularly, I focus on Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and there are other things going on as well, but I spent some time looking at Google. I don’t know if you’ve heard, his name isn’t even very well known but Zach Vorhies, who wrote the book Google Leaks came out a few years ago.
He was a whistleblower, a software engineer from inside Google. He found all of this evidence of them literally redirecting people’s searches on YouTube and Google like if you search for this thing, they’re going to give you these results, not the organic results. It’s amazing to believe. Google has something like 90% market share on search globally.
I think it’s 88 in the United States and it’s 92 globally, so it’s the whole world. For them to be able to say if you put in a search for climate change or something on the other side like the 2020 election. The fact that they’re going to steer you in a different direction, that’s crazy. That’s insane to believe because they have the ability to essentially decide what knowledge is. Their whole stance is we’re the gateway to the world’s information.
I’m addicted to Google. It’s the only search engine I like using because I feel like it ends up giving me more relevant information. I’ve used Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and any that I can find, and generally speaking, I find what I’m looking for more with Google. With this recent update, I like went, “What does this mean at the end of the day?” It only communicates certain elements.
You’re not going to get access to the algorithms that they’re putting out there. They’re even saying, “They want to see first-person writing,” so they’re going to preferentially give air time to opinion pieces ultimately over something that would be written in a traditional journalistic way. They want to hear, I, we, personal experience, and things like that, which is a different style of writing than journalistic writing. Is it not?
Of course. Again, as you said before, we can say there’s no objective journalism. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t try to be objective and that objective reporting is bad or great. It’s just that there’s no way to know who’s doing it. Because of that, we have to have the whole, I call it a smorgasbord of perspectives available.There's no objective journalism. But it doesn't mean that people shouldn't try to be objective. Click To Tweet
The idea that Google is going to choose and place that is very dangerous. It’s the same with Twitter. I call out YouTube as the single most important website for what I call the new enlightenment. Basically, the birth of independent media because video is the most powerful medium. YouTube is the most powerful and Google bought YouTube, whatever it was years ago.
It’s the second-largest search engine.
The name is YouTube. You can put anything you want on the tube. It’s this grand promise of a distance-intermediated world of information. It has birthed in a large part independent media. The fact that Susan, the CEO of YouTube, came out. She used the ways people attack YouTube to attack our own company.
She said, “It’s easy for people to make content in their basement. For that reason, we’re going to push up authoritative sources on news topics.” It was an astounding statement in so many ways. It was basically a suicide note for the company. The birth of YouTube again is you can put anything you want on the tube.
To say that, it’s easy to make content from your basement. It’s hard to create a channel on YouTube that rivals the corporate media channels but you can do it. That’s what’s amazing. People have done it but it’s hard. To attack her own customers, her own main users saying with the exact slurs that are used by the corporate media to attack YouTube saying that they’re doing it in their basement. With this negative stereotype is crazy then to say, “We’re going to promote authoritative sources.”
What that means is we’re going to promote our competitors. The competitors of YouTube are MSNBC, CNN, Fox, NPR, and the news world. There are other competitors as well. To say we’re going to promote them because anyone can find them. If you want to find corporate media, you can put it in Google or you’ll find a Fox or an MSNBC clip on anything. People go to YouTube because they want an independent media perspective. To think that you’re going to go to YouTube and you’re going to put something in, you’re going to now and you see this, it’s shifted over the last year or two. You see a whole range of corporate media news clips.
I think what’s happening with Google, how you described it, is they’re censoring it and changing what they return. That is part of the new enlightenment. It’s the fight back of the dinosaurs. It’s basically this fightback of the Catholic church or the futile system. The people that own the top-down distribution of information are going to push back and try to keep control of it but there are going to be competitors. They’re going to have to change or be replaced.
There’s going to be a search engine that is unbiased or that has an open-source algorithm that you can go look at it. There’s going to be a version of Twitter that will have an open-source algorithm. We can decide that on certain speech we should remove. Speech that directly incites violence and libelist is already illegal. That probably should be removed but everything else should be left up. These silicon media giants continue to censor, distort, and propaganda in a sense.
It is propaganda. Let’s be real. That’s why I initially said comparative to what you experienced in China. I have friends who live in China. Their perspective is that they get fairer pressed there than they do here, which is an amazing comment. I don’t know if I trust it because I personally haven’t lived in that particular area of the world. I’ve not yet visited China but I would enjoy your perspective there since you’ve written so broadly on the topic.
In one chapter of Red, White & Blind, I was there in 2001, which dates me. It was a long time ago but it was when a spy plane went down. I don’t if you remember this. It was before 9/11, so people have forgotten it. There was this American spy plane that was spying over China and it went down on this island. Anyway, we don’t have to get into the story but I was there and I was able to see both sides because the internet was a thing.
I was able to go into these internet cafes. It was still very crude but I could bring up CNN.com. I could go out and my Chinese was rough but with a dictionary, I could read a Chinese article in the newspaper and see how different the perspectives were. It was part of my awakening that, in a sense, led to Red, White & Blind to see these different perspectives.
What I’ll tell you is that the Chinese media environment is not more open than ours. It’s more crude. The censorship and the propaganda are more obvious. What that does in the real difference is that the Chinese people, by and large, know that it’s propaganda. They know that it’s couched and it’s slanted and they’re not getting the full story, whereas Americans tend to believe not all.
I’m automatically thinking about what I know of Chinese culture but I worked for years for a company called Draco Natural Products. One of the habits of the Chinese people is they’ll say, “Blah blah blah,” when they’re in agreement. It’s almost like it’s brushing away, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” For some reason, that comes to mind as you say this because I could also see that existing within the culture, “This is what we’re being told.” It’s an awareness that this is part of the story.
Whereas the American system, I call it the most sophisticated propaganda instrument in the history of mankind because we have this wide array of news sources.
We think that we’re getting the whole story.
It’s like you walked down the aisle and there are 100 brands of toothpaste, so you think you’ve got this brand but it’s the same product, just in different bottles. It’s the same thing. It’s not that they’re the same. Noam Chomsky has this good quote that I use in the book, which is, “The most successful way to control the way people think is to allow two viewpoints that are relatively close to each other to vociferously disagree.”
That’s what we have. We have this sense of this echo chamber where the Republicans and the Democrats can argue about this one thing but within these narrow confines. I use this analogy of a river. It’s like, “They’re not necessarily steering the water but they’re steering the banks so the water can slosh back and forth. Now it’s a little bit on the right side. Now it’s all on the blue side.” That’s why I say it’s the most sophisticated propaganda instrument in the history of mankind, and it’s still not strong enough.
I don’t believe it, although, it’s an exciting time to be alive. I don’t think it’s strong enough to continue to distort and deceive Americans as this new enlightenment flowers, as we have conversations like the one you and I are having now. Not intermediated by corporations or all of the different types of bias and distortion. That’s the trend. The trend is towards more of this. One more direct experience is being shared. It’s not like every independent media place is accurate and truthful. There’s lots of distortion there too.
Perhaps that’s what Google intends. Maybe they’re trying to be part of the solution there. It’s skeptical.
This is what Zach Vorhies says in his book. What he saw was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. That’s where he leaks all of the ways that Google was going to decide to steer the news to make it more negative about Trump and to make it harder to find balance news from that perspective. If you’re somebody that happens to not like Trump and to be a Democrat, you might be like, “That’s great. They’re trying to help get rid of this dangerous president.” That may be fine for a few years but what you’re doing is you’re basically putting in place a system that will always eventually turn against you. This is the reason I use Zack and his point.
It’s a dangerous precedent to set.
Very dangerous. If you look at history, it always ends up coming back. All anyone ever says to the authoritarians, “We’re trying to protect you from the fake news and disinformation.” That’s always what they say. Stalin and Hitler said this. It’s always that. They always want free speech as long as the speech agrees with them. What’s difficult is to support free speech that you disagree with and to do it on principle. That’s where I land in the book. We need to support free speech on principle because the alternative is untenable.
I’m going to bring up something that may be controversial here. In Germany, for instance, having a swastika tattooed on your body is essentially illegal. We don’t have those same rules here in the United States because we hold that free speech pretty high. We consider that physical demonstration to be a choice of your personal autonomy. How do you view that even as it relates to what propaganda or state control?
I’ll go first to the Constitution. The idea of free speech and the constitution are written by people coming right out of places of religious persecution, censorship, and all of that. People need to be able to speak freely in order to have democracy and science. These are the bedrock of enlightenment values. Science is this idea that all ideas are open and we can inquire. Innovation tends to happen on the edges, not in the mainstream. You need to be able to have people say whatever they want to say within a scientific world.
Same in democracy. Innovation often comes from the fringes, not from the mainstream. For that reason, you need to be able to tolerate all kinds of views, even views that you despise. That’s the tricky part. Not because speech that you despise is good. It’s not good to have people wearing swastikas or saying things that you find abhorrent. It’s that the alternative is worse. The alternative is you have to select somebody or people somewhere to decide what speech is okay and what speech is not. The power of that body will always be corrupted because it’s always human. Humans are given power. Power will corrupt.Innovation often comes from the fringes, not from the mainstream. For that reason, you need to be able to tolerate all kinds of views, even views that you despise. Click To Tweet
I see something happened where Facebook chose to create its internal auditing committee. Almost like they would be a Supreme Court where they would decide what needs to be censored or removed based on how dangerous that information could be. I listened to this very interesting deep dive. It was done by an NPR affiliate and what that looks like and what somebody would consider hate speech in another country differed dramatically from what we would think of as hate speech here. Even in a cartoon, self-police, or rely on our social media giants to take care of these things when there can be a specific post that is meant to incite violence and to get people enraged to the point where they’ll storm the capital or something to that effect.
I think that the legal distinctions we have are good ones. It’s not meant to incite violence but inciting violence. It incites a yelling fire in a crowded movie theater. That is not protected speech. If you’re inciting violence, then that should be taken down. If it’s libelous, which is basically knowingly false or with a reckless disregard for truth or false, meant to make somebody look bad and with actual malice. Those two standards exist and should continue. Hate speech is too nebulous. You said one person’s hate speech is another person’s strong opinion.
They consider it to be a comedy. There’s that too.
That’s the thing. Comedy is so important and so powerful for politics, for science, for all of it. The ability to stand back and skewer the tenuous thinking or be able to skewer the blind spots that people have is so important. Again, one of the first things that authoritarians go after is because humor is basically the ability to say the truth. It’s not only humor and there are a lot of kinds of humor. In the political context, humor is the ability to stand back and say something everyone knows is true but everyone is scared to say.
Parity is protected too. We have that ability but I have a dear friend who I’ve known since high school that’s also a comedian. She’s on her third TikTok account because she keeps getting banned.
Let’s go there. This is an important point. I go into social media censorship and I try to talk through why social media censorship is a violation of constitutional free speech. A lot of people will first say, “No, it’s not because they’re a private company. The constitution isn’t about a private company.”
I’ve heard that argument.
That’s the common argument. I spend 3 or 4 pages of the book literally looking at that argument. I make three points that are important to realize why it is a constitutional violation and why we should be very concerned about this. I’ll get into the regulatory models we should use for social media. The first reason is because social media has become the public square. In the original vision of it, there’s this idea of a soapbox. You took a box of soap, turned it over, and stood up in the market. People are buying their carrots and slabs of beef or whatever. You start talking because you’re in your soapbox. You’re like, “I think that the president is an idiot.”
This show is my soapbox.
Yes, it’s your soapbox and you’re exercising free speech. Right now, this is constitutionally protected by what you and I are doing. What’s happened is there are not a lot of town squares and there are farmer’s markets but it’s not like everybody goes and buys their produce at a market anymore. You go to a supermarket and there are no soapboxes there. What’s happened is that our most important debate goes on in social media by and large.
Twitter has a smaller footprint than Facebook but it’s disproportionately powerful people. CEOs are on Twitter, famous doctors, and professors. They go in and exchange ideas on Twitter. Facebook is bigger and it’s a much bit broader public square for everyday Americans. They are the public or the town square. That’s the first point I make.
The second point I make is that they’ve gotten to monopoly power. At this point, it’s not like if you get censored by Facebook or you get taken down because you said something Facebook didn’t like, there’s no alternative. Twitter is not an alternative to Facebook. Facebook is what it is. It’s not the same as YouTube. Increasingly, they try to take you off of all of them at once. That’s the other thing. You have monopolies as you take these two. My third point is because of the monopoly power and the fact that they’re the town square, what you have is these companies are increasingly commonly interacting with Congress.
Congress has things they want from social media. You often will hear congresspersons saying, “We want you to censor more or take down this idea.” At the same time, social media companies need Congress because they are very interested in how they’re regulated. They’re also sometimes trying to win contracts. Google is trying to win a contract with the CIA to store their data and stuff.
You have this real quid pro quo going on there. It’s a direct line between the government and these monopolies to say, “What if I want to continue my Section 230 protections,” then the Congress people are like, “We don’t want any more ideas about insider trading or we don’t want any more ideas about Mitch McConnell’s and discretions.” They take that down.
That’s constitutional censorship. That’s why I basically draw this line. I think it’s a very important thing to understand. If we move into a world where there are all of these companies are broken up and there are 20 Facebooks and 20 Twitters and everybody has got their own thing, maybe it’s different. If people go back to standing on soapboxes in markets and expounding their views and that sways people, then maybe it’s different. At this point, this censorship is dangerous, and it’s a threat to constitutional free speech.
Let’s talk about something that connects to this idea and that is shadow banning. Let’s say that Facebook doesn’t take down that post. They don’t show it to anybody. Isn’t it the same thing? At what point can we take action against something like that? I have specific examples that relate to this because my show is in the social impact and sustainability space.
Because I tend to hashtag or talk about things that relate to climate science, limits on our social awareness, or issues that people are facing because they tool it as social impact or climate activism, it automatically gets quashed. Only my strongest and most ardent supporters will even see that content. I wonder if you could speak to that and what we can do to try and break free from that so that even this show episode gets to see more people.
It’s right and I talk about shadow banning. It’s a real thing and it is. It’s the same. It’s this censorship. In fact, in some ways, it’s worse because I talk about censorship and the Streisand effect. I don’t know if you know about this. It’s in Barbara Streisand.
That’s one of my husband’s favorite stories.
It’s a great story. I use the Streisand effect. I talked about it in Red, White & Blind several times because I think it helped my article.
Let’s share it with everyone in case they’ve never heard.
It is an interesting story. It’s cute. Barbara Streisand has this palatial estate in Malibu. It’s right on the coast staring out at the Pacific Ocean. Somebody had a photo of it from a drone or a helicopter that they put in this coastal commission’s report on the coastline. It’s like, “Let’s look at the coastline. If the coastline is changing, these are some properties.” It was there but it was this relatively minor report for this minor county commission.
Barbara Streisand realized it was in there and she got upset. She said, “I want this picture taken down from the internet. I want it taken out of this commission report.” The photo, at that point, had been viewed by 2,000 people. Suddenly, it went on social media. Everybody was like, “Barbara Streisand has a big palatial estate and she’s upset about it. Let’s go check out that photo.” Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of people saw this picture of her house.
It went viral and it became a huge thing. Suddenly, Barbara Streisand had to go out and talk about why she’d built this house, why she’d done this, why it’s on the coastline, and all this stuff. It was this interesting effect if she had said nothing. A couple of thousand people might have seen it. It might have looked bad and she might have felt a little mad.
Everybody in the drone space was hyper-interested in the story too, because she was essentially saying that she owned the airspace above her home. It brought into question property rights ownership. Nobody owns the coastline in California. That’s part of another reality where none of us can because it’s considered public land. Again, it brought to light so many interesting conversations about what ownership means when it comes to property. What do you have the right to then censor because you own it or you don’t? In this case, at the end of the day, they didn’t take the photo down.
At that point, it didn’t matter. It’s like my article on Reddit. Suddenly the content was there, even though Huffington Post had taken it down. Even if the Coastal Commission or whatever had taken the photo down, probably 10,000 people had saved it to their local machine so they could put it on Twitter then it was everywhere.
The big question I have is how real is the censorship that’s presently happening on Facebook, Twitter, and these other platforms? Each of these created little micro-movements, where people then suddenly said, “Screw Facebook. I’m going to Parlor. I’m no longer going to be on YouTube. I’m going to this other platform like Rumble.” Ultimately, what should we think about the present status? What are the chances that we’re going to continue to see a lot of shadow banning and censorship?
I would say, at this point, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. That’s unfortunately my prognosis. I’m optimistic that it might shift. I’m building my own little YouTube channel. I’m starting Red, White & Blind. If your readers are out there, they want to see it.
I saw that. You have twenty followers or something. It’s about to go up by a few because I’m going to share it too.
With my book now done, I’ve been spending every single moment of every day finishing the book. I’m now going to start to take each chapter of the book and do a video about it. I have the first section. I look at Jeffrey Epstein’s story then I look at the origin of the virus. I look at these stories that were distorted in the media and try to explain why this distortion happened and the different kinds of biases. If people are interested in that, I’m going to start producing that content.
I’m bringing that up not to toot my horn of my little channel but because I’m also simultaneously going to upload things to Rumble as a precautionary measure because I don’t know how long I’ll be on YouTube. I could get taken down in a day. It could be up there for ten years. I don’t know how it’s going to go. I was listening to some guy try to explain the community guidelines of YouTube. He is like, “It’s more complicated than the US Tax Code. You’re never going to figure it out.”
It’s probably not meant to be figured out. They want to have it as they can use it to ban somebody they don’t like. The censorship and shadow banning are very intense now on YouTube and Facebook. We’d have to cut across some controversial issues where people are getting censored more and from my perspective. Climate science and climate change that is happening. Also, vaccine stuff and people having alternative perspectives, as you talked about the January 6th. All of these things, people are getting censored. We can stand back and say, “I don’t agree with those people there. They get censored and it’s okay.”
They’re fringe, so it’s all right.
I encourage us all to realize it’s all the fringe until it’s you. You don’t stand for the fringe when eventually it’s your fringe. There’s going to be nobody left to stand for you. Other than, again, inciting violence or libel, which should be taken down. We should support even people saying things, “I don’t agree with that guy’s thoughts on this particular thing or that particular controversial issue but he should be able to say it because there’s going to be more people that are going to say the other side.” Eventually, the truth comes out.
If you believe in democracy and science, that’s what you believe in. Otherwise, you believe in the model of the Catholic church that there’s one truth. If that truth is the government’s perspective and anybody that doesn’t have that perspective should be banned. If that’s how you see things and the government always brings in the best experts and they always have the best perspective, then that’s your perspective. That’s different than what our country is founded on.
I didn’t use to be this big constitutional guy but having lived in China, where they didn’t go through the enlightenment. They don’t have the same sense of what an individual means, the same sense of free speech, right to assembly, petition, religion, or free press, it’s different. It’s a more Confucian model. There’s a whole different philosophy around what it means to be an individual in a collective society. I recommend to those of you who value our version of democracy and science, it is important to support diverse views.If you value our version of democracy and science, it is important to support diverse views. Click To Tweet
That’s also why, again, the balanced media diet. I talk about this idea of media consciousness where I think that Red, White & Blind, is the state of deception that we’re in. This type of deception is the most powerful deception we’re experiencing now as Americans. Media consciousness is a path. It’s not like a state you get to. It’s a journey towards awakening from that.
I compared it in some ways to the self-help journey or the meditation introspection, realizing that these voices inside of our head that maybe you’re like, “I’m not smart enough, sexy enough, or whatever enough to have my dreams.” Those are voices that were placed in your head probably by maybe your parents or by some super-ego that’s not important anymore.
We can meditate, learn, see those, and become conscious of them. Similarly, we can become conscious of the deception that’s coming from the voices from outside of our heads. They’re as powerful and as important. That’s also why I say that the path to me consciousness and the balanced media diet promise many things. It sounds hard but it promises we can connect with more people because we’ll understand more ideas. We’ll connect more deeply with ourselves because we’ll start to see this deception that we’re under and experiencing.
I’m reminded of a quote by my father. I don’t know if he was the first to say it but it’s something he’s leaned back on as someone who grew up with the Catholic church and was an altar boy before he walked away from organized religion. He says that organized religion is a great way to control people. I feel like part of how we’ve constructed what the present state of “free speech” is a great system through which to control people.
By playing these opposing sides, they often have far more common interests than they’ll ever think through. It’s something that we need to get real with, understand, invite, and open ourselves to a conversation, discourse, and disagreement. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and listen to each other because the fact is that we have more in common than the government would have us believe. I say the government in full awareness, it’s both sides of that equation. They want us in a way to think that we’re battling one another because that’s the system through which they can win.
I agree with everything you said. Very well said. I think it’s interesting as I go around, I’ve been on some podcasts. I’m starting to with this book and I’ve also talked to a number of people. It’s amazing how many people have the experience of my views don’t map onto either of the parties but I’m a little bit nervous to tell others about that. It’s this tribalism. It’s right. The odds are not that you’re going to happen to have views that completely align with the Democratic party or Republican party.
That’s not the reality but we’re pulled and pushed into these divisions. It’s a big problem. I think we’re even experiencing it in our families. I have people say, “I’m not able to talk to my daughter more or my uncle, or at times, my spouse.” I hope that I can maybe affect 1 or 2 people by getting in touch with a balanced media diet by starting to understand different ideas. You can start to have those relationships back because, as you said, it’s about listening.
I may not agree with you on this one topic, even though we agree on 7 out of 8 topics but this one topic that’s caused us not to be able to have phone calls with each other anymore. I now understand your viewpoint. We can get back to the fact that we agree on 7 out of 8 things. This other thing, I respect your viewpoint and I respectfully disagree. It’s not that far off but it takes a little bit of work. As you said, a little bit of discomfort and willingness to consider ideas that are unfamiliar.
That’s right. I can’t think of a better note on which to end because I think we’re both speaking the same conclusive comment from open your minds, try to think a little differently, explore your connections, and be willing to have discourse. If there’s another thought that you would love to leave our audience with, I’ll open the floor for you.
Corinna, thank you very much. I have nothing to add. My book is out at the end of November 2022. I’d love to continue the conversation.
Thank you so much for coming. Tony, I applaud you for fighting the good fight because, in the world that we live in, it’s challenging to lift the skirt on things that create uncomfortable conversations. It’s doubly challenging to try and be a journalist now. There’s been such an incredible shake-up in the field of journalism. Mass layoffs have occurred. All these individual contributors are vying for a little bit of air time to make a name for themselves and even paying to contribute to publications like entrepreneurs and some others to get some street cred, which is ridiculous to me.
We could go on about that as a completely different subject but ultimately, this has been an engaging conversation. I hope people have stuck through to the end. I want to invite everyone to visit your website, TonyBrasunas.com. Also to find your YouTube channel. I enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Corinna. My pleasure.
If you’ve enjoyed our conversation as I connected deeply with Tony Brasunas, I encourage you to write a review of this show on your favorite platform. Apple Podcast gives us the most cred. If you can go there and do your little review, give us five stars on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. That’s immensely helpful so we can reach more people. You can rate us on Spotify or wherever you listen to.
You can even sign up for our newsletter. I send one email a week, so I will not bombard your inbox at all. You’ll also receive, as your welcome gift, a five-step guide to unleash your inner activism. If you care about something like censorship or climate change, pick your pleasure and this guide will help you ultimately organize your thoughts and have a greater impact. If you have feedback or questions, you can always leave me a voicemail or an email note directly on CareMoreBeBetter.com.
I encourage you to engage with me on social media. I always value a share here and there. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more and we can be better. We can even eliminate censorship, we just have to try. Thank you.
- Genevieve Smith – Previous Episode
- Tony Brasunas
- Red, White & Blind
- Google Leaks
- Draco Natural Products
- YouTube – Red, White & Blind
- iTunes – Care More Be Better Podcast
- Spotify – Care More Be Better Podcast