Once upon a time, social media justified its hijacking of copyrighted news articles on the basis of empowering citizen journalism and free speech.
Today, the industry is undermining both to place profits ahead of the democratic principles our nation’s founding fathers embraced. It's threatening the very fabric of American society by absconding with the financial benefits of being in the news industry while shirking the burdens of actually generating articles and being ethically responsible for them.
Twitter's online silencing of alleged rape victim Rose McGowan yesterday is a perfect example of social media’s rising role as a tool of class warfare and economic oppression. The 44-year-old actress is one of the alleged victims of Hollywood powerbroker Harvey Weinstein. She should be allowed to speak her peace.
By gagging her, Twitter illustrated how social media is now allowing the super-rich - like Weinstein and his allies - to purchase an unlimited voice online as less prominent Americans like McGowan are muzzled by their own relative poverty. Class bias is becoming endemic to social media, which seems to have finally found a reliable revenue stream in the tyranny of the rich and reduced free speech for everyone else.
“Twitter has suspended me,” McGowan said in an appeal to the public. “There are powerful forces at work. Be my voice.”
McGowan hails from working class stock and is best known for the TV series “Charmed” and the film “Scream.”
We’ve got Rosie’s back at the Cynical Times. Sadly, it’s doubtful many people will ever see this column to find out.
Because Facebook habitually muzzles this nonprofit source of news, opinion and satire for the faltering middle class. Just as Twitter shut down McGowan when she criticized the beneficiaries of America’s bankrupt system of crony capitalism.
We were gagged yesterday too.
Posting links to an article called “Donald Trump: Every Terrorist’s Friend” to a dozen anti-Trump groups on Facebook with names like “Diapers for Donald,” "Impeach Trump” and “Dump Trump.”
We weren’t gagged because Facebook staffers found the article objectionable, or because members of the groups where we posted our links didn’t want to see them. We were gagged because the same social media company which habitually steals the copyrighted work of others now objects to anyone sharing their own stories without first paying them for the privilege.
We can expect much more of the same, with each passing year, as social media executives struggle to grow their profits. They are no longer in the business of global freedom or technical innovation in the service of mankind. They are in the business of stock manipulation now, by any means necessary.
Facebook suspended my linking privileges for two weeks. It then invited me to pay Facebook to “boost” the same Cynical Times’ article.
I agreed, forking over $20 to reach 2,800 to 7,400 Facebook readers. For $20,000 I could have put the same story in front of 750,000 to 2 million people.
Sadly, I don’t have that kind of money. What I do have is six national journalism awards, more than 20 years of experience in public service journalism, and a boatload of personal integrity and journalism talent.
None of which means anything to the new arbiters of the American public forum on Facebook and Twitter, where more than 60 percent of Americans now get their news.
Which is exactly how the detestable Donald Trump got into the White House in the first place. He and Vladimir Putin bought the 2016 presidential election with the complicity of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and Twitter.
"News sites and social platforms have an increasingly symbiotic relationship (with) each looking to the other to boost traffic and business," according to the Columbia Journalism Review. "As this relationship grows, social media’s content regulations will increasingly affect what publishers publish.
"This marks a fundamental shift of power from government to private corporations, calling into question the means by which we protect, limit, or debate free speech."
Once upon a time I earned a decent living as a crusading journalist for a free press which catered to middle class readers. I kept an eye on predatory corporations like Wells Fargo and Apollo Global Management, and bird-dogged politicians like Jeb Bush and Cory Booker.
Today, I write stories for free for the faltering middle class and am taxed by Wall Street billionaires whenever I try to share them in the public forum. It’s not enough that these scoundrels have taken away my livelihood. They also want to police my heart and mind, and dictate who I can share ideas with unless I pay them for the right to freely express myself.
This kind of tyranny is not confined to the U.S.
Facebook recently abused its public trust by censoring Norway’s largest newspaper. It deleted an article on Aftenposten’s Facebook page which featured the iconic photo of the Vietnam War: a young girl who has been burned by Napalm.
Espen Egil Hansen, the Editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, recognized the arrogant overreach for the abuse of power it was in an open letter to Zuckerberg.
“I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it,” Hansen wrote.
Apparently, he didn’t realize that he could have boosted the very same article simply by throwing some money at Facebook's billionaire protection racket.
Some of you are foolish enough to think this kind of corporate extortion represents some laudable form of capitalism. You couldn’t be more wrong.
Capitalism is about competition in the marketplace, based on quality and pricing. Whereas crony capitalism is about subverting democracy and reducing competition on behalf of corporate monopolies.
It’s class warfare at its worst. A system built on debt slavery and the creation of a new crop of detestable royals who hope to rule over the rest of us like the hereditary monarchs of old.
There are no viable alternatives to Twitter and Facebook right now. If there were, McGowan and Cynical would be posting there instead.
The painful truth is that Facebook has become a de facto monopoly and similar de facto monopolies exist in social media for headlines on Twitter, corporate cheerleaders on LinkedIn, search on Google, and videos on YouTube.
These are not competitive segments of the tech landscape, because the industry does not lend itself to competition. Social media networks work best when they're pervasive.
However, that kind of influence carries burdens that Facebook et al have been unwilling to shoulder. Chief among them being the ability to resist the urge to grow profits by playing the villain.
They’re monopolies. The kind of industry trusts which have long been policed in this nation, and broken up into smaller, competitive entities.
We did it with the Standard Oil gasoline trust in 1911 and the Bell telephone trust in 1982. And it’s time we did the same with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
We used to break up such trusts in this nation for a very good reason. Because they enrich the few at the expense of the many and eventually begin to supplant the American electorate.
When that happens, freedom dies.
In the cowardly new world forged by social media billionaires Mark Zuckerberg, Sergei Brin, Reid Hoffman and Biz Stone, average Americans now have all the freedom of speech online we can afford to buy.
These social media monopolies establish the rich as first-class citizens by allowing them to purchase access to millions of accounts. Meaning you and me. Then deny the rest of us the ability to share our ideas in the public forum, too.
This is not freedom of speech. This is the monetizing of freedom of speech.
The same thing is happening on TV, where working class Americans have become all but invisible. Broadcast journalists used to start news segments with interviews with a typical American. Now, they have rich people to speak on our behalf.
How did social media ever get so powerful?
Facebook stole copyright news articles, illustrations and photos from the mainstream news media as it built its audience from 2004 to 2012. It bled the originators white by hijacking the advertising revenue streams which paid their journalists.
Instead of ads appearing beside the stories in the publications which created them, they began appearing beside Facebook links. The social media network has never produced so much as a single news story of its own for use elsewhere, but founder Mark Zuckerberg is now the most powerful editor on Planet Earth. Albeit with no journalism training whatsoever.
As its advertising revenue streams have dried up, print news has fallen to pieces. Newsroom employment fell 42 percent from 56,400 in 2000 to 32,900 in 2014. Even as the U.S. population grew 11 percent to 314 million.
Today, newsroom employment is probably under 25,000. That equates to about one journalist for every 12,880 Americans. Compared with one for every 5,000 in 2000.
As layoffs reverberated through the news industry during the past decade, many journalists abandoned their working class principles. Turning on each other in an orgy of office backstabbing. Clickbait and access journalism have replaced public service journalism. The ethical wall which once separated news staffers from advertising concerns has been dismantled behind an avalanche of metrics celebrating titillation, shock and freakish behavior.
The days of America’s vibrant free press are over now. So much so that the American Society of News Editors stopped estimating newsroom employment completely in 2016.
What’s left is just the part that doesn’t know it’s already dead. Great community newspapers like The Des Moines Register are mere shells of their former selves, with tiny staffs comprised of clueless cub reporters and second-string editors.
The only segment of the national media which is still vibrant is comprised of national publications geared toward the rich. Like Bloomberg News, which costs $2,000 a month.
The current corrupt political climate allows monopolistic businesses like those on social media to run hog wild to the detriment of the America people. Case in point, the recent domination of Amazon and Wal-mart in the retail sector, and Uber and Lyft in the taxi industry.
Poor and middle class Americans don’t count any more in this corporate climate. Neither do those who challenge the system like Rosie McGowan.
The poor and faltering middle class no longer have meaningful access to a free press and representative political leaders any more. They both belong to Wall Street, and Wall Street is no longer American. It represents the idle rich around the world.
The same “profits over people” approach has eliminated representative democracy in this nation. Giving us choices between dueling Wall Street champions.
Like the one we had in 2016, when we were given the choice between the proven corruption of Hillary Clinton and the aspiring corruption of Donald Trump.
Those are not real choices.
A real election would have given the American people a choice between an anti-Wall Street candidate and a corrupt machine politician.
A real free press would give readers the same access on Facebook to citizen journalism, like The Cynical Times, as the stories backed by Trump and his friends in the country club set.
In a real public forum victims like Rosie McGowan would have just as much freedom to tell their side of the story as their alleged attackers.
Why doesn’t this happen?
Because freedom is less profitable for Wall Street than corporate tyranny.