Two weeks ago, the social media industry crossed a Rubicon — slapping a “misinformation” label on an expression of opinion about the economy.
After the White House issued its no-we’re-not-really-in-a-recession statement, a fellow with a following on Instagram named Graham Allen performed a video stunt.
He asked Apple’s voice assistant Siri to define the term “recession.” Siri spat back the familiar “two quarters of negative GDP” definition — the one with which the White House took issue.
Instagram went and restricted access to the video.
To watch it, you had to click past a disclaimer that it contains “false information reviewed by independent fact-checkers.” Facebook posts to the same effect got a similar label. (Both Facebook and Instagram are arms of the Zuckerberg “Meta” empire.)
It appears Allen subsequently attached his own disclaimer to the post, so he could get out of the fact-checkers’ doghouse…
Crazy, right? And we actually think the Biden administration kinda sorta had a point about the definition of a recession — even if they were being shamelessly self-serving about it, and merely forestalling the inevitable.
“This is yet another reminder that the project of purportedly independent fact-checking on social media is a highly partisan one,” wrote Robby Soave at Reason, “in which legitimately debatable opinions are passed off as objective truth.”
Only four years ago, this ludicrous level of censorship was inconceivable — or was it?
It was this week in 2018 that professional loudmouth Alex Jones was simultaneously “deplatformed” by Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify on the theory he was engaged in “hate speech.”
At the risk of appearing alarmist, we devoted an entire episode of The 5 to the topic, titled, “After Alex Jones, Are We Next?”
As the independent journalist Michael Tracey observed last year, “If you were under any illusion back in 2018 that this would ever stop with Jones — a figure believed to be sufficiently repulsive that any punishment doled out to him would not have broader implications for the average internet user — well, it didn’t take long for proof of just how wrong you were.”
After about 18 months of folks getting censored for “hate speech” that allegedly would inspire acts of violence, the pandemic gave the censors a new opening. Weeks before lockdown arrived in these United States in March 2020, “misinformation” about the virus was already cause for suspension on Twitter.
So the censorship rationale jumped from preventing harm against others to preventing harm against oneself — you know, with allegedly bogus virus treatments and whatnot.
Fast-forward another 18 months… and as we chronicled at this time last year (it seems commemorating the 2018 anniversary is becoming an annual thing for us) the White House freely acknowledged it was “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation” about COVID-19.
Now in 2022, all pretense has been dropped: Social-media censorship is not about preventing harm to others or to oneself. It’s about the enforcement of orthodoxy.
This reality was laid bare with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Anyone questioning U.S. aid to the Zelenskyy government or U.S. sanctions against Russia is vulnerable to suspension or cancellation.
It was Ukraine that prompted a 93-year-old Noam Chomsky to observe recently, “Censorship in the United States has reached such a level beyond anything in my lifetime.”
Supporting evidence abounds: We cited a host of examples during a thought experiment we conducted last month.
And now, amid abstruse arguments over the definition of a recession… social media is carrying the Biden administration’s water and flagging wrongthink about the state of the economy.
For the entirety of the last four years, the Establishment objection was: These are private companies. They have every right to determine who gets to play in their sandbox.
And all along, our riposte was that these private companies are acting under duress. Time after time, executives have been raked over the proverbial coals at congressional hearings for their alleged failure to curb “hate speech” and “misinformation.”
In 2018, we cited Reason writer Zach Weissmueller: “Washington sees in Silicon Valley a chance to control speech in a way never before possible under the First Amendment, and to roll back the clock to a pre-internet age of media gatekeepers.
“The way to achieve this is by continually leveraging the threat of regulation.”
Works flawlessly: Haul a tech exec before Congress, give him the third degree for a day, watch him fold like a lawn chair a few weeks or months later. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The endgame is a 21st-century version of the “good old days” when three national evening newscasts, taking their cue from that morning’s New York Times, set the boundaries for acceptable discourse.
Slender boundaries they are, akin to the 40-yard lines on a football field. Anything to the left of Joe Biden or the right of Mitch McConnell is at risk of the ban hammer.
And now even an opinion about the state of the economy is cause for digital banishment. Which is exactly why we’ve been sounding the alarm since 2018.
From the earliest days of our trade, financial newsletter editors have trafficked in ideas outside the mainstream.
Nearly a century ago, Roger Babson warned the Roaring ’20s were destined to end in tears. (They did.) A half-century ago, Harry Browne urged readers to forget the “Nifty Fifty” stocks and pile into precious metals after President Nixon killed off the last vestiges of the gold standard. (Good advice then.) Just over a quarter-century ago, James Dale Davidson warned about The Plague of the Black Debt. (It still plagues us.)
Across the decades, up to the present day, newsletter editors give voice to a nagging feeling people have in the back of their minds — that reality isn’t the way the mainstream gatekeepers portray it. We daresay financial newsletters were the pioneers of “alternative media.”
Here at The 5, we’ve brought our own snarky spin to the newsletter art since launch in 2007 — lobbing spitballs at central bankers, politicians and the allegedly best-and-brightest denizens of Wall Street.
We called out former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for perjury. We called out Warren Buffett for outrageous acts of crony capitalism. We called out House Speaker Paul Ryan as a phony years before it was fashionable. We called out JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon for all-around douchebaggery.
For the longest time, we did this while flying under the radar. The newsletter biz was a niche thing with a limited audience.
But by 2016 and 2017, two of our editors showed up on blacklists smearing them as Russian stooges — blacklists amplified by “prestigious” think tanks and media organs like The Washington Post.
The good news is that we’re not dependent on social media for distribution. We still rely on good old-fashioned email, with the bulk of our revenue coming directly from customers like you. It’s a straightforward business model that limits our dependence on the infrastructure of others — unlike, say, someone who depends on the “monetization” of his or her YouTube channel that can be yanked with no warning.
And whatever the subject matter, there are alternatives outside the realm of the familiar social media giants — Substack for the printed word, Rumble for video.
Nor is that the only cause for hope…
With any luck, a lawsuit will soon expose acts by the White House strong-arming social media — in other words, flagrant violations of the First Amendment.
“Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the suit,” reported the Washington Examiner in May, “in an attempt to demonstrate the Biden administration’s alleged work with Big Tech companies to suppress speech pertaining to COVID-19-related information, election integrity and other topics unfairly.”
Last week, the suit was joined by epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff. Perhaps you recognize their names as co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration of October 2020 — a statement challenging the politicized “science” behind COVID lockdowns, restrictions and mandates. Both have been subject to social-media bans.
The doctors are represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance. “The government’s sweeping campaign to suppress the perspectives of the plaintiffs, and others like them, represents the most severe abrogation of the First Amendment in modern times,” says the NCLA’s Jenin Younes, “and we look forward to seeing this constitutional atrocity rectified in a court of law.”
A victory, if it comes, would be sorely needed at a moment when more and more people face the risk of being “cancelled” financially.
Last year this time, we noted how PayPal joined forces with the Anti-Defamation League for a research project looking into “how extremist or hate movements use financial platforms to fund their activities,” as a USA Today story put it. “The results of their research will be shared within the financial industry, policymakers and law enforcement.” Accounts deemed too “extreme” will be shut down.
One of PayPal’s founding executives, David Sacks, saw the slippery slope: “As with the censorship of speech, financial deplatforming often begins as something that seems narrow and reasonable — who wouldn’t want to ban the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys? But once the power is granted, it metastasizes into widespread use.”
By this spring, PayPal and Venmo cancelled the accounts of Jackson Hinkle, a Los Angeles-based streamer who’d been called out by a billionaire-funded nonprofit for “actively fueling Russian propaganda” — that is, not toeing the Washington line on the Ukraine war. YouTube demonetized his channel, wiping out 80% of his income.
Of course, the ultimate example of financial cancellation was the Canadian truckers back in February.
As you’ll recall, truckers jammed the capital Ottawa for several weeks — demanding the Canadian government drop its vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canadian border.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland invoked the Emergencies Act of 1988. Leaders of the movement found themselves “de-banked” — their accounts frozen, their ability to conduct everyday commerce choked off.
Again, David Sacks, the ex-PayPal executive, sounded an eloquent cause for alarm: Even after such emergency measures are rolled back, “banks and financial institutions will be wary of resuming business relationships with any ‘designated person’ — or anyone they think could be one in the future. Confident that these private businesses will do their dirty work for them, the government will likely back off, but the chilling effect on political dissent will remain.
“It’s a Western version of China’s social credit system that does not altogether prohibit political dissent but makes it so costly that it becomes impractical to the ordinary citizen.”
It’s this “Western version of China’s social credit system” that prompted our Jim Rickards to speak up this summer about the dangers of a CBDC — a central bank digital currency — or in Jim’s parlance, “Biden Bucks.”
A CBDC “has little to do with technology or monetary policy and everything to do with herding you into digital cattle chutes where you can be slaughtered with account freezes, seizures, etc.,” he said.
“In a world of CBDCs, the government will know every purchase you make, every transaction you conduct and even your physical whereabouts at the point of purchase.
“It’s a short step from there to negative interest rates, account freezes, tax withholding from your account and even putting you under FBI investigation if you vote for the wrong candidate or give donations to the wrong political party.”
No, we’re not there yet. But four years after we were all told the deplatforming of Alex Jones would be a one-shot deal… we’re uncomfortably close.
Jim has developed a financial plan of defense — what he calls “Asset Emancipation.”
If you haven’t acted on Jim’s warnings yet — maybe they didn’t hit home until you read this today — it’s still not too late.
But time’s a-wasting, and “Biden Bucks” can become an instant reality under cover of any sort of emergency — a financial crisis, a new virus, “domestic terrorism” or whatever. Please explore Jim’s warning — while there’s still time to act on it.
The 5 Min. Forecast
P.S. As for the markets today, the major U.S. stock indexes are all oscillating near their Friday closes, the S&P 500 at 4,144. Precious metals are perking up again — gold at $1,788 and silver at $20.64.
The “Inflation Reduction Act” passed the Senate yesterday with Vice President Harris casting the tie-breaking vote. There were so many last-minute amendments that Congress’ full-time number-crunchers can’t even put a definitive price tag on the legislation. But the $80 billion in new funding for the IRS to harass small-business owners and the self-employed? Still there. Last we heard, the House will vote on the bill Friday.
Thanks for indulging us another single-topic edition of The 5. Back to regular programming tomorrow…