American conservatives online are living in a weird sort of quantum state: They complain constantly of being persecuted across the web, silenced by a Stasi-like Silicon Valley liberal elite, and censored en masse. And yet their whining has never been harder to ignore, as they succeed again and again at getting tech companies to roll over for them with a smile.
After reports of jailed immigrant children shocked and outraged the portion of the world that objects to putting kids in jail, artist Sam Lavigne, who has worked as an adjunct professor at New York University, posted a list of every Immigration and Customs Enforcement employee he could find on LinkedIn. Lavigne compiled his list through automated “scraping,” a technique that essentially lets a computer copy and paste the whole of a website in a targeted manner, saving a human a lot of tiresome clicking; just last summer, a federal judge ruled that LinkedIn must allow this kind of access. Lavigne’s list, published at a time when the American right was most doggedly dismissing concerns over putting babies in cages, only included whatever content ICE employees had volunteered on the inherently public website built for sharing resumes, and carried no suggestion of harassing or harming any of these people. “As ICE continues to ramp up its inhumane surveillance and detention efforts,” Lavigne explained in a post on Medium, “I believe it’s important to document what’s happening, and by whom, in any way we can.”
Tech CEOs are, for mostly cynical reasons, deeply scared of their conservative users, and will continue to yield and bend.
And yet soon after it began to spread across Twitter, Lavigne’s list was struck from the web as if he’d published a list of ICE social security numbers. GitHub yanked the list on the grounds that it constituted “doxing,” the practice of publishing nonpublic data about an individual online, either to reveal their identity or sensitive contact information. It’s hard to imagine online information less sensitive than someone’s resume, particularly when they’ve voluntarily published that resume on LinkedIn, a website quite literally designed to publicize your employment status as widely as possible. Medium followed suit, deleting Lavigne’s Medium post, and The Verge noted that Twitter accounts associated with Lavigne’s project were shuttered. The most dire threat of the public knowing the names of federal employees who help to maintain an organization that incarcerates children was neutralized.
That same day, right-wing editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson scored another win for the red team, announcing that he’d somehow convinced Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey to fly to Washington, D.C., and entertain a discussion of conservative victimhood:
Thank you, @jack, for meeting with a group of conservatives in DC tonight. Much work must be done to build and rebuild trust — as we discussed at length — but step one is actually talking. Appreciate it, sir. ??? @Twitter
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) June 20, 2018
It’s unclear what exactly this is referring to, or what “trust” needs to be rebuilt between conservatives and Twitter, a site that more or less lets anyone on the political fringe run around with their eyes closed and ears plugged, screaming at the top of their lungs with impunity. For right-wing America and its spiritual leader in the White House, Twitter has been nothing if not an extremely reliable tool. But the toxic myth of anti-conservative bias in tech companies refuses to die, in part because the self-described victims are (to their great credit) tireless and loud, and in part because people like Dorsey keep indulging them. Despite the fact that white supremacists just this week secured a permit for a sequel to last year’s bloody Charlottesville hate rally, the absurd claim that the right wing is even slightly hampered in spreading even its most extreme messages persists. Thank you, @jack, indeed.
Twitter continued its accommodation spree after Splinter News published a cellphone number belonging to White House adviser Stephen Miller, reportedly the mastermind behind the aforementioned babies-in-cages policy. Not only did Twitter clamp down with a quickness rarely seen by those reporting neo-Nazis in their mentions, by temporarily banning Splinter’s account, the site also temporarily locked the accounts of people who had merely tweeted a link to the story:
Twitter is suspending accounts that tweeted out the LINK to the Splinter story with Stephen Miller's number. Whatever you think of tweeting out the actual number, going as far as to censor a link from a legitimate news site is unprecedented. https://t.co/38YFCVGLuC
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) June 20, 2018
Twitter, a company that at this point seems almost allergic to taking a stand against anything, is apparently pretty responsive under the right conditions.
Finally, the world was reminded that Facebook, just a few days after barring the news website Reveal from advertising a report on migrant children being forcibly drugged, still wanted to be a supportive home for news and reliable information online:
(Facebook is also partnering with CNN, ABC, Univision, and other outlets.)
There’s no reason to think tech’s toadying to and placation of the right will change. Tech CEOs are, for mostly cynical reasons involving growth, engagement, and quarterly earnings calls, deeply scared of their conservative users, and will continue to yield and bend in order to prevent some imagined conservative revolt — never mind how long the conservative oppressed have been threatening to leave Twitter and Facebook. Years of bluffing and braying about being censored now pays off regularly for the web’s right wing, which continues to parlay Silicon Valley boardroom anxiety into win after win, and continued to trumpet its pseudo-victimhood this week to great effect. For a silenced group, it sure is a loud trumpet.