Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Disappearing Platform

There’s something wonderful about finding like-minded souls with whom to share our beliefs and concerns.

Totalitarian regimes grasp this, so they make it difficult for their citizens to exchange ideas, however trivial those ideas may appear to be. Censorship in Nazi Germany was extreme and strictly enforced. Stalin sent fellow Russians to the gulags for up to 25 years simply for telling jokes about Communist Party officials. None of this was original to Hitler or Stalin: the second century Romans had their own secret police equivalent called the Frumentarii that not only covertly gathered military intelligence throughout the empire but even spied on the members of the emperor’s household.

If people can’t freely and comfortably exchange ideas, they can’t form effective political opposition, or so goes the thinking.

The Benefits of Self-Censorship

Of course you don’t have to put everybody in a prison camp to ensure that your totalitarianism goes unopposed. Simply making unfortunate examples of a few well-known faces will generally do it. Your citizens will quickly learn not to discuss certain subjects at all, saving you all kinds of work and allowing the prevailing narratives to ... prevail.

Xiao Qiang, editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, says:
“The best censorship is self-censorship, and China relies on solid work by the secret police to make people censor themselves and keep the Internet under control.”
Fortunately for governments in the West, if they want to know what’s going on they are not obliged to incur the expense or inefficiencies of putting boots on the ground to gather domestic intelligence. Thanks to technology, Big Brother can eavesdrop everywhere without drawing attention. For the sake of convenience and entertainment, our citizenry has happily abandoned any expectation of privacy without so much as a squeak. And why bother training squads of stormtroopers when an entire generation has been college- or university-programmed to point and shriek at any violation of the politically correct narrative?

The New “Secret Police”

The new “secret police” in the West inhabit Facebook and Twitter. Any connection they may have to government is at several removes.

Even more effectively, hostile feedback from social justice warriors on Reddit, Instagram and other platforms makes expressing ‘unapproved’ opinions so intimidating and unpleasant that many users simply opt to go elsewhere, effectively censoring themselves right off the platform and handing it uncontested to the squeaky wheels.

Leaving works just fine until there’s nowhere else to go.

What does all this have to do with Christians? Most Christians think … well, nothing. The Internet has made us all very comfortable with expressing our opinions (even Christian ones), and most of us are not big enough fish to draw the attention of the social media censorship gang. Yet.

Christians and the Internet

Let’s not mistake this for a good thing, or imagine it will continue forever. Today, Facebook employees are actively debating whether they should try to stop a Donald Trump presidency. Since Trump is currently supported by 49% of Republicans, and since 23% of Americans self-identified as Republicans back in 2014, that means Facebook employees are contemplating doing their best to disenfranchise well over 10% of their fellow American voters, and potentially a much higher number. Apparently this does not trouble their consciences a bit.

If average employees of a social media corporate giant would be happy to put their finger on the scales of public opinion over the policies of a presidential candidate they dislike, be assured they’d be just as happy to try to influence issues about which they disagree with Christians. No-platforming is perhaps the most well-established means of wielding that influence.

That means instead of arguing with you, they simply shut you down.

The Ticking Clock

Our current freedom to exchange ideas about God in public is a great and unprecedented blessing. In engaging online, we are encouraged, stimulated to study, challenged about our own wrong notions and given maximum opportunity to share our knowledge of God. We should not take that freedom for granted or assume that our country’s laws will continue to protect it indefinitely. I believe the clock is ticking on this privilege, and that we should use it to the best of our abilities for whatever time remains to us.

There’s something wonderful about finding like-minded souls with whom to share our concerns. What happens when those connections are no longer possible?

I trust you have a back-up plan. I know I do.


  1. What is your backup plan - smoke signals :-)?

    1. I was thinking of this wacky thing called the local church. Thankfully, since the church is the people and not the building, such an organism can survive all kinds of organized hostility, and historically has been known to do so.

      Not that there's anything wrong with smoke signals in a pinch ...