A couple is sitting on a terrace; the sun is shining; the birds are chirping. The video shows them talking about the weather, their food, and how easy life is in Southern Spain in January, as compared to icy Vienna. Here they can sit in a restaurant and have a good lunch, whereas in Vienna the waiter would refuse to serve them unless they showed a ‘Green Pass,’ proving that they have been vaccinated three times or have recovered from COVID in the last six months. In Spain no one asks about anything, so the couple—me and my wife, as it were—can really enjoy their lunch.
Facebook, however, promptly informed me that my video violated their community standards and had to be taken down. On top of this, I was informed that I would be blocked from posting anything for 24 hours—as a first warning. If it happened again, it would be a longer ban. Ultimately, they said, it could lead to me being permanently expelled from their esteemed community.
Graciously enough, they provided me with an opportunity to contest their decision. In fact, one can even ask why something—like a simple statement of facts—violated their community standards. I did so—but the automated reply was not so generous: “Due to the current situation and limited staff, we will not be able to deal with your complaint.” End of story.
In fact, in my case, an alternative means of contacting staff at Facebook is not even available because I am blocked for 24 hours. It’s quite useless to try. A further outcome of my violation is that any future posts will not even be shown to a larger audience until I prove ‘good behavior’ for a certain period of time.
It was obvious to me that Facebook administrators were of the opinion that their platform simply could not tolerate even the most indirect criticism of government overreach on COVID—not even the mere comparison of one country’s approach with another’s. It’s true, there was also my remark in the video that Austrian politicians should “relax” a bit. But to consider this as overly provocative should remind us of the old days of Communism where one could be put in prison for such remarks. The modern prison is being built via social media.
One could argue—just as some vaccine junkies amongst my Facebook friends did—that Facebook is a private enterprise and thus can decide freely what should be allowed on their platform. However, this argument falls short because Facebook uses its members as commodities—and, thus, though your participation is free on the surface, you pay with all your data, preferences, pictures, networks, etc. It is a partnership in which you pay substantially—yet you have no rights against your partner. They can do whatever they want with you, even extinguish your existence on social media with a push of a button—almost like a modern Robespierre with a virtual guillotine.
One could argue that perhaps it is better to conform a bit in order to ‘get the word out’ to the public. But what kind of word? Certainly not dissent from mainstream opinion. It is clear that tools such as ‘Facebook warnings’ train us to become like sheep in the flock, and to do as others do. One must obey.
How can one avoid such treatment while continuing to question mainstream opinion—which was always considered the best means for progress? One solution is to retreat entirely from social media platforms which behave as I have described above. After all, there are alternatives. For example, MeWe is an alternative to Facebook, while Rumble is an alternative to YouTube.
The problem, however, is that these alternatives are small and their reach is quite limited—for now. Such limitations can, however, be mitigated. As long as your profile on the big platforms is still active, you can use it to invite your friends to join you—on the other platforms. You might also maintain multiple independent profiles on the big platforms: if one profile is blocked, switch to another. And, of course, you could also go deep into the catacombs of digital society and live without any social media, talking instead to people in person. But then, of course, your reach will be substantially reduced.
Whichever way—or combination of ways—one chooses, it’s important to face the reality of our time: without a certain digital presence, one is essentially non-existent. Shaping public opinion is very hard without social media—and it is made worse when one is in conflict with social media. And because of such tendencies, which tend to dominate on the big platforms, public opinion eventually morphs into one single mold or mindset. It is ‘groupthink’ par excellence.
This perhaps poses one of the greatest dangers for our societies. It would not be the first time that a broad, single-minded mass of people was seduced into doing very bad things.
Christof Zellenberg-Zellenberg is an economist, investor, journalist and chairman of the Europa Institut —a private, bi-partisan think-tank covering all topics related to the Common Good, based on Christian principles. He is a private equity investor, capital markets expert and a sought-after lecturer in the fields of economics and ethics. Zeller-Zellenberg is a member of the www.kath.net editorial team, the Mont Pelerin Society, and the Order of Malta.