Remember 2005? It wasn’t that long ago. George W. Bush started his second term in office. The Iraq War entered its third year. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iraq’s President, and pressed forward with a nuclear program that remains at the fore of international politics. Tom Brady won his second Super Bowl. Million Dollar Baby won Best Picture. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series. The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Championship. The NHL season was cancelled.

Oh, and a little company called YouTube came into existence.

The impact of YouTube on the economy, society, culture, and politics, considered today, a mere 15 years after its inception, is staggering to contemplate. Two billion active users ever month, a billion videos watched per day, five hundred hours of video uploaded every minute. Three quarters of the adult US population uses Youtube. It is the second most-visited Internet site in the world, and over a third of the Internet’s traffic belongs to YouTube.

It has also served to break a stranglehold on information flow long maintained, leveraged, and relished by self-appointed gatekeepers and self-styled Best-and-Brightest.

As recently as the 1970s, news came to Americans through the three major networks and PBS, along with a handful of “reliable” newspapers, some periodicals, and a couple wire services. What we learned of the world was curated by these gatekeepers, who got to decide what was newsworthy, what deserved lead-story status, what was worthy of report but relegated to interior pages that only wonks read, and what didn’t warrant mention. Moreover, the tone of reporting, the emphasis, who got portrayed as hero and who got portrayed as villain, and countless other nuances, even in “hard news” reporting, was wholly under the control of these gatekeepers. Someone who felt misrepresented, inaccurately quoted, or unjustly vilified by one source had little recourse other than a hope that a competing source would be willing to set the record straight.

Today, however, anyone can go directly to the world with unedited, un-curated, and un-pre-judged news, stories, opinions, and the like. Those who’ve long enjoyed gatekeeper power over the flow of information are bypassed with trivial ease, and their ability to spin information to suit their preferences, politics, and agendas is drastically curtailed.

Meanwhile, in 2004, the term “podcasting” came into public vernacular. Today, dozens of podcasting platforms compete with and complement YouTube in offering direct connections between, well, anyone and anyone else. Here as well, the traditional gatekeepers have been cut out of the interchange. I can watch a three hour, unedited video of Joe Rogan talking with whomever he wants to about whatever he wants to, with no one between me and them “translating” what’s being said into what the gatekeepers want me to hear. If Rogan’s not interesting, there are countless thousands of other choices.

In 1987, the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door to politically-oriented talk radio. Conservatives, who long felt shut out of national discourse by the gatekeepers, came to dominate the format. The gatekeepers were, needless to say, not pleased, and responded by calling for, in the 1990s, for the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, presenting tendentious (and tedious) arguments that government mandates on private businesses actually improved free speech.

Today, people unhappy with the unfettered flow of information, and deciding that the masses cannot be relied upon to figure out what information they’re supposed to seek, believe, and trust, are looking to government for assistance in reestablishing their gatekeeping power. They argue that the ease with which people lie and spread lies across the Internet requires that those who know better intervene.

The problem with this was noted by the Roman Poet Juvenal:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who watches the watchmen?

Witness the gatekeeping that takes place on college campuses. People whose political views do not conform to the proper narrative are “disinvited,” even if many students actually want to hear what they have to say. Those who the gatekeepers fail to deplatform get disrupted by chanters, screamers, and other interlopers, who decide that the free exchange of information between willing sharer and willing recipient is not to be tolerated.

This isn’t just about countering lies, misinformation, or disinformation. It’s about controlling the flow of information, to advance a particular agenda and a particular outcome. It goes hand in hand with cancel culture, and many gate-keeper wannabes actually encourage and abet the cancelers’ abhorrent behavior.

Fortunately, information is like water flowing downstream. When the paths are few and narrow, it’s easier to dam and channel the flow. But, when the paths are many, dams and blockages merely result in the water finding other paths.

Social media giants are putting more effort into curating what flows through their platforms, but theirs is a game of whack-a-mole, with their increased efforts often having a contrary effect in encouraging those who don’t like the politics the platforms advance growing in their motivation to hear that which is being silenced.

The rise of personalities who’ve been lumped into a group dubbed the “intellectual dark web” affirms this growing rejection of gate-kept information flow. Names such as Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Sam Harris, Camille Paglia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others, along with iconoclasts such as Adam Carolla, and a sheaf of “B-team” lesser-known names, draw eyes and ears by the millions every day, and there’s not a damn thing the gatekeepers can do about it other than denounce them and (often unjustly and deceitfully) vilify their views.

None of this sits well with statists and authoritarians, which is to say a large swathe of the Left. Curiously, a pretty sizable chunk of the Right isn’t content, either, based on the broad support for using government force to smash some social media platforms.

The libertarian solution, one echoed by famed Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, way back in 1927:

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

The solution to speech you don’t like is more speech. A society based on liberty, whose core system of protections centers on the individual, must be one where the free exchange of ideas, good and bad, is held paramount. That this flies directly in the face of those Best-and-Brightest who’ve concluded that their purportedly greater intellect, knowledge, and opinion justifies, nay demands, their intervention in that flow of information.

Sadly, the biggest victims of the gatekeepers’ activities are their devotees. People who only trust the New York Times (I know more than a few) don’t get exposed to the marketplace of ideas, they don’t get to read news the Times doesn’t believe is worth sharing, and they don’t get to see critiques and counterpoints of opinions shared therein (many of which masquerade as “news” and reporting). The social justice crowd, with its obsession over pronouns, “neopronouns,” microaggressions, and offensive language, and its demands for content and trigger warnings, grows increasingly blind to the world outside its carefully crafted safe space, and thereby loses out on critical thought, others’ views, and real and useful information. Many who’ve spent their formative years sheltered thus find themselves unable to deal with contrary and conflicting views, and succumb to the gatekeepers promises of safety and succor, no matter that this is the path to totalitarianism and tyranny.

What of all the blatant falsehoods, partial truths, misinformation, disinformation, and media manipulation that is an inevitable part of any marketplace of ideas? It’s going to be out there anyway, and to think that we’re better off letting a relative handful of faux-solons decide what we should hear and see than sorting it all out ourselves is foolish naïveté. Unless you happen to be one of those solons, faux or otherwise. People in power rarely have a problem with the wielding of power.

People who lose power, on the other hand, do a lot of kicking and screaming during that loss.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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