Breitbart sees 2020 as 1984


Bhavana Akula

The pursuit of advancements in technology seems to be a perpetual exercise in increasing the effectiveness of human activity, while simultaneously forever decreasing the amount of actual physical and intellectual work required of the average person. Breitbart, a far-right publication known for its connection to Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist to this current administration, published this article as tensions rose between the government, public, and social media platforms. In response to the pressure on these companies to address their proliferation of anti-Semitic, “alt-right” (neo-Nazi), and extremist ideology due to the social media platforms’ flawed algorithms, several released new plans and programs to address these issues. Twitter chose to include a detection software that predicts when users are about to use language that would be unfavorable for the platform, in an attempt to shift their efforts from aggressively blocking and deleting, to preventing the posts and discouraged account activity in the first place.

In this article, Breitbart journalist Allum Bokhari utilizes allusions to dystopian novels and cinemas to convey his message that these new tools are the wrong move for Twitter, and will infringe on values of free speech rather than actually achieving their goal. The title itself uses the word “WrongThink” that is derived from Orwell’s 1984, an acclaimed piece that follows Winston Smith as he struggles with and against Oceania and Big Brother, a symbol of the repressive society that criminalizes individuality and original thinking. The use of this word is a warning of the fact that punishment of all due to the mess of a few can be significantly crippling to our society and the individual liberty that it values. While Twitter is a global platform, commitment to the democratic value of free speech is one endorsed by the majority of global society, so this reference remains effective in emphasizing the danger of a large-scale effort to pre-censor potential posts. Bokhari elaborates using a reference to “precrime” technology used in the Tom Cruise thriller, Minority Report. This technology, like the new Twitter plan, utilizes predictive software; instead, it is used by a police department to arrest people before they commit crimes. This reference conveys the fact that while the new Twitter technology may not yet operate at the “precrime” level, the normalization of this type of method to “train…users out of their bad behavior” sets a dangerous precedent for future programs that could be even more worrisome, especially if utilized in a government context.

While Bokhari’s view is colored by the perception of anti-conservatism and stifling of the Right from these platforms, his essential comparisons to 1984 and Minority Report hold true in their estimation of the dangers of this type of technological “advancement”. While the pursuit of less hate and bot-presence on these internationally-loved platforms is a worthy struggle, “solutions” such as these risk even more data collection on each user and normalizes the restriction of language at such a personal level. Normalizing technology such as this allows users to be exposed to cues and messaging that have the power to influence language and engagement in a way that goes against the values of open communication and diversity of thought. While Twitter is a private company, it prides itself on its impact on the community and commitment to responsible action; in the interest of diversity of thought, it would be wise for Twitter to reconsider and pursue other options before moving forward with the implementation of this program across its platform of 330 million active users across the globe.

Still, we have a responsibility as users of these various platforms to ensure that we’re working in tandem with these companies to keep the online environment safe and guideline-following. We must not confuse the distasteful with the hateful, and it is imperative that we support free speech, even when it may not align with our personal beliefs, as long as that speech does not incite violence or perpetuate misinformation.

 However, while holding each other to these guidelines for acceptable engagement, we also must stay wary of these platforms and the policies that we unwittingly and instinctively “Accept Terms & Conditions” to. Like democracies, social media platforms ultimately derive their power from the People: the millions of users that are engaged around the clock nd bring in the revenue. We can and should exercise this power when necessary in order to ensure that advancements in technology do not ultimately sacrifice our rights to privacy and go against values of true free speech.

The Breitbart article is entitled “Twitter Will Now Warn You If You Are About to Post Wrongthink” and was written by Allum Bokhari on May 6, 2020.