The War on Privacy

Five years ago, official abuses of secrecy were the scandal. Today, the scandal is you

My colleague Glenn Greenwald hit the nail on the head this weekend when he wrote about “tattletale journalism,” in which media reporters for the largest companies spend their time attacking speech, instead of defending it. The miserable trend just reached its apex when Taylor Lorenz — a dunce of historic proportions unleashed on the world by the New York Times — attended an invitation-only Clubhouse chat and not only reported that Silicon Valley entrepreneur Marc Andreesson used the word “retarded” in a discussion about the GameStop uprising, but published the names and faces of those who were guilty of being present and silent during the commission of this heinous crime:

Lorenz was wrong on three counts. One, Andreesson never said the word. Two, the person who did say the word was merely relaying that the Reddit users betting on GameStop “call themselves the ‘retard revolution.’” Lorenz was confusing reporting on speech with actually speaking, the same error that’s led to crackdowns on videographers like Jon Farina and Ford Fischer, punished for shooting raw footage of people saying and doing supposedly objectionable things (a story mostly uncovered by these same media priests).

Thirdly, WTF???? Private utterance of the word “retarded” is news? As Greenwald points out, this would be joke behavior coming from a middle school hall monitor. Such deviance-hunts however are now a central concern of media reporters like Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy of CNN, Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny of NBC, and Mike Isaac, Kevin Roose, Sheera Frenkel, and Lorenz at the Times. Somebody, somewhere, is saying or thinking a bad thing, and this crew seeks the rot out, with the aim of publicly shaming those individuals.

The subtext isn’t hard to decipher. These people believe bad-think, left unaddressed, results in Donald Trump being elected. Therefore, as Chen and Roose put it in a chat last week, it’s “problematic” to countenance platforms that allow large numbers of people to assemble in non-monitored, “shadow” social networks, where they can spread “misinformation” and wreak, potentially, a “ton of havoc.” Countless stories have been written on the theme of what speech should be “allowed,” as if they are the ones who should be doing the allowing.

This is how we’ve traveled in just two and a half years from banning Alex Jones to calling for crackdowns on all unmonitored or less-monitored spaces, from podcasts to the aforementioned Clubhouse to encrypted platforms like Signal and Telegram to Parler, even to Substack, which ludicrously is beginning to come under fire as a purveyor of unapproved thought.

Let’s stipulate, for a moment, that these people are right, that private spaces breed fascism and bigotry, because as William Blake wrote, we should “expect poison from standing water,” making transparency the ultimate public virtue. Let’s agree that all private spaces must have their windows thrown open, so that New York Times reporters can sit watching for transgressions. I disagree with this creeptastic point of view, but let’s admit it, for sake of argument.

How do we square that belief with the attitude of these “reporters” toward Wikileaks, or Edward Snowden, or the secret budgets of the intelligence services, or our global network of secret prisons, or our regime of secret National Security Letter subpoenas, or any of a dozen other areas where official or corporate secrecy has expanded? While self-styled heroes of anti-fascism at places like the New York Times have been outing the likes of “Jules,” “Fab,” and “Chloe” for the crime of listening to the word “retard,” the exercise of actual political power has more and more become a black box, and nobody in these newsrooms seems to care.

These culture warriors are collectively making a clear statement: Personal privacy is dangerous, official secrecy is not. They seek total transparency when it comes to our personal beliefs and opinions, and oppose it for governments or tech monopolies.

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