OpEd by Tracy Beanz
It used to be that investigative journalism was adventurous and even exciting. There was nothing like uncovering hidden facts, evidence and sometimes the darkest of secrets. While much of this is still true, investigative journalism on a social media platform is often none of these things.
Once, having the freedom to publish everything uncovered in the course of my many investigative stories was status quo, I wrote “the facts ma’am.” But now I (and so many others), run the risk of suspension, banning and removal at any time for any reason. It has seemingly become more difficult to publish a story, save that I post it on our website and direct people to my site to read my latest piece. And I shudder to think how many journalists and perhaps non-journalists but even potential sources are just too afraid to share facts, tell the real story, or provide the truth. The risk of being banned for stepping outside of the “acceptable” line is real. The fear of facing the virtual and sometimes physical lynch mob that comes for those who dare to try to tell unvarnished truth is very real.
There has been much talk about 8chan lately, a message board where censorship doesn’t exist, and anyone can say anything. The Christchurch shooter posted his manifesto on the site before the shooting in New Zealand in March. After the tragedy this past weekend in El Paso, there was word of another “manifesto” published on the popular and controversial site. This caused a flurry of demands to have the site taken down, pundits and journalists alike decreeing that 8chan allows hate speech, and that sort of thing just can’t be allowed to stand. Two nights ago, infrastructure company, Cloudfare, pulled its service for 8chan, stating that because the platform allows what they deem to be “hate speech” they are now an unwelcome customer. 8chan moved providers, and the next company said the same. From an article about the action:
“8chan originally went offline after internet infrastructure company Cloudflare stopped providing support for it early Monday morning. The administrators of the message board found other service providers to get back online, including the hosting company Epik.
Epik, in turn, was relying on the services of Voxility, another internet company. But Voxility pulled the plug on Epik after it was made aware that its services were being used to keep 8chan online.
"We do not tolerate hate speech. This is a firm stand from our team and we count on the support of our community online and via social media platforms in keeping the internet a safer place," Maria Sirbu, Voxility's vice president of business development, told CNN Business in an email.”
This is a dangerously slippery slope, and we are seeing it, often. Silicon Valley censorship; the banning of ideas that others don’t like; corporations caving to pressure; and abandonment of the principles of freedom we all hold dear, in response to a small but vocal lynch mob demanding no hate speech. But is it hate speech or freedom of speech? And who does it apply to?
Take Facebook for example. It has been responsible for hosting the live streams of several murders, including the Christchurch incident. Why were there no calls for Facebook to be de-listed, de-platformed, and removed from the web?
This is precisely why people — globally — flock to sites like 8chan and 4chan. They are unaffected by “rules” against hate speech and content and are truly becoming some of the very last bastions of freedom of speech and ideas on the web.
They can’t be bullied by big tech and any topic can be discussed, any idea can be debated. Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about? What the Founders had in mind? Civil discourse? Certainly these platforms have posted what some would say is questionable content but we all have free will and that means tuning out if it’s not right for you.
So, imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a post by 8chan’s owner, Jim Watkins (at approximately 4 minutes into the video. Watkins states that the “manifesto” on the website was not uploaded there by the shooter. The shooter had posted his manifesto on Instagram, a company owned by Facebook. Someone other than the shooter actually grabbed it from Instagram, and then shared on 8chan. Watkins goes on to say that law enforcement was informed of this but of course it didn’t stop the mob and subsequently the removal of an uncensored message board from the web.
When the shootings occurred, legacy media reported multiple shooters, witnesses confirmed as did victims inside the Walmart. However, as normal everyday people and independent reporters began to share this information warning others in the area to stay indoors, they found themselves inexplicably banned from the platforms they were using to share the pertinent information. It was as though a group wanted to control the narrative; facts be damned! But there was one place people could still go to share real-time information. 8chan.
As we witnessed in the days after the attack, the legacy media took over; reporting that the El Paso shooter was a white supremacist motivated solely by the President of the United States, and that Donald Trump was to blame for the violence, and he must step down. We saw violent rhetoric targeting half of the country as extremists capable of terror, and pundits on television calling for the extermination of other Americans.
What we didn’t witness is the legacy media reporting the shooter’s manifesto was posted on Instagram and specifically stated he didn’t like the President and that Trump was a part of the problem. And, as was the case with the Dayton shooter, we didn't see the legacy media reporting that he was a leftist sympathizer, who actually retweeted many of the same people claiming that the El Paso shooting was the fault of anyone but the shooter.
Legacy media also didn’t report the El Paso shooter was a proponent of the same sort of environmental demands that are featured on the platforms of most Democrat presidential candidates, or that he hated corporations.
But guess who did? The independent media did.
At this point — sometimes to their own peril — truth doesn’t seem to be allowed anymore and as an independent investigative journalist, this is something I take seriously. The answer to any unanswered questions from legacy media stories that raise skepticism are suddenly offenses that can strip you of your right to contribute in the public discourse. They are labeled conspiracy theories and are cause for blacklisting and scorn and banishment. “How dare the public think for themselves? How dare they have those thoughts?! Get rid of them quickly, before it’s too late. My gosh, the horror! Think like we tell you or be gone with you! Literally”
What I’d like to say is: “Please excuse more than half the population in this country for being skeptical that what you say is the truth. We’ve just been through three full years of literal lies from the legacy media and politicians alike. We have been slandered as racists, homophobes, bigots, and now terrorist extremists for believing that America First is a good thing for America. We have watched you put words people never said squarely in their mouths while omitting what they did say. We have watched you leave facts out of stories that didn’t fit your narrative, and completely manufacture other stories that hurt people, damaged lives, and fit the narrative you want to peddle. We have watched you straight deceive us about the biggest political scandal of our time. Please excuse us for not believing that you are telling us the truth. And please excuse us for being angry that you are attempting to finish closing the zipper on our proverbial mouths, by blacklisting the last places we can go to speak freely one-by-one. We can not trust you any longer to inform us. We are doing what you are supposed to be doing. And the results don’t look good for you.”
For an investigative journalist trying to find the truth, to test the theories, to debunk the lies, and to bring people the actual story, while up against a machine with a set narrative it is programmed to play, events like this make it more and more difficult. Ron Paul once said, “Truth is treason in an empire of lies”. Those of us walking forward with the truth are being censored and silenced. And for journalists protected under the first amendment, the good ones left among us must be wondering “What happened to bring us back to 1984?”