The We Are Libertarians Facebook group was permanently banned today.
As the writing was on the wall with dozens of guideline strikes over the past few weeks, I am not surprised. I am banned for seven days and from live streaming and advertising for 90 days. Yesterday, WAL got their second strike on YouTube and is one away from a permanent ban. This was due to different content pieces and nothing considered out of the realm of "acceptable" speech. Before this, we stopped actively posting on our Instagram of 20,000 people and our Facebook page of 100,000 people to be compliant. Memes seem to be the main culprit, so we just stopped posting them.
To show you how harmful this self-censorship was to the We Are Libertarians Podcast Network's marketing efforts; we went from 1 million impressions a month on our big page to less than 70,000 impressions in two months. The reward for modified behavior was the taking of our primary community, which drives our funding and fun.
I've tried to be a responsible member of the media by sharing what I know to be factual. One of the criticisms against my podcast is that I am not conspiratorial enough! I also stopped using outrage to grow my audience years ago, and in using humor, I've increasingly tried to be empathetic to those on the other end of the punchline. When their moderation systems have corrected me, I've tried to respect the rules of their house. Their AI moderation systems don't take that into account. They see a meme from 2018 or five months ago and see someone that must be removed. In short, Facebook and YouTube have used a nuclear weapon when they ought to be using a scalpel in dealing with moderation.
Since Alex Jones was removed from over a dozen social media channels in a single day in 2018, it is increasingly apparent that independent political brands aren't welcome on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. They want to protect their corporate partners that pay them billions, and they are trying to Disney-fy their brands. The corporate press cheers this along because it is an opportunity to kill off the competition. This competition is not only independent media but the platforms themselves. Remember classified ads? All that revenue left newspapers for Facebook and Google.
Soon, independent opinion journalism of any kind won't be able to function on these platforms. First, they came for hackers, sex workers, and conspiracy theorists. Now they're beginning to attack the presence of moderate, independent political commentators like We Are Libertarians. Eventually, they will make it impossible to have a conversation about big ideas for anyone not attached to a pre-approved institution like CNN or the New York Times. They want cute photos of dogs and ads for people that pay them to show up on your timeline.
They no longer want to democratize information, which was their main selling feature. People are already leaving the platforms in droves. In the last three months, nearly 50% of the likes lost on the We Are Libertarians page came from people deactivating their accounts. Hundreds of people just turned Facebook off permanently, and we are only one brand.
I am not going to decry cancel culture because WAL wasn't canceled. It is the victim of the same sort of censorship we saw in the mid-2000s after Janet Jackson's nipple popped out at the Super Bowl. Speech nannies at the time happened to be Christian conservatives, and they targeted the radio industry. People like Howard Stern and Bubba the Love Sponge were fined into oblivion and chased off the airwaves. Bush's FCC was led by Michael Powell (Colin's son) and wanted to enforce "community standards."
As Stern argued at the time: What community standards are we enforcing? He had millions in his community that had no issue with his content. Turn the channel. A "community guideline strike" is no different. If my private Facebook group finds a meme funny, then why should I be banned? At the time, the FCC argued children might hear naughty content, and therefore, speech must be curtailed. What children are a member of my private Facebook group? It is adults choosing to participate in a closed environment.
Our group prided itself on a balanced political conversation amongst libertarians. We had one of the highest participation rates for progressive libertarians and women because we intentionally wanted to balance other groups' more brutal elements. Right and left-libertarians formed friendships through their arguments. In short, we were trying to be a model for the culture at large in balancing different groups that are often at odds.
What is the message from big tech? "No thanks. We don't want that here." They don't. To build a political Facebook audience now, one has to outrage people so much that they comment on a Facebook post. If one posts outrage porn, they get banned. Even if one doesn't post outrage porn, they get banned.
So what is the point of doing the right thing when it doesn't matter to people in charge? You might as well do the things that build an audience quicker: Anger, fear, and dunking on the other side. Why change your behavior when these platforms ask when the result ends up the same? You might as well go full grifter and build a big audience on outrage, monetize it, and then cry "cancel culture" as a form of social proof to help build on the next platform. Censorship always backfires, and these crackdowns only serve to increase what they consider to be "bad behavior."
By the way, none of our efforts to talk to the left was trying to please cancel culture overlords. Respect for others and listening to a broad section of people is a deeply held belief that springs from my Christian beliefs. Not posting was trying to please the overlords and a lot of good that did. I completely understand why people on all sides throw up their hands and spend their efforts talking to only their own in-group, especially when the efforts lead one right into the same place as their more popular, wealthier, bad-behaving in-group members. Fan service is financially rewarding and far more comfortable.
One more parallel to the era of radio censorship. I will never forget being called into my program director's office in 2006 after saying "scum bag" on the air. It was a term for a condom, and I didn't know that. Most of you just learned that. He said it could get us in trouble with the FCC. I asked what the rules were, and he said that no one knew the guidelines and to play it safe. He framed the listener as a little old lady organizing her church group to write into the FCC, and if the FCC felt it was actionable, then the radio station would be fined. It's led to 20 years of self-censorship for content creators on broadcast radio and television. Content moderation is taking place after the fact, and the rules are not clear. I lost my streaming privileges on Facebook after they flagged a meme from 2018!
I am by no means oppressed by "big tech" because it is ultimately their property, and I have many other options in which I can speak to an audience. I think the term oppression should be used in extreme cases to protect the power of that word.
However, I am feeling defeated and demoralized. I've spent 15 years building audiences in partnership with these platforms, and it is disappointing to be treated this way without recourse. This lack of regard for their partners will end the dominance of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They've put the interests of Senators Hawley, Warner, and Wyden above the interests of. They have a right to do with it as they wish. I certainly would never call for the greater censor (government) to harm the lesser, private censor. But negative feedback is vital in the price system upon which free markets operate.
None of these perfectly rational and cogent arguments will matter, because it is time to ask, “what is next?” Social media’s reign is coming to and it is time to adapt.
I've spent 20 years training to become a talk radio show host. When it was evident that radio was shrinking in opportunities, I pivoted to growing my brand as an independent. That is harder today than it was a year ago. A day ago, even. As censorship has progressively shut off parts of my business through the last year, I increasingly find empathy for the 37-year old factory worker in 1998 that saw his profession move to Mexico. What do I do now? Hell, I already learned to code.
But such is the media business. Adaptability is key to this business. It is highly fluid, and the ground can change in a single day for anyone working in the creative arts. The era of organic growth on social media helped me grow the We Are Libertarians brand to millions of downloads, and our podcast feed is still available. So are our website and email list. I'd ask you to join us there while we think about what is next.
Alternatives to FB, IG, and Twitter:
WAL Podcasts - WeAreLibertarians.com
Chris Spangle Show - ChrisSpangleShow.com
Spangle's Blog - ChrisSpangle.com
Libertarianism 101 - LibertyExplained.com
Patreon - JoinWALPlus.com
Daily Email - LibertarianAurora.com
Discord - WALDiscord.com
MeWe - WALMeWe.com
Minds - WALMinds.com
Store - WeAreLibertarians.store
Nease's Mastodon - Agora.lol