On Greenwald, social media, and bad logic

January 10, 2021

Recently, Green Greenwald, formerly of The Intercept, posted a lengthy Twitter thread that was so insanely wrong, I felt compelled to write a response to it.

Let me make this clear: I despise Twitter. I have never liked the platform, and think the character limits and design work to inhibit normal discussion and increase noxiousness and stupidity. As of this summer, I have been mostly inactive there, moving my activity over to my Mastodon accounts and trying to maintain a strict rule of only liking or retweeting on "the bird network".

Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people have not gotten so fed up. More importantly, some people, rather than look around for other, better places like I did, prefer to complain instead. In this post, I will address Greenwald's thread, and explain precisely what is wrong with it.
I apologize in advance, to everyone but Greenwald, if this gets condescending.

Let's start with his first tweet:

This accurately describes the overarching political reality in the United States: https://t.co/nkNrzy4gGT

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2021

Ummm, no. This is not describing an overarching political reality. In addition to being all but written in the future tense (thus describing a future rather than present occurrence), this statement is nonsensical, as the phrase "corporate authoritarian liberal-left monoculture" is self contradictory on its face. How can something be "liberal" (in either the classical or the neoliberal sense) and "authoritarian" at the same time? If you let liberal be used in the "four-letter political word" sense, Greenwald's statement could work as a piece of vitriol. Vitriol is not something a journalist should stoop to, particularly as a substitute for logic.[CORRECTION: After talking with some people, I have learned that this is not the case. I leave my words here as a reminder to myself to be more careful.] More importantly, what evidence is there for any of this? Greenwald, unfortunately for us, does not present evidence in the thread that follows.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first acts of the new Dem Congress is a Resolution of Gratitude to Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook & Google execs for their patriotic censorship of Trump, Parler & other Terrorists, with encouragement to continue the anti-Terror fight.

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2021

I find it interesting that Greenwald forgot to name Jack Dorsey, given Twitter's relative earliness in axing Trump's account, and given Twitter is an independent company.

In all seriousness, however, I find this prediction highly unlikely to come to pass. The overwhelming perception I get is that, in circles where the role of social media in all this is being discussed, it is usually not praise, but blame that is being given. I doubt this will fade in the next month, let alone ten days.

Ever since FB & Twitter's censorship orgy, all we heard is it's no big deal. Liberals invoked the libertarian mantra that private corporations can do what they want, you can just build a competitor if you don't like it. But you can't: they're monopolies.https://t.co/fewK7ok3dy

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2021

First, censorship orgy? As far as I know, the only people being banned on Twitter in relation to this are Trump, close associates like Bannon, Flynn, Lin Wood, and Sidney Powell, and possibly those accounts are openly calling for or retweeting calls for violence.

Second, the report says that Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google— two of which are uninvolved in social media, one of which is only involved via YouTube, and only one is exclusively social media—have "monopoly power". This is in my opinion debatable in at least the case of Amazon, and a better term for all for would be that they "have anti-competitive practices". Furthermore, a monopoly is a statement about market share, not the absolute number of competitors. But this is irrelevant, because the behaviors here don't pertain to social media. Google's issue is in advertising and search. Apple's is in the app store ecosystem, anti-consumer practices, and other matters. Facebook's in being overly controlling of its users data and buys up competitors that threaten its particular model of social media, and Amazon's is in it's treatment of third party sellers.

Thirdly, there are competitors, many of which are ad-free, decentralized, user controlled, or in other ways divergent from the models of the largest platforms. Greenwald, if you are reading this, here are some of the many, many other platforms besides Google's YouTube, Facebook's three properties, Amazon's Twitch, and Parler:

For the record, I do think that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are too big, and that very size has made them (particularly the first two) toxic. But the solution is to stop anti-competitive practices and allow people to move their data elsewhere, rather than legislate or regulate their moderation practices to be more or less strict.

It was a *Democratic-controlled* House sub-committee that just a few months ago issued a lengthy report concluding that FB, Amazon, Google & Apple are *monopolies*. That means competition is impossible. Now Dems are happy that it's used for them:https://t.co/28O8cutqKs

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2021

Regarding Democrats being happy about monopolies all of a sudden: citation needed. Regarding Democrats being happy about Trump being booted: the ACLU and EFF both put out statements expressing at least some degree of concern over this, so I'd hardly say support is unified.

I'm going to skip the next two tweets, as all Greenwald does is make 9/11 comparisons with nothing but rhetoric and the words of a person making another 9/11 analogy for support. It should be clear from this that Greenwald's argument is more of a sequence of disconnected thoughts linked together by emotionally charged words, like a salad with watery aspic. Indeed, Glenn's thread (yes, this was all posted at roughly the same time) ends with what could best be called the piece de resistance of this showcase of bad logic. Glenn manages to misread a sentence in the Wall Street Journal as being an explicit sign of an imminent crackdown on rights:

https://t.co/TUkK0mmMxU pic.twitter.com/Zz9v1mP1Y6

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2021

Please note that the highlighted words are not synonymous with "passing a law enshrining existing social media as our overlords", and "passing a law prohibiting planning an attack or inciting violence" is redundant since such things are already not protected speech.

Let's be clear, while there will undoubtedly be many proposals for such laws, and at least some of these will be problematic for civil rights/internet freedom if they are allowed to pass, "laws against domestic terrorism" are not the same thing as "internet censorship laws". There are many people—the ACLU, the EFF, and the public in general, myself included—who will seek to make sure that passing any case of the former does not entail passing any cases of the latter.

When I first heard of Greenwald, he had just left The Intercept citing a censorious editor and culture there as the reason. I was sympathetic, and hoped he would be happy and productive on Substack. If this thread is any indication at all of what Greenwald's work is to look like in the future, then I am bound to lose that sympathy soon. Mr. Greenwald, you are a journalist, and a respected one at that. Do better.