Twitter announced on Thursday morning that they would no longer be allowing ads from Moscow-owned media outlets such as RT or Sputnik to run on their platforms, sparking a debate over the reasoning behind this decision and whether or not it constitutes suppression of alternative voices in media.
Brian Becker and John Kiriakou of Sputnik Radio’s Loud & Clear spoke to journalist and author Max Blumenthal and former Assistant Attorney General of the United States Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer, to discuss Twitter’s announcement.
Kiriakou pointed out that Twitter doesn’t censor tobacco or opioid companies from advertising, so how could he argue that the suspension of RT and Sputnik’s ads on Twitter is anything but an “attempted silencing of a media outlet?”
Fein replied, quite simply, that it was exactly that. “The BBC certainly continues to buy ads, and the BBC is an arm of the British government. Radio France International has the same connection to the French government… Twitter or Facebook are responding to the hysteria about Russia [being] involved in the 2016 presidential campaign. They’ve got to do something, so that they can try to encourage Congress to have a very light regulatory approach as they consider various pieces of legislation. This is a way that Twitter can say, ‘self-regulation really works, because we’ll censor any Russian voice or Russian presence.'”
“That’s what I think this is about, because it’s certainly not based upon any high moral ground. You pointed out that [Twitter does] business with all the most knavish rascals in the world without blinking an eye. That’s what they’re in the business for: making money. This is just an offshoot of the preoccupation with Congress and the public about how Russia is the next huge menace, and is overthrowing our government.”
Becker pointed out that Twitter suspended Sputnik’s ads on Twitter — but unlike RT, Sputnik has virtually never run an ad on Twitter. Fein agreed that Twitter’s conduct was just to score points on Capitol Hill. “It’s quite deplorable, in my judgment. This is not the way in which a free press is supposed to operate. As explained by James Madison, who fathered the Constitution: in a free government, the people censure the government, the government doesn’t censure and criticize the people. Here we have the press becoming an appendage of the government, rather than the other way around. [The government should] let the people decide who has the better story and who is persuasive, because otherwise we’ve given up the idea of government by the consent of the governed.”
“I wasn’t shocked at all,” said Blumenthal, who is also the editor-in-chief of Alternet. “I was told two weeks ago that the ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] report issued, I think in January, was an attempt to prove Russian interference in the election, which focused disproportionately on RT. It was a basis for them to first disclose the amount of advertising RT had taken out to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Now Twitter in a blog post has said that the ODNI report is the inspiration for this decision it took today.”
The report, Blumenthal said, is “very disturbing for anyone who cares about press freedom. If you actually look at the report, eight out of 23 pages are dedicated to RT. Most of them are dedicated to one show: ‘Breaking the Set,’ which was the creation of Abby Martin, and it is a decidedly left wing, anti-establishment show. The ODNI explicitly accuses ‘Breaking the Set,’ which had been on-air until 2015, of promoting, in their words, ‘radical discontent.’ It’s really the ‘radical discontent’ of RT and Sputnik that inspired Twitter’s decision to remove them from their advertising.”
To Fein, the entire story of Russian interference in the 2016 election is a boondoggle concocted by what he calls the ‘multi-trillion dollar military industrial counterterrorism complex.’ “They run everything in this town, and [they have] the money and the resources and the bribes, they can pay for people to come in and show that Russia is the next bogeyman. Because what’s going to happen, after we get rid of [Islamic terror groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda]? We’ve got to have Russia come back to justify spending these trillions of dollars on boondoggles. This shows how broad, how octopus-like this grip on everything is.”
“I think this problem is going to become more acute, rather than less. The government is now beyond being a leviathan, and everybody, including Twitter and Facebook all have their financial outs depending, in part, on getting some kind of cooperation with the government. They have government contracts, or subcontracts, or something or another. They’re willing to compromise their First Amendment obligation to be open and and clear with the American people to be exposed to different viewpoints. The American people are gonna lose and the financial bottom line and the military industrial complex is going to win.”