I have memories of those days when it appeared to people on the internet that a new counterculture was emerging from the Right. It sounds ridiculous when you take into account the fact that lots of the mainstream media says most of the same things they do, but people think about things like chan boards and assume that their brand of toxic far-right politics is some kind of underground counterculture, some resistance to mainstream values. What if I were to tell you that this was all bullshit from the start? What if far from some underground counterculture all of that was actually a manufactured, controlled environment that was created from the start by powerful right-wing establishments as vehicles of authoritarian culture through which to spread right-wing reaction? And what if I told you there’s more, that this itself is part of a global system of social reaction which serves to maintain oppression and social domination across the world? That’s what I aim to show you in this article, through an exposition of World Order as it exists.
How The Japanese Government Engineered A New Right-Wing Internet Culture
The main place to start would be the chan forums. 4chan and 8chan are fairly notorious in their own right, sometimes looked upon as supposed havens of freedom of speech, and places were an assortment of online reactionaries, deep in their utter ressentiment, organise harassment campaigns or even attacks on, well, just about anyone they happen to dislike, which can tend to include online progressives and people from historically marginalized communities. They have also been used as channels for spreading white supremacist manifestos and propaganda, including texts written by perpetrators of mass shootings. They were also the initial base of operations for the harassment campaign/failed “consumer revolt” that was dubbed “GamerGate”, and people have gone on to become convinced of white supremacist ideology there before committing acts of mass murder in its name; they were even among the many websites where right-wing insurrectionists planned the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6th 2021 as well as a home for the fascist QAnon movement. Another website, the recently-terminated Kiwifarms, spun-off from 8chan and was explicitly set up as a place to anonymously harass, dox and threaten LGBTQ people and non-neurotypical people to enforce violent bigotry against them. All of these websites have, in their own way, played a role in the growth of right-wing politics in the 21st century so far, including getting the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign to share memes from them.
Now, where am I going with this? 8chan was created in 2013 by Fredrick Brennan and modelled after 4chan as a more “free speech” alternative to 4chan. 4chan was created in 2003 by Christopher Poole, who was inspired by and used open source code from a Japanese imageboard website called Futaba Channel (a.k.a. 2chan). Futaba Channel, in turn, was created in 2001 supposedly as a refuge for users of another website called 2channel, back when said users feared that 2channel was in danger of shutting down. 2channel was created in 1999 by Hiroyuki Nishimura, who many people in the “West” may know as the man who bought 4chan from Christopher Poole in 2015 and is now still currently its administrator. As you can see, there’s something of a creative lineage with these websites that goes back to 2channel. Why is that important? Because 2channel itself, and its creator, may in fact be tied to the Japanese political establishment; more specifically, the Liberal Democratic Party.
Before we go any further, we really need to establish just who the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party are. If you’ve dipped your toes in Japanese politics, you probably know that they are currently the ruling political party in Japan, and have enjoyed basically consistent dominance in the Japanese general elections since 1958. When you hear the phrase “Liberal Democrats” in other contexts, such as in the United Kingdom, you probably think of people who want a modestly regulated form of market capitalism, meaning of course rudimentary public services and regulations coupled with expansive social rights all within the context of liberal capitalism. But that’s not really what the Japanese LDP are about. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is actually the main conservative party in Japan, fairly similar to the Tories in the UK or Canada or even the Republican Party in the United States of America. They have overseen the growth of a neoliberal capitalist economic order, marked by extensive privatisation, alongside forging close geopolitical and economic ties to the USA and imposing generally reactionary social policies. They are also staunchly nationalistic, known increasingly for its emphasis on “patriotic education” and efforts to “take back Japan” from the “Postwar Regime”, by which is meant the undoing of Japan’s postwar national identity in favour of militarisation and an identity closer to the pre-WW2 vision. In fact, many LDP politicians and even Prime Ministers, such as the late Shinzo Abe as well as Yoshihide Suga and Fumio Kishia, are members of an ultranationalist think tank called Nippon Kaigi, which contests or outright denies certain atrocities that Japan committed during World War 2. Given its illustrious membership, Nippon Kaigi thus emerges as one of the pillars of the Japanese political establishment, arguably equivalent to the role played by the Federalist Society in the American conservative establishment. For this reason, some argue that the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party could actually be considered a far-right movement, and not just part of one.
You might ask: so what does this have to do with 2channel? Well, there’s an article from the Japanese branch of Anonymous that talked about a split between 2channel’s ownership, and in the process discussed apparent links between the LDP and Japanese imageboards. In that article, we learn that 2channel was sponsored by a company called Hotlink through a man named Yuki Uchiyama, the president of Hotlink who was also Hiroyuki Nishimura’s business partner. Hotlink seems to have been a data company that had an exclusive contract with 2channel, under which Yuki Uchiyama would monitor and delete any negative threads and comments about its customers – a service that Hotlink apparently liked to brag about. Now, as it happens, one of Hotlink’s customers was the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. The LDP hired Hotlink for its services for the 2013 House of Councillors election, and all the contracts and money went from the LDP to Hotlink and then in turn to 2channel and its then-owner Hiroyuki Nishimura. This may explain some observations that some of 2channel’s users have noted.
Much like its American cousins, 2channel was a website where right-wing ideology was fairly common, bigotry was prevalent, and users sometimes engaged in coordinated online attacks against political opponents. Opponents of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan have had their posts on 2channel removed under Hiroyuki Nishimura’s moderation, or, in the case of anti-nuclear activists such as Naoto Kan, they have faced defamation from LDP supporters probably on 2channel. In fact, it seems that 2channel and certain affiliated websites have manipulated Google search results in Japan in order to boost xenophobic nationalist propaganda against South Korea and Koreans, all under LDP direction. Users also seem to have noticed that attacks on such figures and redactions of critical posts all seem to have ceased after Hiroyuki Nishimura lost ownership of 2channel on February 19th 2014, when it was acquired by Jim Watkins.
Meanwhile, over the years Hiroyuki Nishimura has continued to maintain connections to the Japanese government. Nishimura had a business partnership with a telecommunications company called Dwango, which in turn was involved in the 4chan acquisition deal, featured Nishimura as a guest for a live election broadcast on Niconico, and is connected to LDP politicians and has had an affinity with Shinzo Abe and the LDP itself. In fact, the LDP Vice President Taro Aso was part of a correspondence course on politics run by Kadokawa Dwango Gakuen, while Shinzo Abe has appeared in Nico Nico Super Conferences organised by Dwango. In August of this year, Nishimura appeared in a PR video released by the Financial Services Agency, a state financial regulatory body, which has sparked some outrage on social media over his apparent failure to pay court-ordered compensation. The video shows him talking to Hideki Takada, an FSA director, about a tax exemption scheme among other things. Hiroyuki Nishimura also apparently has multiple connections to Japanese media companies, possibly owing to his status as a sort of media celebrity, including AbemaTV (where he has his own show), which, incidentally, is also somewhat connected to the LDP. According to a Japanese anti-fascist researcher named Mitsuwo, another network called TV Asahi has a 50% share in AbemaTV. TV Asahi is known to have some ties to Shinzo Abe, and is also known to have pulled a report which said that Abe was being questioned by prosecutors over possible violations of political funding laws. In 2021, Hiroyuki Nishimura was hired by Fukuoka City as a technical advisor for their digital innovation project, while later that year it seems he became a digital advisor for Yoshihide Suga, the then-Prime Minister of Japan. Just this year he became the corporate PR advisor to Fukuoka City.
Based on this it is clear that Hiroyuki Nishimura is more than an internet businessman. He’s also deeply connected to not only the tech bourgeoisie in Japan but also several figures of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, and is now a de jure employee of the Japanese government. What many on 2channel suspected and which Anonymous had more or less unraveled has more than proven true over the years, and for all intents and purposes Hiroyuki Nishimura is a fixture of the Japanese establishment. After creating 2channel Nishimura rose to prominence in the Japanese business world, where he made deals with the government to run 2channel to its liking, and in so doing he helped lay the foundations for a modern right-wing internet culture where mobs of online reactionaries engage in elaborate trolling campaigns against counter-reactionaries of any sort while upholding right-wing ideology and even hosting and disseminating white supremacist manifestos. For the Japanese government that could all have just been to reinforce an already existing controlled environment supported by complacence in the masses and self-censorship in the media, but on the internet, even though 2channel may ostensibly have been created with freedom of speech, it was run as its own controlled environment, and even without moderation or state oversight the descendants of 2channel have been doing their part to create controlled environments in their own space and the wider internet.
Jim Watkins and the QAnon Connection
A fairly important figure in all of this is Jim Watkins, the current owner of 2channel. For one thing, Jim Watkins is also currently the owner of 8chan, which is itself partnered with 2channel, having acquired the website from its creator in 2016. For another thing, Jim Watkins has had several ventures in both internet business and politics. In 1998, he created a US-based website called “Asian Bikini Bar”, which was later renamed N. T. Technologies, as a way to host pornography, particularly Japanese pornography, and also began selling web hosting to Japanese pornography websites so that they could circumvent legal censorship. From there, Jim Watkins became involved in several different business ventures, and in 2016 he began a right-wing media project called The Goldwater (named, of course, after Barry Goldwater), which was intended as the main news source for 8chan users. From what we can gather about its content, The Goldwater was sort of like if Breitbart were more enthusiastic about QAnon-style deep state and even PizzaGate conspiracy theories, effectively styled itself as sort of the “Charlie’s Angels” of right-wing news (they had videos hosted by Jim in secret agent garb and a team of Fillppina women), and all while ignoring “mainstream” social media in favour almost exclusively of 8chan.
Ironically, The Goldwater wasn’t actually too popular on 8chan, whose users derided it out of antisemitic prejudice regarding its “Jewish name”. But The Goldwater is not Jim Watkins’ only vehicle for conspiracist right-wing politics. 8chan itself was, under his ownership, a place where users would frequently spread memes and discussed far-right culture jamming in support of the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign, and over the years overt white supremacist propaganda would also frequently be distributed on 8chan. Jim Watkins himself even personally takes credit for the election of Donald Trump in 2016 at least through his website. Furthermore, Jim Watkins seems to have established himself as a major part of the QAnon movement, which, what a surprise, also finds widespread support within 8chan. In fact, there is some fairly credible (though still unconfirmed) speculation among experts that either Jim Watkins or his son Ron are the real identity behind the mysterious “Q”. As evidence, some suggest that the lack of content from “Q” after 8chan got shut down in August 2019, followed by the sudden return of “Q” three months later when 8chan went back online, indicates that “Q” was either Jim Watkins himself or connected to him. We might also consider Jim Watkins’ leaked connections to prominent members of the QAnon movement. Ron Watkins is himself a known QAnon and MAGA influencer, frequently peddling conspiracy theories with a particular focus on discredited claims of widespread election fraud.
Jim Watkins has also had some involvement with Kiwifarms, having provided infrastructure through a company called VanwaTech (which is owned by Nick Lim). He has also tried and seemingly failed to establish a right-wing super PAC called Disarm The Deep State, which was intended to bring Watkins into mainstream Republican politics by establishing financial ties to GOP candidates. As strange it may seem, though, he may have another major connection to the international right-wing movement. That connection is none other than Hiroyuki Nishimura – the same man he “stole” 2channel from.
Last year, Mitsuwo seems to have spotted something interesting regarding the surprising presence of the QAnon movement in Japan. Hiroyuki Nishimura appeared as the co-host of a conservative internet programme on AbemaTV. This programme also apparently featured numerous right-wing politicians as well as members of QArmyJapanFlynn (QAJF), which seems to be a Japanese branch of the QAnon movement. According to Mitsuwo, QAJF is operated by Jim and Ron Watkins. Watkins may have ties with the apparent leader of QAJF, a woman named Eri. Eri has also promoted Hiroyuki Nishimura and his AbemaTV show, and she claims that Jim Watkins and Hiroyuki Nishimura have recently exchanged information. The show ostensibly features QAJF members as the butt of a joke, but Nishimura also uses this to give them a platform, thus potentially seeking to normalize QAnon in Japan.
Incidentally, this connection is definitely not the only avenue through which the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party has connections to the American Right. There’s actually a Japanese branch of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which I’m sure you probably know as the biggest Republican Party conference in America. CPAC Japan was founded and first launched in 2017 by Jikido Aeba, the former leader of the Happy Science cult, in association with the American Conservative Union. Over the years it has been attended not only by American right-wing ideologues, but also by members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. These include Masahisa Sato (LDP member of the House of Councillors), Tomomi Inada (LDP member of the House of Representatives), Akari Amari (LDP member of the House of Representatives), Gen Nakatani (former Minister of Defense), and Takashi Nagao (LDP member of the House of Representatives). It has also been host to nationalist historical revisionists such as Genki Fujii, Kohyu Nishimura, Eitaro Ogawa, Takashi Arimoto (from the revisionist right-wing paper Sankei Shimbun), Tsutomu Nishioka, and none other than Jikido Aeba himself, all of whom seem to be particularly interested in trying to exonerate the Japanese army by denying that it practiced sexual slavery.
In broad terms, though, we can consider the possibility that Jim Watkins, even though he’s failed in many of his other ventures, he has been somewhat successful in establishing a network of neofascist internet politics that seems to be molding the American Right in its image, possibly threatening to replace US democracy with outright dictatorship in the process, and not to mention managing to spread it across the world. QAnon is not just in the USA and Japan. It has also been documented in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Romania, and probably many more countries. Given Jim’s apparent continuing business with Hiroyuki Nishimura, and given how QAnon was likely built by Watkins and then spread there with Nishimura’s help, it’s worth speculating that QAnon is part of the next step in a larger project.
Ordered Liberty And How “Free Speech” Exists Within It
There’s a concept that I find relevant to all of this in some way. It may seem abstract, but there’s a thread that can be established. By “ordered liberty”, I’m mostly talking about a concept frequently referenced by Matthew MacManus in his critiques of Jordan Peterson. “Ordered liberty”, in this context, means a strand of conservative ideology which supports the institutions of democracy insofar as they remain embedded within the constraints of “traditional” values systems. MacManus refers to Jordan Peterson’s ideology as “ordered liberty conservatism”, but the thing is it could as well describe conservatism at large. “Ordered liberty” is an idea within the broader ideology of conservatism. In conservative circles, Edmund Burke is often regarded as an early champion of this idea, and his notion of “ordered liberty” refers to the idea that, for freedom to be legitimate as freedom, it must comport with the order of “natural law”, or a set of institutions deemed to reflect that order, or else it would become dangerous and evil.
I could get into how such an idea of liberty seems to be influential far beyond conservatism, and that even “leftists” tend to embrace Burkean concepts of freedom, civil society, and even human nature especially when arguing against individualism, but that’s not within the scope of this article. Instead let’s talk about how relevant it is to our overriding subject. After all, you’d think “ordered liberty” doesn’t even remotely describe the kind of internet that Nishimura, Watkins and the rest helped create. Especially not Watkins, who is known for a certain “hands-off” approach to illicit materials. But perhaps we could look at “ordered liberty” another way in order to make sense of it.
The conservative premise of “ordered liberty” tells us that freedom must exist within a definite social order defined by institutions in order to exist, and that any liberty that exists outside of this is not freedom but instead either “anarchy” or tyranny. In practice, this means that “freedom” in conservative terms is the condition of a controlled environment. Moral and political institutions set the boundaries of legitimate free action and even speech, whilst proscribing anything outside of that. In modern terms this is then recapitulated as the assertion of unmitigated liberty against restriction, and particularly when it comes to “freedom of speech”. The UK offers us a very illustrative example. Stop and wonder why the same party that sought to lead the way in online censorship is also presenting itself as the champion of freedom of speech, all the while even this itself is a call to academic censorship. Tories constantly accuse student bodies of being controlled environments that are supported by ruthless censorship of political opposition, while simultaneously, on this same justification, calling for restrictions on freedom of association in campus spaces, banning critical theory, and imposing restrictions on your right to protest. It must all seem like rank hypocrisy, but that’s “ordered liberty” in action, and “liberty” here is the range of choices allowed by the state.
So far, so what, though? Well let’s look at it this way. Nishimura definitely portrayed 2channel as sort of a free speech haven, where people could anonymously and therefore freely say things that could be deemed socially irresponsible. But 2channel under Nishimura’s ownership was still a controlled environment, run on behalf of the Japanese government, in which threads that opposed the government would be redacted, while right-wing mobs formed to defend the government from criticism and manipulate search engines to control what you see on the internet. “Free speech” in this setting is not freedom of speech as such. It is in fact a byword for a right-wing echo chamber, a controlled environment created in support of government interests.
The same thing applies to Twitter in its current state of ownership under Elon Musk. Like anyone else on the Right, Elon repeatedly invokes the “free speech” argument in support of his administration of Twitter. In fact he repeatedly positions his own idea of “free”, open, and “civil” discourse as the foundation of democracy and of civilization itself. Except that, where Elon is concerned, the discourse is always carefully controlled, and in fact, as I will soon lay out and as I’m sure many readers are probably aware, Elon now has more control over what you can say than ever. Not to mention, before owning Twitter, Elon has gone to ridiculous lengths to impose censorship on his critics. Examples include the time his company SpaceX fired several employees for demanding better working conditions, the time he tried to censor an online critic by taddling to his boss and later threatening to sue the critic, multiple instances of firing Tesla employees for unionizing, whistleblowing, or even just creating instructional videos, and on top of all that his attempts to get the Chinese government to block social media criticism of Tesla. Ironically enough he actually wrote a column for a magazine currently called China Cyberspace, which was created and is run by the Cyberspace Administration of China, which is a major Chinese state apparatus of online censorship, to promote his overall utopian technological vision for humanity.
If the premise of “ordered liberty” is that freedom, in order to exist, must exist within a social order defined by institutions, the reproduction of this arrangement is the definition of freedom within the institution of Twitter as controlled by Elon Musk. “Free speech” in this setting is very simply the range of speech dictated within Elon Musk’s sphere of influence. “Freedom” coming from this standpoint does not mean freedom in itself, and in fact actually denotes a controlled environment.
The Reality Of Right-Wing Controlled Environments
The modern internet is a precarious place, its apparent sense of freedom giving way to a reality dominated by a host of controlled environments vying for power. These controlled environments are complex, often functioning as disincentives or pressures arrayed against contrary speech, thereby producing a chilling effect typically aimed at suppressing already marginalized communities.
A very illustrative example in this regard would be Kiwifarms. The website’s supporters and its owner Josh Moon have frequently appealed to freedom of speech in order to justify its existence, and all the moreso since the website got taken down from Cloudflare following public pressure via Clara Sorrenti’s campaign. But think carefully about just what “free speech” means to them. Never mind the usual argument about “the freedom to do hate speech”, what tells us more is what happens inside Kiwifarms itself. The entire website was started up to harass, dox, and abuse trans and autistic people, or just whoever they happen to dislike. On top of that, even members of Kiwifarms can sometimes find themselves doxxed by other members on the website over some drama, or some disagreement with the moderators. Now, what “free speech” is that, when you can be doxxed inside that forum potentially for saying something the moderators don’t like? But in a broader sense, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the point for these people is to essentially take it upon themselves to intimidate people into silence for expressing themselves in a way that they don’t like. If you think about it from that standpoint, the entire way they talk about “free speech” comes to be seen as an illusion; not because of some point to be made about the limits of freedom of speech – a discussion invariably contained almost solely within the bounds of the logic of liberal statehood – but because cultivating free speech was never the point.
Motivated by reactionary ideologies, Kiwifarms’ userbase intimidate people online, often literally purposefully bullying them into suicide, in order to silence them. They’ll deny this of course, especially the suicide part (even though they gloat about it in their own spaces), and they tend to concoct their own rationales for what they think they’re “really” doing, but we know from how they act and the website’s stated purpose that they just do this to silence people. And the obvious reason for it is to control what can be expressed on the internet, all while claiming to fight just that sort of authoritarianism. Josh Moon makes this clear enough in ways that perhaps he doesn’t mean to. Whenever the opportunity arises, Josh presents his own ideological views on what he thinks is modern society, and he’s very explicit about how he believes trans people are trying to brainwash and exploit children – that’s basically his transphobic way of talking about the fact that trans kids are real and should be allowed to receive gender affirming care/surgery. Now, if you seriously believe that trans people are coming for your kids somehow, you will probably act on this bigoted belief in a number ways. You’ll treat them as mentally ill predators, you’ll probably ally with reactionary authoritarians who want to implement transphobic policies, you’ll probably bully them online or physically assault them, and you’ll probably dox them under the belief that driving them out of public life will stop them from doing whatever it is you somehow believe they’re doing. Kiwifarms was designed with that whole process in mind. Doing this means creating an environment where certain people aren’t safe on the internet, which in turn means that said people can’t express themselves freely without facing basically violent harrassment, which in turn means that an organised mob of people have effectively controlled what you can and can’t say or do on the internet.
In the case of Twitter, “freedom of speech” under Elon Musk has seen the start of Twitter’s transformation into a right-wing controlled environment. Several anti-fascist accounts have been banned or suspended, frequently in connection to criticisms they made of Elon Musk. These include Chad Loder, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club, Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists, Crimethinc, Vishal P. Singh, Alexander Dial, Garland Nixon, Dean Baker, Andrew Lawrence, and @.bonnotgalaxy. In fact, it seems these bans have often been requested by right-wing activists who asked Elon Musk to “take action” on their behalf. Crimethinc, for instance, was banned after Andy Ngo complained to Elon about how they “created riot guides” and “claimed attacks”. Crimethinc was also put on a massive leaked list of “antifa” accounts created by far-right activists to target for mass report spamming for the sole purpose of getting them banned. In a similar trend, fascists like James Lyndsay and his fans are actually calling for Elon Musk to “do something” about the fact that people keep posting an image of him posing with Nicki Clyne, an actual human trafficker and high-ranking member of the abusive sex cult NXIVM. Meanwhile some bans appear to be more or less connected to criticism of Elon Musk and anti-fascist reporting and commentary in general, possibly also affected by right-wing mass flagging. Vishal P. Singh got suspended just hours after tweeting about Andy Ngo’s connection to and apparent support for known paedophiles like Amos Yee and Deme Cooper. Chad Loder was suspended after reporting a major data breach on Twitter affecting millions of users in the USA and EU. An account called Cryptoterra was suspended shortly after posting an image of Elon Musk with Ghislaine Maxwell to Elon Musk’s account.
And then there’s just the bizarre proposals Elon put forward for improving Twitter functionality or, ironically, “combatting hate speech” which, at face value, makes it seem like he doesn’t actually know what freedom of speech is. On November 6th, Elon stated that any Twitter accounts “engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody'” would be permanently suspended, following a wave of Twitter accounts satirically impersonating Elon Musk, often explicitly stating the satirical purpose. A few days earlier, on November 4th, in an interview with Ron Baron (founder and CEO of Baron Capital Management) conducted at the 29th Annual Baron Investment Conference, Elon told investors that Twitter Blue’s payment-verification system would ensure that verified users would be constantly prioritized while unverified users would be pushed almost inaccessibly to the bottom a given Twitter feed. Of course, how exactly this is supposed to “suppress hate speech” is beyond me when I consider that actual Nazis could pay to be verified and be able to post excruciating antisemitic bile all day long. But, in practice, the effect is that those who don’t pay $8 a month to be on Twitter Blue would effectively have their speech suppressed in favour of the speech of those who do. On November 18th, Elon tweeted that “negative/hate tweets” will be deboosted and demonetized, which would result ad revenue being denied and the tweets in question being effectively buried (you would have to search for them to find them rather than them appearing on your feed): in summary, Elon announced that he accounts posting “negative tweets” would be shadowbanned. In fact, if anything, it’s possible that Elon could actually codify shadowbanning as Twitter policy in a way that it perhaps wasn’t before. All told, Elon’s plans to make a “free speech” plaftorm of Twitter actually amount to a significant reduction of freedom of speech on the platform.
It’s easy to draw some conclusions about the nature of the controlled environment Twitter will become. If you consider who benefits from Elon’s payment-verification system, those who pay into it versus those who don’t, you can tell who is going to be prioritized and who will be suppressed. Many right-wingers will pay for Twitter Blue, and in fact having the blue checkmark itself figures as a cultural signpost: whereas the Right previously despised and mocked the blue checkmark as a figure of some hated liberal authority, now it becomes a symbol of authentification, a sign that you are a part of Elon Musk’s Twitter, and not having it has changed from a mark of conservative “authenticity” to a mark of liberal petulance or even bourgeois class status. Many anti-fascists or “leftists”, on the other hand, recognize the absurdity of the principle of having to pay $8 to be verified on Twitter, but that also means that, as a result of Elon’s proposals, their tweets will be buried. This means that Elon’s payment-verification system is structurally advantageous to the Right, in that it assures right-wing dominance of Twitter’s public square. Moreover, the fact that Elon appears to be actively responding to the requests of right-wing activists to take down or suppress tweets or accounts that they personally don’t like, or seemingly allowing right-wing mass flagging to take down accounts, further shows that Elon is working to control what information you can and cannot see on Twitter, and he is doing so with a right-wing ideological vision in mind, often at the direct behest of far-right activists. This is what must be kept in mind whenever you hear people talk about Twitter as though it is some kind of “free speech anarchy”, because the simple truth is that it’s not. When Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter, conservatives have proclaimed their newfound “freedom” by espousing 2020 election denial and statements of transphobia, but people could already freely say those things on Twitter before Elon Musk acquired it. Thus, what has changed now is not that people are actually “free” to say whatever they want, but rather that certain people are now privileged to speak while others are buried and could actually expect to be banned. Twitter is not a “freewheeling haven of free speech”; it’s a place that is being dictated by Elon and his fascist friends.
But there’s more as well, because Elon Musk’s Twitter dragnet does not weigh only on “Western” users. There remains the possibility, considered increasingly by analysts, that Elon Musk may ultimately sell data from Chinese Twitter users to the Chinese government, not unlike how Hiroyuki Nishimura sold data from 2channel users to corporations before. As Tesla continually tries to expand into Chinese automobile markets, it is entirely possible that Elon Musk, as the owner of both Tesla and Twitter and as a businessman interested in maintaining ties with China, could be leveraged into fulfilling demands that allow the Chinese state to expand its ability to suppress information that it doesn’t like. This could put dissenters in China, and other similarly authoritarian countries, at an increased risk of repression by the state, and it would it make Twitter a controlled environment on two fronts: domestically, it would be an environment where “free speech” is a byword for the privilege of right-wing voices supported by the suppression of anti-fascist dissent, while internationally it allows greater scope for authoritarian regimes to directly repress their citizenry. Keeping in mind, of course, that Chinese internet is itself a controlled environment of its own, with information tightly controlled by Chinese state agencies and nationalistic pro-CPC opinion reinforced at home and abroad by legions of paid as well as unpaid activists whose job it is to indirectly control the narrative on behalf of the government.
There’s a different sort of controlled environment we can discuss that arcs in a very similar way, though it sort of plays out opposite to how the 2channel saga did. You may have heard of a Russian social media website called VKontakte. It is often popularly described as the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It was created in 2006 by a man named Pavel Durov, who initially established the website as a barely moderated hub for all sorts of internet content, from pirated music to illicit pornography. VKontakte also may have served as a network for protests against the Russian government, such as during widespread protests against the 2011 legislative election. The Russian government at that point sought to control the flow of information on social media and regulate them so that they might conform to the political interests of the Russian state. From 2012 the Russian government began putting the screws on VKontakte, beginning with a government blacklist for websites it deemed harmful to children. At the same time, however, it was also revealed that Pavel Durov had been sharing VKontakte user data with the Russian government. Then, in 2014, when VKontakte refused to take down posts and groups that were affiliated with the Ukrainian Euromaidan, Russian authorities began searching VKontakte’s offices while running its founder out of the country with false accusations of running over a police officer. Of course, the Ukrainian government would later ban VKontakte in 2017 on the grounds that it was waging “information aggression” against Ukraine. After this VKontakte was taken over by Mail.ru, an internet company which, until 2018, was controlled by an oligarch named Alisher Usmanov, who is reputed to have ties to Vladimir Putin. Incidentally, Usmanov himself is also known for playing a role in the suppression of online and media criticism against both himself and the Russian government.
Over the years, VKontakte forged closer and closer ties to the Russian government. Beginning in 2016, the website complied with Russian legislation requiring it to store all information and data from all users to be processed by the Roskomnadzor, blocking all content prohibited by the government, and also promoting pro-government content. According to VKontakte insiders, the company hands over user data to the government whenever they ask. According to Article 19, a human rights group, VKontakte has cooperated more thoroughly and unquestioningly with the Russian government than any other social network. Although many of the users affected were people who ostensibly posted xenophobic content, the law also effectively suppressed anti-war activists. For example, in 2015, an activist named Darya Polyudova was sentenced to two years in prison for posting against the Russian government and its ongoing war in Ukraine. As of 2021, VKontakte is currently controlled by Gazprom, a multinational energy corporation owned by the Russian state, further solidifying the company’s economic and institutional connection to the government.
To take stock of this is to understand that what you can say and see on VKontakte is pretty much directly controlled and monitored by the Russian government, and furthermore that this would affect not only Russian citizens but also VKontakte users elsewhere in Russia’s sphere of influence. If, for instance, Russia were to somehow succeed in absorbing Ukraine into Russian sovereignty by completing the invasion, Ukrainian citizens would have their data collected by the Russian government and used to bring criminal charges against Ukrainians who might oppose Russian rule, as well as LGBTQ people who would be accused of “spreading gay propaganda”. The scope increases when we keep in mind Russia’s overall imperial ambition to reabsorb the former Soviet territories into its sphere of influence, thereby establishing a huge controlled environment spanning parts of the European and Asian continents.
Now a lot of this does come back to the Right in some ways, and broader conservative projects to remake the internet in their image. But let’s not forget that mainstream social media is every bit a part of this, including the official adversaries of the Right. Facebook has long been accused of disproportionately censoring conservative opinion, especially by US Republican lawmakers eager to tighten the screws on the company. But in reality, not only is Facebook not disproportionately censoring conservatives, Facebook have repeatedly brought in right-wing ideologues to work on its administration, designated Breitbart News as a “trusted news source”, and actively suppressed progressive news sources such as Mother Jones. In fact, as a concession to the hard right, Mark Zuckerberg replaced human editors with an algorithm that would be susceptible to manipulation by right-wing actors who could then control the flow of newsfeed information. On top of that, Facebook does not reveal analytics on what news stories receive traffic on Facebook, which means that we probably have no idea about the actual nature of Facebook news feeds. Considering that Facebook’s administration does consist of right-wing ideologues and considering the actual proclivity towards concession to the Right, if we did not know better then perhaps we might assume that Facebook itself manufactures the whole “conservative censorship” narrative to drive up right-wing outrage and in turn media traffic, and then from there fuel the cycle that furthers the growth of right-wing controlled environments across the plane of social media. What we know from Facebook insiders absolutely suggests that Facebook is actively manipulating the flow of information so as to control what news sources you can see.
Conclusion: “Free Speech” and the Order of the World
The notion that the internet is a free-for-all is strictly a dysfunctional myth. Liberal commentators need to be able to present the current landscape as the Wild West of cyberspace in order to argue that democratic governments need to extend their regulatory powers over social media. In the case of the United Kingdom, such concerns among others are repeatedly weaponized by a press more or less allied with a state that ultimately aims to introduce legislation such as the Online Safety Bill to erode the right to privacy and curtail freedom of expression. The reality, though, is not the absence of control but instead the dominance of it. The cream of the bourgeoisie, often in conjunction with reactionary governments, politicians, and fascist activists, are controlling what you can say and see on the internet, or at least doing their best in that regard, with the aim of slowly reshaping the internet into a series of totalitarian controlled environments suitable to both their ideological proclivities and their economic interests (for people like Elon Musk the point is to have an authoritarian echo chamber that he can also make money with).
To even engage the conversation about the limits of freedom of speech is ultimately to miss the point and fight in the wrong battlefield, because “free speech” in the reactionary parlance relevant to this is ultimately just code for the privileging of speech, which is then reinforced by censorship. The architects of a new garden of controlled environments want you to take the claim of freedom of speech at face value, when in reality they’re not building anything like that. Instead, they’re creating an internet where dissent against the managers is suppressed in various ways, some more sophisticated or even stochastic than others, and “speech” exists within the personal limits of said managers. World order in this parlance is the generalized state of management that exists internationally, in terms of the internet we’re talking about a vast complex of authoritarian infrastructures centered around control and profit.
This is part of the reality of the re-ascension of fascism in the context of a growing trend of reactionary backlash, itself existing alongside the general feedback loop between capitalist growth and technological development that itself arcs almost inevitably towards the concentration of state power. There is no “new world order” here, as such, there is only the world order, and it is the sum of these relationships and structures of domination.
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of bourgeois discourse surrounding freedom of speech. Trust me, we’ve seen the same argument for years play out leading up ultimately to the landscape we see before us. “Free speech” to these people just means certain kinds of speech, namely theirs, gets to be protected or outright privileged while others still get suppressed, all at the expense of any concept of freedom of association. And all that ends up happening is that people get caught up in this end up defending the worst people imaginable while blind to the system of control developing around them and which they have become part of. The other side of that just takes at face value that anarchy is afoot when in reality what’s happening is that the speech and information are being controlled by the same people who tell you that they are liberating it.
This whole landscape should be regarded as a zone of resistance, contradiction, and social war, instead of discourse as leveraged by competing visions of control. The only answer to world order is to negate it entirely.
One thought on “World Order: An inquiry on global reaction in the digital age”
Highly intelligent take on things far superior to what I see written nowadays about the topics above.