Would FB have allowed Hitler to post?

My former student and CAS alum Sonari Glinton drew my attention to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s recent statement and op-ed on Hitler and Facebook. I had seen the headline when it was first reported but didn’t think it was very significant. Hitler is always a convenient way of stirring our emotions. Setting aside SBC, what is the substantive issue?

Hitler was undoubtedly a brilliant master of propaganda and the mistake people made was to underestimate how easy it was to manipulate public opinion, and how ruthless and disciplined the Nazis were going to be when it came to controlling the media. The critical term here is Gleichschaltung. We see some of the same tactic used by autocratic rulers today. The incarceration of upwards of a million Uyghurs in Chinese “reeducation” camps represents a chilling, underreported case.

So what about FB and free speech in the US? We are experiencing a curious and novel phenomenon that cannot be explained by the analogy with Nazi Germany. There is so much information mixed with mis-information that people are confused, tune out, or make the choice of only listening to what they agree with, stifling true political discourse and debate. This “polarization” is stoked by the propagandists who sow confusion, stoke emotion, and seed disintegration. 

So, what is the antidote? In my view, it is very simple. Rather than singling out FB, US Congress should bring back the FCC Fairness Rule, which was in place until 1987. The Fairness Rule, first introduced in the US in the 1930’s, just as Nazis and Bolsheviks were shutting down dissent, guaranteed that mass media had to offer fair and balanced reporting, to assure listeners and viewers were exposed to different points of view. The insular worlds we inhabit today are the result of the Reagan administration’s elimination of the Fairness Rule.

Would FB have allowed Hitler to post is therefore the wrong question. FB is an easy target. Instead of attacking a single enterprise, no matter how big, we should call our lawmakers and impose rules of good behavior on all media outlets. Bring back the Fairness Rule!

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