by Brian Balfour

“The vast majority of commercial and industrial establishments are now working not for the free market but for the government.” V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution; 1917

This Lenin quote leapt to mind amid the recent revelations coming from the “Twitter files” and exposed over the past several weeks. Among other disclosures, the files revealed direct lines of communication between government agencies, including the FBI and Department of Defense, and the social media company.

Twitter was found to not only be a landing spot for many agents in the government intelligence community, but also doing the bidding of agencies to suppress information deemed to be antithetical to the agencies’ goals and preferred narratives. Indeed, journalist Matt Taibbi went so far as to describe Twitter as an “FBI subsidiary.”

And it wasn’t just Twitter that the government targeted. Late last month Elon Musk tweeted “*Every* social media company is engaged in heavy censorship, with significant involvement of and, at times, explicit direction of the government,” illustrating his point by saying, “Google frequently makes links disappear, for example.”

Such revelations undercut many defenders of tech giants, who insist “they’re private companies, they can do what they want.” Instead, we must ask: are these truly ‘private companies’ in any meaningful sense?

Indeed, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman are all nominally “private companies.” But they are private in name only because they are in reality appendages of the state, relying on defense contracts (not market transactions) for their success.

We should treat big tech companies with the same skepticism we apply to tools of the military industrial complex. Certainly so after the “Twitter file” revelations.

In his quote above, Lenin was, of course, bragging about the progress made toward complete nationalization of industry in the Soviet Union of the time.

But we can also consider his statement as descriptive. When your main mission is to do the bidding of the state, rather than serving consumers in the voluntary marketplace, you are not really a private company in the true sense of the term. Your company is not a market phenomenon.

It’s no longer possible to defend social media corporations on the basis of private property rights, because big tech are what Michael Rectenwald would describe as “governmentalities,” not private companies.

Michael Rectenwald, former professor of liberal studies at New York University and author of the book “Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom,” provided context for how he believes tech goliaths like Google and Twitter come to do the state’s bidding in a November 2020 lecture.

“In a series of lectures entitled Security, Territory, Population, the postmodern theorist Michel Foucault introduced the term ‘governmentality’ to refer to the distribution of state power to the population, or the transmission of governance to the governed,” Rectenwald noted.

“Foucault referred to the means by which the populace comes to govern itself as it adopts and personalizes the imperatives of the state, or how the governed adopt the mentality desired by the government—govern-mentality,” he added.

Rectenwald, however, went even further than Foucault. “I adopt and amend the term to include the distribution of state power to extra-governmental agents—in particular to the extension and transfer of state power to supposedly private enterprises.”

What transpires, then, is a form of ‘governmentalization’ of nominally private enterprises, rather than the privatization of government functions that free market advocates prefer.

How intertwined with the government are the tech giants? The relationship predates the more recent phenomena revealed by Elon Musk’s divulgences.

“First, both Google and Facebook received start-up capital—both directly and indirectly—from US intelligence agencies,” Rectenwald informs us. In their early days, Google in particular was heavily reliant on CIA contracts and deals with other U.S. intelligence agencies.

As Lenin boasted, “The vast majority of commercial and industrial establishments are now working not for the free market but for the government.” And work for the government, including shutting down dissident voices, is what big tech has indeed been doing for years.

As a result, they can no longer be defended with cries of “but they’re private companies,” and instead be called out for what they really are: tools of state oppression.

Brian Balfour is Senior Vice President of Research for the John Locke Foundation. This column was previously published in the American Institute of Enterprise Research.

(13) comments

drewski

Speaking of tools of the state, does the editor look past the Locke foundation for source material at all? Not sure what is more laughable musk's need for constant attention, or the dramatically named " Twitter files" much ado about nothing.

mpjeep

Some of the best sources of accurate and honest information on the internet for NC come from The John Locke Foundation and The Carolina Journal.

David Collins

Have always heard good things about those two sources , mp . They inform about what Raleigh is doing for you and to you as well . Balanced !

mpjeep

Yep, keep your enemies closer, and these two sources do that.

dc

Election interference is now nothing.

mpjeep

The Twitter Files prove how politicians used their influence to pressure social media platforms to suppress sharing of the Hunter Biden laptop story that broke just a few weeks before the 2020 elections.

No government should be allowed to use its power to suppress free expression, and the Twitter files confirm that Congress should act to protect free expression.

drewski

Doj has a longstanding policy not to announce begin politically sensitive investigations close to an election. Also not to issue an indictment against a sitting president. Are those policies flawed or common sense? If the topic is " ELECTION INTERFERENCE" where do you suppose the first highly publicized " migrant caravan" marching on our southern border bringing rapists disease and drugs came from? Yes,yes it was all outlined on hunter bidens laptop, in a monosyllable filled pdf.

drewski

Ah yes ' fair honest and balanced" LOl , so funny. Monoculture is what caused the Irish potato famine. monoculture is no better for food crops then it is for media sources. It leads to a famine of the mind, and migration to an " alternate facts" universe.

dc

So, cover it up with a lie and blame it on the same old lie backed by 50 "trusted" liars.

David Collins

Get it drew ! Old bungles spoke aloud today about how he has reduced the deficit by a trillion dollars already and more on the way . With that fair and balanced reporting which universe is he broadcasting from ? Remember it was without his little deviant Karine something something . The one with the Curley locks and badly made up eyes with the binder .

David Collins

As long as we have subscribers to these social media services we will have people that peruse these services for fun , profit , and no good . For some reason folks like to spill their guts all day , every day . Nothing is sacred so is there any wonder we have those who would stalk and prey for whatever reason or agency . They do it to themselves .

Sleepwalker

Interesting how when the facts are brought to light…how those that preach facts are outraged….hmmmm.

drewski

Perhaps you confuse outrage with sardonic amusement? Most folks see the Twitter files for yet another desperate plea for attention from Elon. What is interesting to me will be the outcome of dominions lawsuits, you know in court where proven lies can be punished.. let's return now to Lou Dobbs tearful apology before he was cast into the dustbin of history.

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