by Justin Rosario
What does abuse of power look like? Would we recognize it when the government uses its power to chill political dissent? Would anyone really notice among the constant barrage of noise coming from White House?
The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump, the Los Angeles-based Dreamhost said in a blog post published on Monday.
“In essence, the Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website,” the company’s general counsel, Chris Ghazarian, said in a legal argument opposing the request.
The stated goal of the Trump administration is to find people that allegedly rioted at the inauguration and charge them with a crime. The unstated goal is to punish political dissidence in a country that was founding explicitly on the right to political dissidence. In what is surely a total coincidence, Republicans are trying to change the law so anyone that organizes a protest can be charged with inciting a riot if the protest gets violent, even if the organizer had nothing to do with the violence.
But beyond the "Big Brother" tactics, the deeper goal is to normalize the practice of forcing internet companies to identify "enemies of the state" and make it risky to organize online.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, you're probably thinking of how tyrannical regimes immediately crack down on social media during times of unrest.
China: China blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2009. The Twitter and Facebook bans took place after a peaceful protest by Uighurs, China’s Muslim ethnic minority, broke into deadly riots in Xinjiang. In September 2013, the government decided to stop censoring foreign websites in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, a 17-square-mile area in mainland China, but these social networks are still largely blocked nationwide.
Iran: Iran has blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on and off (usually off) since they were banned in 2009 following Iran’s contentious presidential election.
In America, there is no legitimate way to shut down Twitter or Facebook, particularly since the Toddler-in-Chief is addicted to tweeting. That gross a violation of the First Amendment is too much, even for an administration hostile to civil rights. but that doesn't mean the urge to weaponize social media is not there.
The purpose of mining private data to target the political opposition is pretty obvious and Dreamhost has an answer to the second question as to whether or not we would recognize an assault on free speech:
"That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamHost wrote in the blog post on Monday. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.”
The internet is a powerful tool and in the wrong hands, it could make even Richard Nixon's wildest fantasies about suppressing political opposition come true with ease. With a few dozen widely publicized arrests, people will immediately be reluctant to discuss organizing protests online for fear of being arrested months after the fact.
The answer to the third question, "Would anyone really notice?", depends entirely on you, Banter Fan.
Right now, we are being inundated with insanity from the Trump White House. Every day is another scandal. Every day is another gaffe. Every day is another national humiliation. It can wear out even the most dedicated of us.
It's debatable if this is a ploy to keep the opposition off balance or the natural result of an incompetent president suffering from serious mental illness. Either way, we have to deal with it or we risk normalizing the madness through inattention. One way to keep up is by following Amy Siskind's weekly update on how Trumpism has corrupted America. Another way is keep supporting legitimate media like the Washington Post and New York Times as well as less well-known outlets like our own modest Daily Banter. Being well-informed is the death of tyranny which is why Trump is always screeching about "fake news."
But in the end, our right to assemble and our right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances is what Trump fears the most. Complaining on social media will never take the place of flooding the streets with angry Americans demanding justice. That's why his administration is trying to take the internet away as a tool for organizing. It's why they're trying to criminalize protest. This is one of those democracy destroying changes they're hoping to slip under the radar until it's too late.
Never stop protesting in the streets. Once they take that away, your voice is gone forever.