- On March 2, 2020
- Censorship, Culture, Free Speech, Human Nature, Political Power, Public Relations, Social Media, Society
At the time of this political psychology (doctoral) course writing, we’re faced with important questions of censorship, free speech, and political power. These questions aren’t unique to the USA but also abroad, notably in China where censorship against the Coronavirus backdrop is unsettling and deeply troubling. In the US, a form of censorship is also unfolding: the firing of non-Trump loyalists.
Yu’s (2020) recent article (‘This may be the last piece I write’: prominent Xi critic has internet cut after house arrest) kicks off with the following lead-in:
Xu’s opening line “‘This may be the last piece I write’” pretty much says it all: risk, censorship, and an uncertain fate.
The Guardian article explains how the Chinese Communist Party has been working to control the national conversation for decades. Here in the US, we see the Trump version of the narrative consistently differ with facts on the ground, but unlike China, at least here we don’t (yet ??) have as much censorship to contend with.
When I think about “control of the national conversation,” I can’t help but think about commercially-driven brand narratives.
At least, that’s been the premise of the field of Public Relations in business marketing circles as far back as the late 1880s. The onset of social media has loosened up control and now the conversations are peer to peer vs top-down, but the want, need, desire, intention, and effort to gain control of a narrative is still something PR and marketing folks strive to achieve.
In politics, these “control the story/conversation” goals/needs/wants don’t seem to be much different but unlike commercial narratives, political narratives have the backing and breadth of political power.
In China, as The Guardian article highlights, the government can censor or punish you if your narrative is different or if you question the details of the government’s narrative.
Clearly, in China, free speech is NOT “free” and can cost you dearly.
Despite such risks, Xu still forged ahead and published his piece, “Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear,” which I read and could see it’s unwaveringly scathing. He even quoted, “I will not go gentle into that good night” from poet Dylan Thomas in his fiery conclusion where he pleads fellow citizens to “rage against this injustice; let your lives burn with a flame of decency; break through the stultifying darkness and welcome the dawn.”
Based on all Xu has disparagingly written, I’m surprised house arrest and IP blocking were the only forms of punishment he’s received thus far.
Are Trump administration disloyalty lists a form of censorship?
The Washington Post‘s February 21, 2020 article begins as follows:
The Oxford dictionary defines censorship as “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security” (Censorship, 2020). In this sense, it could be argued that identifying non-loyalists from an administration for the purposes of expungement and messaging non-alignment is a form of censorship.Identifying aides and political appointees to be ousted or sidelined for their “lack of loyalty” may seem new, it’s not.
Not only is there ample evidence of this being Trump’s modus operandi as a real estate developer well before becoming president, but such a practice was also adopted during the McCarthy era as well.
And while disloyalty lists are specific (for now) to the Trump administration, the practice speaks to a much broader issue (as pointed out by our political psychology professor): an era or culture of accusations and blame gaming before any investigation or evidence is presented.
Delving into these subjects with more detailed examples and scholarly references is beyond the scope of this writing, but it’s both a noteworthy and alarming observation. And if this truly speaks to a cultural issue, then social media seems to help enable the finger-pointing, the blame-shaming, and the calling out.
These broad contexts merit further exploration to identify where and when did a blaming culture begin and what has propelled it. Or are we, as humans, just built this way? Are we dealing with a human nature issue, as our professor posed, instead of a societal culture issue?
Just food for (much) political psychology thought.
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Media Psychologist & Strategist
Censorship. (2020). In Oxford Online Dictionary. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/censorship.
Olorunnipa, T., Parker, A., & Dawsey, J. (2020, February 21). Trump embarks on expansive search for disloyalty as administration-wide purge escalates. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/were-cleaning-it-out-trump-embarks-on-expansive-search-for-disloyalty-as-administration-wide-purge-escalates/2020/02/21/870e6c56-54c1-11ea-b119-4faabac6674f_story.html.
Yu, V. (2020, March 18). ‘This may be the last piece I write’: prominent Xi critic has internet cut after house arrest. the Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/15/xi-critic-professor-this-may-be-last-piece-i-write-words-ring-true.