slaves to our devices
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Donald Trump Jr. is sounding the alarm, warning that if we do not stop Big Tech from shadow banning conservatives we'll end up in the same boat as China and it'll be our own damn fault. One problem: We're already there.

The same day Trump published his warning - which despite the knee-jerk reactions brought on by his name actually mirrors the experience of most social media users who've ever expressed ideas counter to the mainstream - the Wall Street Journal suggested that insurers could be combing through customers' social media profiles to determine their risk to the company.

Just kidding - insurers have been combing through social media profiles for so long that New York is already regulating the use of this information to supplement more traditional actuarial data. Next time your premiums go up after sharing photos of you skydiving while wrestling with a bear, you'll know why.

"We're going through a period now where most life insurers are exploring using all types of data, not just data they get directly from the customer proactively, but other external sources of data - social media being a big one," McKinsey & Co. senior partner Ari Libarikian told the WSJ. Stripped of management-consultancy jargon - "proactively"? really? - he's talking about insurers as miniature privatized surveillance states, hostile data miners hoping to use your behavioral patterns against you.

This is essentially what Trump is warning about, though he seems as afflicted as his fellow conservatives by a free-market myopia that lets corporations get away with murder until the wolves are at the door. It wouldn't occur to him to take insurers to task for this behavior, even though he's caught on to the evils of social media. And like his fellows on the political Right, Trump blames a monolithic "Left" for the censorship, lumping the aggressively anodyne Jack Dorsey in with that segment of the population who want neither Trump's America nor the CIA's. Junior is unfortunately playing into the same divided-nation paradigm that the mainstream media he purports to loathe so much screens 24-7 - us vs. them, Red vs. Blue, Right vs. Left.

But the kid does have a point. The conservative fringe has been selected to play the canary in this particular coal mine. First, Alex Jones was booted off every social media platform simultaneously in August. Then, Laura Loomer was blocked from Twitter, Paypal, and even Uber (and UberEats, adding insult to injury), finally being told by Chase Bank that she couldn't use their app anymore.

About half a dozen conservatives have been booted from Chase's online banking platform - one even had his account temporarily closed - and while no other banks have opted to travel down that path, there's nothing standing in their way. This is exactly what the Chinese social credit score is designed to accomplish - denying services to individuals in order to shame them out of certain socially-unacceptable behaviors. Teens applying to college are finding their offers of admission rescinded because of careless Facebook posts. Twitter admitted they take off-platform behavior into account when deciding who to ban. Users are consciously self-censoring to avoid running afoul of algorithms that have increasingly come to dictate what behavior is and is not permitted.

Americans are laboring under the delusion we live in a free society, with a Bill of Rights preventing the government from taking our speech away. But we've seen plenty of evidence the US is using private-sector monopolies like Facebook and Twitter to get around those irritating laws holding them back from full-on takeover. If Facebook silences your speech, it isn't the government squelching dissent - it's a private company! Surely you don't want to interfere in the free market, do you? What are you, some kind of socialist?

Trump Jr. seems to think a few conservative politicians can hold back the privatized social credit score, but given how liberally Facebook spreads its campaign donations around, he'd be wise to look elsewhere for salvation. While Daddy Trump periodically pipes up to express his disappointment with his beloved Twitter over censoring speech like his son's, he has never taken any definitive steps toward prying the tech monopolies' fingers loose from around Americans' throats.