Here are some relevant excerpts from Anne Applebaum's 8-31-21 ATLANTIC article entitled "The New Puritans":
[T]he modern online public sphere, a place of rapid conclusions, rigid ideological prisms, and arguments of 280 characters, favors neither nuance nor ambiguity. Yet the values of that online sphere have come to dominate many American cultural institutions: universities, newspapers, foundations, museums. Heeding public demands for rapid retribution, they sometimes impose the equivalent of lifetime scarlet letters on people who have not been accused of anything remotely resembling a crime. Instead of courts, they use secretive bureaucracies. Instead of hearing evidence and witnesses, they make judgments behind closed doors.
I have been trying to understand these stories for a long time, both because I believe that the principle of due process underpins liberal democracy, and also because they remind me of other times and places. A decade ago, I wrote a book about the Sovietization of Central Europe in the 1940s, and found that much of the political conformism of the early Communist period was the result not of violence or direct state coercion, but rather of intense peer pressure. Even without a clear risk to their life, people felt obliged—not just for the sake of their career but for their children, their friends, their spouse—to repeat slogans that they didn’t believe, or to perform acts of public obeisance to a political party they privately scorned [...].
[N]o one quoted here, anonymously or by name, has been charged with an actual crime, let alone convicted in an actual court. All of them dispute the public version of their story. Several say they have been falsely accused; others believe that their “sins” have been exaggerated or misinterpreted by people with hidden agendas. All of them, sinners or saints, have been handed drastic, life-altering, indefinite punishments, often without the ability to make a case in their own favor [...].
Many of these investigations involve anonymous reports or complaints, some of which can come as a total surprise to those being reported upon […].
Secretive procedures that take place outside the law and leave the accused feeling helpless and isolated have been an element of control in authoritarian regimes across the centuries, from the Argentine junta to Franco’s Spain [...].
The censoriousness, the shunning, the ritualized apologies, the public sacrifices—these are rather typical behaviors in illiberal societies with rigid cultural codes, enforced by heavy peer pressure. This is a story of moral panic, of cultural institutions policing or purifying themselves in the face of disapproving crowds. The crowds are no longer literal, as they once were in Salem, but rather online mobs, organized via Twitter, Facebook, or sometimes internal company Slack channels [...].
No one—of any age, in any profession—is safe. In the age of Zoom, cellphone cameras, miniature recorders, and other forms of cheap surveillance technology, anyone’s comments can be taken out of context; anyone’s story can become a rallying cry for Twitter mobs on the left or the right. Anyone can then fall victim to a bureaucracy terrified by the sudden eruption of anger. And once one set of people loses the right to due process, so does everybody else. Not just professors but students; not just editors of elite publications but random members of the public. Gotcha moments can be choreographed. Project Veritas, a well-funded right-wing organization, dedicates itself to sting operations: It baits people into saying embarrassing things on hidden cameras and then seeks to get them punished for it, either by social media or by their own bureaucracies.
But while this form of mob justice can be used opportunistically by anyone, for any political or personal reason, the institutions that have done the most to facilitate this change are in many cases those that once saw themselves as the guardians of liberal and democratic ideals. Robert George, the Princeton professor, is a longtime philosophical conservative who once criticized liberal scholars for their earnest relativism, their belief that all ideas deserved an equal hearing. He did not foresee, he told me, that liberals would one day “seem as archaic as the conservatives,” that the idea of creating a space where different ideas could compete would come to seem old-fashioned, that the spirit of tolerance and curiosity would be replaced by a worldview “that is not open-minded, that doesn’t think engaging differences is a great thing or that students should be exposed to competing points of view.” [...]
Students and professors, editorial assistants and editors in chief—all are aware of what kind of society they now inhabit. That’s why they censor themselves, why they steer clear of certain topics, why they avoid discussing anything too sensitive for fear of being mobbed or ostracized or fired without due process. But that kind of thinking takes us uncomfortably close to Istanbul, where history and politics can be discussed only with great care.
[I]f we drive all of the difficult people, the demanding people, and the eccentric people away from the creative professions where they used to thrive, we will become a flatter, duller, less interesting society, a place where manuscripts sit in drawers for fear of arbitrary judgments. The arts, the humanities, and the media will become stiff, predictable, and mediocre. Democratic principles like the rule of law, the right to self-defense, the right to a just trial—even the right to be forgiven—will wither. There will be nothing to do but sit back and wait for the Hawthornes of the future to expose us.
To read Applebaum's entire article, click HERE.