The big tech companies that we all rely on for news, information, entertainment, and to keep up with friends and relatives have gotten themselves into some hot water. ‘How did they do that,’ you ask?
Where were you the last three years? Siberia?
Big Tech companies like Facebook and YouTube are coming under fire from a bipartisan House Judiciary Committee for misusing their monopoly on the digital public square.
Things really got interesting last week when YouTube and other major social media companies went totally dark for two hours. This happened just two days after the House Judiciary Committee announced:
“The Antitrust Subcommittee will conduct a top-to-bottom review of the market power held by giant tech platforms. This is the first time Congress has undertaken an investigation into this behavior.”
According to the committee, they will be examining the major tech firms for:
- Competition problems in digital markets
- Engagement in anti-competitive conduct by major firms
- Assessing whether antitrust laws, competition policy, and enforcement levels are sufficient to address any such issues
This comes in the wake of massive and open censorship of conservative voices and organizations. Some of the higher profile bannings, such as that of Alex Jones, have been the clear product of collusion between major firms as they took place within short spans of time.
Now, the President, Donald Trump himself has weighed in- bringing a ray of hope to supporters who wondered if he even had his eye on the problem.
Last month he tweeted, “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”
YouTube has recently engaged in yet another round of ad banning, yanking the financial carpet out from under many online content creators. Facebook has done something very similar, banning a massive amount of accounts that contain conservative material.
Apparently, Trump wasn’t kidding. Now, less than a month after his tweet, the probe has sent big tech running for the hills.
Many have speculated that the two hours long service shut down on YouTube and Facebook were done in order to clean up the crumbs around the cookie jar.
The issue is with the stated terms of service (TOS) these companies present to their users. Accounts have been banned for things that are not mentioned in the TOS, or have been banned without even stating a reason for the banning.
Their TOS, also say that these platforms are not publishers- that they do not curate specific types of content. However, it has become glaringly obvious that they do.
According to the Washington Post, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) tabled his two cents on the issue, saying, “In a lot of ways, there was a reluctance in the early days of the Internet to interfere. It was creating so much value in the lives of people that we felt you should get out of the way and allow it to flourish. Over time, people have recognized there are some real dangers here.”
The danger, plainly put, is election meddling. Practically all of the public discourse about elections and politics now takes place on social media. If the big tech companies- which do take government funding, making them (at least in part) a public utility- censor conservative speech but not liberal speech, then it unfairly skews the conversation.
This would meet the very definition of violating the purpose of our constitutionally protected right to free speech. The purpose of free speech is to ensure a robust public discourse. It is meant to ensure that bad ideas are defeated by better ideas and that we know who our neighbors are.
Censorship drives fringe thinkers into the shadows where they are not exposed to better ideas. There, in the dark, they become radicalized.
Frankly, we do not believe that the people behind this at the highest levels are unaware of the radicalizing effect of censorship. The censorship strategy is a proven way to radicalize one side of a political debate. History has demonstrated this time and time again.
The Judicial Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), in a rare moment of clarity, said “The open Internet has delivered enormous benefits to Americans, including a surge of economic opportunity, massive investment, and new pathways for education online, but there is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”