Big Tech policing: Doomsday view
Two things happened in December 2020 in the United States, but the implications are far too global for them to be considered localized events.
- A ban on current US President Donald Trump by Twitter, followed suit by all manner of social media
- A ban on alternative social media platform Parler by Big Tech, forcing them to suspend their services
The first of these events has been largely cheered on by the general public; in fact, many have blamed Twitter for taking so long to take this action. Or, so it would appear! There is more to this than meets the eye.
Donald Trump, therefore, was left without a voice after being de-platformed by all conceivable forms of social media, some of which we had never even heard of before. Everyone was quick to jump on to the bandwagon.
The strong argument made in favor of such a move is that this is a free market, and Twitter or other privately run companies are free to ban whoever they like, for contravention of policies made arbitrarily by them. After all, a pâtissierie is free to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding — that is the parallel being drawn.
Such an argument is disingenuous and dangerous. Social media emerged as an alternative to mainstream media like newspapers and TV channels. Over the years, people have taken to social media in such a way that the world has become unrecognizable from 20 years ago. People share their feelings, photos, life events, and political voice on social media, and depend on it for the news, and to know what to “feel” about happenings throughout the world. To compare Twitter to a cake making shop is a joke — not a ha-ha joke, but a rather terrifying one since the world seems to have bought this argument. And why not? We have been conditioned how to react to such arguments over the years.
What about the Parler platform being given the old heave-ho by Google, Apple, and Amazon? Why did this happen, and why have all the Big Tech companies been so prompt to jump on this merry little bandwagon?
Parler’s big crime is that they are viewed as an ultra right wing, militant kind of platform. But are they?
Parler provides — sadly, one should say “provided” — a platform without bias and without moderation. This is the stated position of their CEO and policymakers — they do not have a political bias and provide a free platform for all to voice their opinions without fear of being silenced. Why is this bad? Because, as it turns out, people banned and de-platformed by Twitter and friends came to Parler. That this could not be stomached by Big Tech tells an eloquent story. A certain kind of opinion needs to be silenced. Only those views can be heard that Big Tech deigns to nod sagely to.
This should make us all very, very scared. This is not some remote, disconnected happening that while fascinating, has no impact on our lives. It’s closer than you think. Let’s do this simple mental exercise to see how swiftly and decisively one’s whole life can be left in tatters, for just an opinion.
Consider the owner of a small software company, developing and maintaining software solutions for various clients, perhaps in different locations in the world. Also suppose this person is a free thinking individual, and voices his opinion articulately on social media on various world events — not with any aspirations in politics, but as an individual with independent thoughts.
It might so happen that his opinions, while not inflammatory in the least, earn the displeasure of the social media giant on which he chose to make the post. Yes, this can and will happen — it has happened — we are way past even the pretensions of unbiasedness.
His being banned by social media giant A will be quickly followed by all others. Before he can say “Holy Jack Dorsey!”, all his accounts would have been blocked.
Non-SM Big Tech follows suit. He is banned by Google, Apple, and Amazon. What does this mean for him?
- His whole organizational infrastructure goes kaput. He cannot even access his email, nor can his employees
- All the Android and iOS apps developed by his company disappear from the stores and stop working completely
- LinkedIn decides to de-platform the company and its employees. This affects business.
- All his installations on AWS and GCP and Azure are gone. His clients can no longer access their software solutions developed by this company. Their operations come to a grinding halt. Before long, the company starts losing its clients.
What recourse does he have now? He can’t even complain, for he has no platform to do so. Heck, he can’t even use his phone — Android and iOS have removed his accounts. Mainstream media won’t touch him with a bargepole.
So, a smoothly running business is left wrecked, employees jobless, with massive collateral damage of related entities. Not to mention the social ostracization that will in all likelihood leave him a complete wreck.
And all for what? An opinion that did not toe Big Tech’s line.
Talk about a powerful ecosystem. Even governments are impotent against this kind of power.
It does not end there. Remember how, last time Google asked if you wanted it to remember your bank passwords, you said yes? After all, they force them to be changed every few months and how could you possibly keep track?
Is it so far-fetched to imagine that Big Tech would make a truly convincing case that the only right thing to do to stop the “insurrection” being provoked by this owner is by emptying out his accounts? And this case will be made so well that the guy can’t compete with it — and how can he hope to, anyway? On what platform?
I know what you are thinking — that this is far fetched, and that things are not so bad. He could use the phone of a family member or a friend. He could use their accounts. To that, my two counters: would his friends risk being similarly blackballed to help out this guy, who has so clearly been made out to be the very epitome of evil. If someone did risk everything, Big Tech is listening — they could very simply ban them too — more collateral damage but required for the greater good.
One must understand that a brave alternate service provider, trying to give a platform to the shunned CEO, runs the risk of a similar fate. The reason all the smaller social media companies have jumped on to the boycott bandwagon is, in plain language, arm-twisting. Comply, or else. The eventual fate of every such company is to either be acquired and assimilated into one of the big ones (yes, think of _any_ example you want to), or be obliterated in trying to maintain a distinct identity. If it indeed is a free market, it is a very distorted form of one.
This is a very bleak picture, but is it very far from what is happening today? I hope so, but I think not.