A few times over the years, I’ve taught seminars about social media. Facebook, I’d explain, is like a planned community. People view it as a safe neighborhood. Your page is your house, and your friend’s page is his house. There are other neighborhoods, such as Twitter and YouTube. Then there’s the information superhighway, Google. It’s important to know that it’s all connected. There may be dark alleys that are difficult to find, but they can be found. The internet is forever.
This article was originally published in the American Spectator print magazine. Click here for online access!
Imagine that the online neighborhood is a real neighborhood. Imagine living in a planned community with a corporate owner who built the infrastructure and then sold out parts of the property for individual homes and for businesses. The corporation would make money from fees and taxes on things bought and sold in the district. The corporation would be very rich. It would receive, after all, a piece of every pie in the community.
Now imagine the corporation making decrees about who could and could not live in the homes. Perhaps they didn’t like a person’s color, religion, or politics. Imagine the corporation deciding that a business in a strip mall sells a product it does not want the company to sell after it has made thousands of dollars in taxation and fees on that business.
Further, imagine being kicked out of one’s home or business overnight and losing everything in a blink. There’s no Homeowners Association. There’s no government police force. Friends of the corporate owners live and work as free as they like. Those who disagree with the corporation’s policies are banned from the community. They lose their business. The value of everything they own is gone overnight.
A person can build a social media home and persona, he can build his business, and with a keystroke, the corporation can destroy him.
As it stands now, there are laws against discrimination for mortgage lenders, renters, building owners, and corporations. People can’t be booted from their homes or have their businesses destroyed simply because a functionary within the corporation decides that he or she hates those kind.
Not so online. A person can build a social media home and persona, he can build his business, and with a keystroke, the corporation can destroy him. Overnight, the value he built in his business on Facebook or YouTube, for example, evaporates. The tech companies can do so for no reason other than that they feel like it. Community rules written by the corporation and enforced by new college graduates fueled by commie idealism and social-justice vengeance are capricious and inconsistently applied.
The home or business owner has no recourse. He might sue said company, but in the 20 years it might take to win the case, his livelihood is lost. He is canceled.
Now imagine trying to move to another neighborhood and finding that one is not welcome there either. In fact, in flailing to rebuild somewhere, the individual might find that he cannot live or do business anywhere meaningful. He is consigned to exile.
The mobs in the neighborhoods cheer. Others who share the beliefs of the shunned person see and are afraid. They censor themselves. Sound familiar? Sound civil rights-y at all?
Tech companies have the power to destroy lives and livelihoods while the victims are treated with contempt or ignored. These tech companies will broadcast murders but will kick users out of the neighborhood for disorderly conduct. Tech companies house terrorists and allow them to live and work unmolested while uprooting people whose crimes are saying mean words and being annoying.
Critics of those complaining about the tech companies’ power make helpful recommendations: Just move to a different house and different neighborhood. Keep your head down. Don’t make waves. If you were a better person, you wouldn’t have to worry about losing your online life or livelihood.
The internet and the companies built on the government superhighways are at a crossroads. They seem incapable of policing themselves. They shun any balanced community involvement. They give power and prestige (blue check marks) to friends and people who share their political aims. They blacklist people they dislike but who are good neighbors.
Enemies of the powers that be find themselves unable to advertise and engage in commerce. Often, they don’t even know that they’re being discriminated against. This was the case of The American Spectator, for example, when we found out that we were on a Google News blacklist and were dropped from Apple News for no known reason.
When we contacted both organizations, there was no explanation and no recourse. The American Spectator is far from a radical media organization. Our writers range from TV personalities to respected economists to former state and federal prosecutors to rabbis and college professors. Media reporting and commentary is safely within the mainstream of conservative and libertarian thought.
It is time to consider the power of “Big Tech.” Should the government respond to the big tech companies’ anti-conservative bias with regulations? Should conservatives be content to be forced out of their online neighborhoods? Should they turn the other cheek when their privacy and careers are destroyed?
In this section of the magazine, our writers discuss these and other concerns. Technology is outpacing ethics. The ability to defend oneself personally, professionally, and even militarily is questionable. America’s national security is at risk because these corporations consider themselves to be global rather than American and side with tyrannical regimes against citizens in oppressed countries. For all their talk of freedom, they willingly sell their technology for evil ends.
We endeavor to educate our readers and help them form their own conclusions. New companies arise daily promising information security and a free voice, but they are small players and they are later to the market. Behemoths like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube own the neighborhoods. Google owns the information road access. They can stealthily deplatform. They can unperson. While an individual may find it impossible, of his own will, to erase his online persona, the companies can do it with ease when they’ve decided a business or individual shouldn’t exist. It’s an enormous amount of biased, unchecked power.
Broadcast yourself, they said. Don’t be evil, they said. Move fast and break things, they said. Conservatives can broadcast themselves up to and until the evil businesses refuse to let them. The companies move fast and break things, all right, and that’s the problem.
This article was originally published in The American Spectator’s fall 2019 print magazine, where it introduces the issue’s special tech section. Click here for online access!