Right now there is a hostile attack on freedom of speech and expression. The fallout of the Capitol Hill riots on 6th January and the increase in usage of conservative social media platforms tells us that individual freedoms and liberties are being stifled yet again. Most of this assault on free speech is not coming straight from the government here in the West, it’s coming from corporate Big Tech. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, You Tube and Google are an integral part of our daily lives, but they also monopolies of the information age and social media.
Sir Tim Berners Lee invented the world wide web in 1990 to share and communicate information across the world. However the information communication system he created has become abused and manipulated by people with their own agenda. They don’t just have a majority stake in freedom of speech, they also control our digital lives like slaves to pleasurable activities. Sir Tim now wants to reinvent his own creation so that the people are in charge of their own data. The social media companies that are part of Big Tech giants have a monopoly on people’s lives and are controlling people’s freedom of speech and right to express themselves.
I grew up in the age of the world wide web when it came online in the 1990s. Sir Tim is a hero of mine and like him I am horrified at the way the internet companies of today have used the power of the web. Sir Tim built the web to be free to use and give people the freedom to express themselves and communicate across the planet. But now it has evolved into a greedy monster controlled by corporate giants with powerful monopolies orchestrating the order of the world with the internet as their tool. So how have they done it?
For a while Big Tech has controlled the way that people of a certain political ideology have access to their services. Conservatives have been actively suppressed and censored for their right-wing views that their employees are misinterpreting as hateful and disagreeable things that should not be seen or heard. To me as an autistic person that sounds like a form of eugenics where some countries see disabled people as ‘biological garbage’ that should not be seen or heard. I call it social eugenics and it’s also reflected in the content and posts shared by leftist political activists that have a free hand in expressing these views on social media with little moderation.
I have an account on a conservative social media platform called Parler that had been operating since 2018 and run by John Matze. He created Parler with the intention of allowing it’s users to be in charge of the content for themselves, instead of it being moderated or controlled by the site itself. In late 2020 it’s users increased dramatically with many people migrating their social media activity there including conservative and liberal commentators, politicians, journalists, activists, etc. After the Capitol Hill riot Parler was was accused of being instrumental to the rioters and as a consequence of this Amazon pulled Parler from it’s servers and Apple and Google removed it from their app stores.
People who defend the way that conservatives are censored by Big Tech say that ‘it’s a private company so they can run their business the way they want’. Well that is not the point here, the point is that these social media companies are operating like corporate monopolies and that gives them vast amounts of power to dictate the liberties of others with regards to their freedom of speech, expression, creativity and innovation. When a company becomes a monopoly it can dictate what people can have as their own and order their customers to stick with what they make. In effect as in this case Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Google are preventing people from having something that grants them freedom. The other smaller companies struggle to emerge to make themselves known because the big companies are controlling the output with assistance from the people in authority. This stops ordinary people in a free market from getting better services that offer them alternatives to what they make. This is a classic example of crushing your competition and putting them out of business.
How exactly did Big Tech build up this monopoly? I should know this because I am a science geek and I grew up idolising Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and I admired their creative and entrepreneurial genius. In the beginning the web was a new field of technology. No one could understand what to do with it. The early pioneers just had it to toy with it at their disposal. So they built the hardware and started turning it into a sellable product that they could make money for themselves. The original hardware consisted of the computers, the phone lines and the software. Later came the social media companies who reinvented the way that they could get people online and they did that by getting people to build their own online digital lives. And herein lies the flaw in this system.
Have you ever wondered how Facebook is so rich yet it’s free to use and set up an account? Well it can be explained by this saying: ‘if you don’t pay for the product then you are the product’. When you set up and create your profile on any of these websites you create a log of life and build an online presence of your person, and everything that you post, share, comment, stream or like makes you the product of this website. The activity and content you make is turned into a product and the website uses these profiles in a process called data harvesting. The site admins take your data and sell that to advertisers and analysts and in turn they get money from the sales of that and from commission of sales they make. In this way your online life goes from being a product to a profile that you have no control over and the company dictates what you have in your account and what content you can see and upload. That happens when the company develops it’s own objective with it’s own agenda and makes its products or people suit its agenda. The frightening aspect of this is that you become an instrument of this company as you are channelled information that the company wants you to follow. This in turn influences you to think their way and lose your ability to see information that is unbiased and impartial.
I could use an analogy of autism charities in the context of this situation. Say if Autism Speaks had a monopoly on the charity industry for autistic people. They would sell to the mainstream that negative narrative about autism and that they are useless eaters in the eyes of the welfare state. That would lead to charities everywhere with a policy of promoting eugenics programmes for the disabled and providing them with only one type of service that would tarnish the image of autistic people everywhere. In effect everyone would believe that autism is a burden on the family and that they are not worth living. This is bad news for me because it lead to people thinking that having been led on by Big Tech I am using taxpayers money to stay alive and they would encourage the abortion of disabled babies to prevent more burdens on the state and have other autistic people locked away from society to die needlessly.
It’s just about the same as a state run collective organisation dictating the information that people can access. So Big Tech has now become like a corporate entity and it also has special protection from prosecution by the government. There is a piece of legislation in US Congress enacted in 1996 called Section 230 that prevents internet companies from being liable for content that users post. So Facebook and Twitter have to control what people post to prevent users from engaging in hateful or distressing situations. The idea is to make their platform free from hate and pestilential behaviour that would create a toxic atmosphere. Otherwise their financiers like the advertisers and sponsors that pay to make them free to use for people will withdraw their business to avoid paying for a bad product, which is what their users are.
Sir Tim Berners Lee the architect of the world wide web wants to re-engineer the web so that the people control their own data without being turned into digital commodities enslaved to big tech. What needs to be done to take on Big Tech is looking for a way in which people can become in control of their own data and not become instruments of Big Tech. If we are to take control of our lives in the real world, then we must also be able to control our own lives in the digital world. For this happen the internet as we know it will have to be completely restructured from scratch so that we can control our data in ways that are not vulnerable to anything that people can use against us.
Social media has become an instrument, a weapon and a tool for people to vilify, glorify, manipulate and control people. It’s just like the same kind of control mechanism that the Soviet Marxists used to order the people to accept only their point of view or cancel them from society. Recently actress Gina Carano was cancelled by Disney and Lucas Film for her conservative views and refused to be made to apologise for things she tweeted in the past. This sacking came from a company that hypocritically defends LGBTQ+ people and has a policy of anti-racism in it’s production values. Disney allowed the Chinese film censors to whitewash black actor John Boyega from the Star Wars film posters when selling their product and thanked the Xinjiang provincial government for helping them make Mulan when they were persecuting the Uighur Muslims. All of this control and cancelling of people is down to the problem that we can not control our data or our own digital lives.
The need to control and bring order to big tech is also important for the future for freedom of the press. Barri Weiss, the former opinion editor of the New York Times stated that Twitter has become like the editor in chief of all the major news outlets. Blaming them for being responsible for creating a climate of fear and intimidation in the modern newsroom where writers become victims of ‘cancel culture’ for ‘wrong thinking’ Social media is also dictating the narrative of the news as well. In November 2020 the New York Post had it’s Twitter account shut down after it uncovered a scrupulous scandal about Hunter Biden’s business ties to the Chinese and Twitter was siding with the Democrat presidential candidate by blocking this negative news story.
When I started off as a journalist working for a newspaper in 2005 I was told by my editor to thoroughly research the story from every angle, put the story into context, consider a suitable frame of reference to the story that was fair and honest, and then write it up and read it back. Twitter users however are stupid and callous when it comes to news reporting themselves. They circulate news and information very fast and rapidly but they don’t research or digest the context behind what the story is about or share key information. This leads to defamation and slander against innocent people and when the media picks this up they can destroy that person or company.
Consider Nick Sandmann, the Kentucky high school student turned into a villain because of a video on social media showing him grinning in a MAGA hat at a Native Indian American called Nathan Phillips. When this circulated online in January 2019 at the Lincoln memorial it was shared under the message of ‘racist Trump loving teenager taunts Indian man’. The backlash against that video made him a hate figure on social media. It wasn’t until later that some news outlets, who bothered to research the story properly, found that Sandmann had been in Washington attending a pro-life march and had got himself a MAGA hat because of Trump’s support for pro-life policies. He and his schoolmates went to the Lincoln memorial to promote the March for Life event and as it happened there was also another campaign event called the Indigenous People’s March for Native Americans. The two of them confronted each other and someone made a video of this and passed on a false story that Sandmann and Phillips were locking horns with each other.
Its stories like these that make social media become more of a menace than a tool for unity across the planet. I think it’s time that laws were brought into force to reform the system and to make Big Tech accountable for it’s abuse of power. Twitter shut down Donald Trump’s account on the grounds of accusations of incitement to violence, but they still let the Ayatollah of Iran spout antisemitism and death to Israel. But there are also cases where social media can be used in which people do damage to themselves in situations that are not related to political affairs. Such as bullying on social media account, sacking from jobs because of things that people say, and suicide from being taunted by other users. Big Tech needs to realise that it is not free to act above the law. No one voted them into power so don’t let them influence your lives like brainless sheep.