Washington Examiner: How Big Tech Reshaped Politics Through Censorship

From the Washington Examiner, Blacklist Valley: How Big Tech reshapes politics by censoring conservative ideas another tale of internet censorhip.

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For better or worse, social media is the new public square. Of adults, 68% use Facebook, 73% use YouTube, and a quarter use Twitter. The numbers are much higher for adults under 50. Two-thirds of adults and roughly 4 in 5 under 50 use social media to consume news. Three-quarters of Facebook users are on the site every day, and Twitter users have a disproportionate influence on the media because so many journalists are on the service.

The size and scale of social media companies exploded primarily because they presented themselves as open platforms — blank slates. Google, Facebook, and Twitter all characterized their products as engines for social improvement. “We think of Twitter as the global town hall,” said former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. “We are the free speech wing of the free speech party.”

Costolo was Twitter’s chief executive from 2010 until 2015 and the immediate predecessor of current CEO Jack Dorsey. Twitter’s general manager in the United Kingdom, Andy Yang, likewise described Twitter as the “free speech wing of the free speech party” in March 2012. Google became a multibillion-dollar company by offering a portal for free, unrestricted information to anyone with access to the internet; famously, its original motto was “Don’t be evil.” An internal Facebook memo circulated in June 2016 stated that at Facebook, “we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is de facto good.”

The public has given these three tech companies (and others) enormous power to select the information we read, share, and discuss with our neighbors and friends. We’ve gotten so accustomed to the role they play in our lives that we fail to notice that Big Tech is sifting through the available information and narrowing, and prioritizing, our choices. Although Facebook, Google, and Twitter once touted themselves as bastions of democracy and free speech, they are now openly moving toward direct censorship and media manipulation — and specifically targeting conservative ideas and personalities.

They have already acquiesced to their new censorship fetish. In March 2018, Google circulated an internal memo that instructed employees on the benefits of censorship. In the memo, which was titled “The Good Censor,” Google conceded that while the internet was “founded upon utopian principles of free speech,” free speech is no longer en vogue. “Tech companies are adapting their stance towards censorship” in direct response to “the anxiety of users and governments.” The memo said that “tech firms have gradually shifted away from unmediated free speech and towards censorship and moderation” but framed that shift as a positive development. One major way that tech companies are “stepping into the role of moderator” is by “significantly amping up the number of moderators they employ — in YouTube’s case increasing the number of people on the lookout for inappropriate content to more than 10,000.” It argued that censorship was necessary partly because of users “behaving badly.”

The most alarming part of the missive, however, was that it spoke approvingly of foreign governments that were censoring online speech. Google framed the acts as “taking steps to make online spaces safer, more regulated, and more similar to their offline laws. Protected from hate speech on the street? Now you are on the net too …” Twitter has completely and publicly abandoned its brand as the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” with Dorsey claiming the whole “free speech wing” thing was one giant “joke.” His company, once seemingly devoted to the free expression of its users, now says it is prioritizing making users feel safe from others’ speech. Facebook, too, is openly rebranding itself as a benevolent censor. Here’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees in April 2018 (emphasis added):

Overall, I would say that we’re going through a broader philosophical shift in how we approach our responsibility as a company. For the first 10 or 12 years of the company, I viewed our responsibility as primarily building tools that, if we could put those tools in people’s hands, then that would empower people to do good things. What I think we’ve learned now across a number of issues, not just data privacy, but also fake news and foreign interference in elections, is that we need to take a more proactive role and a broader view of our responsibility. It’s not enough to just build tools. We need to make sure that they’re used for good. And that means that we need to now take a more active view in policing the ecosystem and in watching and kind of looking out and making sure that all of the members in our community are using these tools in a way that’s going to be good and healthy.

Three forces are driving Big Tech’s online censorship. Two are external and related: market pressures and de-platforming campaigns by liberal activists and journalists. The third pressure is internal: Silicon Valley is staggeringly one-sided politically. Profit margins and market pressures are crucial levers that left-wing ideologues use to pull tech giants and other corporations in the direction of censorship. Companies want to avoid controversy, and, in the era of outrage mobs, that means avoiding offending the Left, which controls most of the cultural institutions in America. That’s part of the reason why massive companies are embracing left-wing politics in advertising, such as what Gillette did with its “toxic masculinity” ad. Left-wing activists amplify those pressures with smear campaigns and boycotts intended to rattle advertisers and investors, forcing the hands of tech companies. If you convince corporate marketing agencies that advertising on Facebook is risky, you can be certain that Facebook will take some form of action to shed controversy and reassure investors.

The external pressures of left-wing activists are compounded by the internal pressures of the companies’ employees, who want Big Tech to embrace censorship against nonliberal opinions as a moral and political necessity…

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