There are many different ways in which Big Tech stifles free speech and political discussion. In some cases they do this in reaction to political pressure, but in many cases they are just expressing the political biases of those who run Big Tech.
Facebook has come under huge political pressure for allegedly influencing the 2016 presidential election by allowing rogue groups, especially from Russia, to run misleading ads on their platforms. While much has been made about this, especially from those on the left of the US political spectrum, the fact is that those advertisers spent only about $100,000 buying ads on Facebook, as compared to total spending by both candidates on the general presidential election of $2.4 billion.
Twitter has also gone through a number of "user purges" that have deleted posts from the innocent and the guilty alike. Sometimes these social media purges are meant to delete fake user accounts, or users who are knowingly disseminating fake news. However, in other cases, users have been shut down simply because the platform views the user's comments as outside the political mainstream, thus effectively eliminating any voices at the margin – which are, over time, the voices that result in real change, for better or worse.
This is particularly troubling because the big social media platforms – in particular Facebook and Twitter, dominate political discussion on social media, and being removed from these platforms results in de facto censorship. There are other important social media platforms; Instagram for instance, but it is focused more on art, fashion, and other image-centric topics rather than politics – and it is owned by Facebook. Sometimes a new platform will emerge to give voice to marginalized platforms, such as Gab, but it can be marginalized or "shouted down" when opponents use dirty tricks such as posting child pornography on the sites and then informing authorities of the presence of such objectionable material.
In other cases, there may be no objective standards for why topics are allowable. Users, and even employees of Twitter, have become frustrated by the lack of clear standards at Twitter, and the sometimes personal intervention of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
The problems above are fairly well known, although no clear solution seems imminent. This sort of private, voluntary censorship is increasingly part of the American political and cultural landscape, so much so that it seems to be part of the air we breathe. American colleges are no longer educational institutions, they are really religious institutions, universally teaching a brand of vaguely left of center political egalitarianism and inclusiveness. Colleges don't encourage open debate; in fact, they don't tolerate dissent, as can be seen by attacks on campus speakers who dare to stray from the campus orthodoxy.
Students in college may not know anything about American literature, or math and science, but they know for sure that they will never say anything negative about the color of someone's skin. A college professor would hardly raise an eyebrow by defending Mao or Stalin, or someone else that butchered millions of people, but if it became known that they voted for a Republican they would have no chance of tenure. (For a map that we created showing American Universities that have disinvited conservative speakers, click here.)
The same group think orthodoxy is seen in large corporations. No prominent corporate leader would dare say anything that might in any way be construed as racist. There is also a tsunami of attacks on corporate leaders alleged to have sexual relationships with employees, usually without any form of due process, and sometimes targeting completely consensual relationships. These attacks, while always garbed in layers of MeToo self-righteousness, are often simply ploys by greedy employees and their lawyers to opportunistically extort money from wealthy corporations. While we'd love to see true predators like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby hanging from the gallows, the wave of attacks has also resulted in people being fired from important positions based on a single anonymous email, or completely unsubstantiated accusations. A CEO may get away with gouging their company for millions in undeserved compensation, but touching a female employee is a sure path to instant termination.
Big Tech companies both reflect and encourage the narrowing of acceptable discussions. Jeff Bezos has said that Donald Trump is "eroding our democracy around the edges" but it's really big tech companies like Amazon that are stifling debate, which is the heart of democracy. You'll find all sorts of products for sale on Amazon – but not a Confederate flag.
Support for Trump to a large extent has arisen not from any fondness for his policies – and certainly not for his personal behavior – but simply because he has been a lone voice challenging, in the most brazen way possible, the Brave New World of One Speak. His racism and xenophobia are only admired by a small group of core supporters, but a far wider group supports his implicit challenge to the mind numbing political correctness so perfectly exemplified by Hillary Clinton.
Millions of Americans are appalled by the direction in which American culture has moved, but feel powerless to express that resentment in an age in which they can be summarily fired from their jobs, sued, or socially ostracized for any dissent. But these people can still express dissent in the privacy of a voting booth. Someone like Trump, who says what he thinks, and who does not apply any filters to his speech, is actually a voice of fresh air to millions. For many of his supporters, it's not the substance of what he says, but simply the challenge to the reigning orthodoxy that matters. For many of us that see no alternative to using Google, iphones, or Facebook, voting for Trump is one of the few real alternative forms of protest available.
But the problem is much more insidious and pervasive than culturally imposed censorship, which has been gradually building over the last several decades. The new problem is that big tech actually tells you, in a literal sense, what to say. If you're a regular texter you know that texting systems are designed to anticipate what you might say next, and to supply several options so that instead of having to type your response you just select one of the options. At first glance, this seems like a helpful innovation. But the effect is insidious, as it becomes easy to just select one of the given choices that approximates what you wanted to say. Thus, over time, the act of thinking and saying exactly what you mean is replaced by picking preselected thoughts most often used by others. Text systems will even suggest emoticons based on the words you (kinda) choose. So both the text itself - and the corresponding display of emotion - become as much a facet of artificial intelligence as of your expression.
You can see this exact same dynamic at work in the newest versions of Skype, which scans your Skype chats and then suggests replies based on the replies most often made. Google's Smart reply works the same way as it reads your email and suggests replies. This type of artificial intelligence has the net effect of making people lazier and less intelligent, but most importantly, it encourages the replacement of individual thought with group think.
Big tech is moving beyond the battle of stopping you from expressing yourself – they are moving to the point that your thoughts will be exactly the same as everyone else. As Big Tech becomes ever more powerful, and as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data become enmeshed in our lives, the battle for free expression is really the battle to be able to think for yourself.
Insider Extra:In running the Groom Media Twitter account, these are 3 ways we've found that Twitter discourages politically conservative discourse:
- Defining "conservative" material as "sensitive" because it is tagged in a way that indicates conservative support. https://www.amazon.com/Facts-Thatll-Convince-Liberal-Friends-ebook/dp/B07H4S4FW9/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?_encoding=UTF8&ref_=dbs_s_def_awm_dirs_l_0&storeType=ebooks
Twitter's algorithms are flagging even Amazon links of accounts that they consider to be inappropriate. These accounts have engaged with posts tagged with #MAGA #POTUS #DrainTheSwamp #DeepState #RedWave and other extremely trump supportive tags. So any book that you market to Trump supporters can be suppressed.
- Shadow banning. It's a ban that they typically use on spammers, but can also be applied to political content that Twitter wants to make invisible. To the spammer, it would seem as if everything's working normally, they can still tweet/submit normally and such, but to everyone else on twitter their tweets are invisible, and their engagements don't count.
- Correlating an account with other accounts which Twitter considers to be a "bad-faith actors": So if they label one account a bad faith actor because they don't like that account's politics, and you interact with that account in any way, by retweeting for instance, then your account is likely to be banned.