Twitter permanently banned the president of the United States from its platform on Friday last week. Within hours, a host of other platforms follow
Twitter permanently banned the president of the United States from its platform on Friday last week. Within hours, a host of other platforms followed suit, banning either the president himself or hashtags and posts related to pro-Donald Trump topics: Twitch, Facebook and its photo-sharing service Instagram, Snapchat, Google’s YouTube, Reddit, TikTok, Discord, and even Pinterest. Shopify announced it would no longer sell Trump campaign merchandise. The credit card processing company, Stripe, will no longer process its campaign donations.
Tens of thousands of right-leaning accounts across multiple platforms were also nuked. Within days, Apple and Google announced they would remove the popular conservative Twitter alternative, Parler, from their respective app stores. Hours later, Amazon Web Services stated they would no longer host the company.
In short, the Big Tech cartel threw off its cloak and bared its teeth, demonstrating to the world just how powerful it truly is. The crackdown that followed — on individuals, viewpoints, and businesses — was swift, severe, and possibly collusive.
Who owns the public square?
Tech companies have justified all of this behavior as the necessary response to President Donald Trump and his supporters, whose posts could “risk … further incitement of violence.” Such a justification assumes, however, that Trump himself actively incited the terrible violence at the Capitol last week. While one can disagree with the wisdom of his remarks and urging his supporters to march to the Capitol, they were, as multiple experts have pointed out, hardly an exhortation to violence.
Moreover, if there is a new standard for social media which maintains that what is said on the platform can be responsible for future, offline harm — so much so that the platforms should take preemptive action to prevent it — what of the image of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a fake severed head of Trump; comments from Hillary Clinton that “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about;” Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) calling activists to “get up in the face of some congresspeople;” or Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) telling supporters to “absolutely harass” members of the Trump administration?
Unprecedented power:Section 230 protects Big Tech from lawsuits. But it was never supposed to be bulletproof.
Many Black Lives Matter protests, which began peacefully, ended in violence, causing as much as $2 billion in damages across 140 cities and costing 9 lives. Has comparable action been taken against those users for any current incitement or future harm their posts may have caused?
If the social media companies are reversing their long-held position that what’s said on their platform is not the same as what’s done in the world, then they ought to be responsible for a heck of a lot else.
The double standard here is obvious, but even that is almost beside the point. Regardless of what one thinks of the outgoing president or his conduct, such apparently synchronized action against individuals and viewpoints should chill anyone who values the free speech, independent thought and diversity of views that form the bedrock of pluralistic societies.
What we are witnessing is a crackdown on speech being led by a handful of corporations that now own the public square. The ability to speak, hear and make a living using the mainstream levers of the internet is quickly becoming no longer based solely on one’s original expression or innovative ideas. Rather, it requires that you hold the same views as Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jeff Bezos.
Living under a corporate plutocracy
Our self-government has rapidly devolved into a corporate plutocracy where viewpoints deemed unacceptable by the lords of Silicon Valley are suspended and banned, their holders banished from participating in mainstream society. Even alternative avenues of speech, like Parler, with users who do not comport with a specific viewpoint will be cut off from the infrastructure required to reach a mainstream audience.
Suzette Hackney:Place the blame where it belongs. Trump’s rabid supporters, not antifa, stormed the Capitol.
This is hardly just about Trump, who is leaving office in a matter of days. If it were, the crackdown would be limited solely to him. Rather, it’s about opportunists silencing political opposition from Republicans, conservatives, and anyone who ever donned a MAGA hat. Prominent Democrats, rather than debate their opponents, are now turning to Big Tech, asking that they be banned. It’s wrong and its fundamentally un-American.
In America, the people rule. Not the mob, not the bureaucrats, and not the tech tyrants. The accountability for our self-government — including the accountability for those who violate our laws — rests in the institutions of justice and democracy; not in a corporate denial of service weaponized against citizens for wrong think.
What we have experienced in the last week is a dangerous level of unaccountable corporate control that will not sustain a free society. Unchecked private power in lockstep with government partisans aiming to permanently enforce one viewpoint and to punish others will not unify, but further divide, radicalize, and destroy.
Rachel Bovard is the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. She is co-author of “Conservative: Knowing What to Keep,” with former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter: @RachelBovard