Big Tech’s big threat to freedom
By Peter Murphy
Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.
Big Tech is another matter. They are abridging speech.
Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Reddit and others which dominate the Internet and cyberspace are increasingly about censoring viewpoints with which their super-wealthy owners disagree. That’s a lot of power – the power to influence the masses – in the hands of very few people.
If those few tech executives who dominate cyberspace don’t like a certain policy position, or politician, or private citizen, they have ways to limit the reach of that viewpoint or politician or citizen, and even more ways to counteract them.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution (quoted in part, above) limits government; first the federal government and then the states with the application of the Fourteenth Amendment following the Civil War. The Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was all about reigning in the power of the re-constituted federal government to ensure the freedom of the individual in American society.
Free speech is now under increasing threat by a few large private sector tech giants that dominate the 21stcentury means of communication and information transfer. If a handful of non-governmental entities can harm constitutional freedoms, it’s time the government step in and break them up using its anti-trust power, the way it broke up Standard Oil’s monopolistic dominance of energy more than a century ago. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice appears poised to do just that.
Governments without limits are all about controlling speech. “Slandering the Soviet State” was a crime in the old Soviet Union that sent you to prison or the gulag. In addition to restricting speech, present-day authoritarian governments throughout the world have state-controlled media to control information flow, e.g., the Xinhua News Agency, which is the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China.
Controlling speech is so critical to controlling society at large. It’s not just the military and police that are used to control the citizenry – it’s having power over the information known by the citizenry that controls them and influences their actions, including who they elect to public office.
In un-free or less free nations without the equivalent of the First Amendment, controlling speech and societal behavior is the norm. America is supposed to be different. Yet freedom in America is increasingly slipping away in subtle but tangible ways. Politicians have long attempted to control communication by passing laws such as campaign finance restrictions, the most insidious of which have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now it’s the tech giants increasingly doing such dirty work.
The bigger threat to free speech now comes from the technology giants that dominate Internet searches and social media as they are increasingly censoring the speech of Americans with which they object. For millions of Americans, particularly those not engaged in policy issues or politics, this may not register, much less matter for innocuous Google searches or exchanging family photos on Facebook.
For many other Americans engaged in politics and policy, and the researching and debating of critical issues, the tech giants are abridging their viewpoints. This is dangerous – not just for those with whom tech giants disagree, but to society at large.
The debate over man-made climate change provides a prominent example of censorship by tech companies, but it’s by no means the only issue. Senior management at the tech giants embrace the mantra that the earth is facing an “existential threat” from a warming climate caused by societal actions, including generating carbon emissions from fossil fuels. It follows that “fighting” climate change through bigger government, costly and superfluous regulations, and restricting lifestyles are embraced. There are many scientists and policymakers who disagree with this view of the climate, but increasingly are being silenced by those who dominate cyberspace.
Examples abound. The video series PragerU, which features many prominent skeptics of climate change, including Alex Epstein, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, and Bjorn Lomborg, sued YouTube over demonetizing videos and placing many of them under “restricted mode” which prevents viewership. YouTube’s owner, Google, flat-out claimed the First Amendment doesn’t apply. With Google’s monopolistic dominance, that would make the case for its break-up.
Social media giant, Reddit, banned those who challenge climate change orthodoxy. Apple, Inc. removed a popular climate skeptic app Inconvenient Facts from its App Store (it so happens that Al Gore is a board member of Apple). Google, Facebook and Twitter deny climate skeptics from promoting their posts. The list goes on.
Such power may be just fine with climate alarmists, but they should beware. Some day, the tech giants may disagree with them on some other issue they care about. The solution for dealing with disagreeable speech or policies is not to snuff it out; rather, it’s to enable MORE speech and debate from multiple perspectives.
A handful of company executives with the power to restrict speech and communication will expand ignorance, squelch debate, and enhance their power and control over the country. If the tech giants are not reigned in and broken up, their information control will only increase. Such burgeoning power and influence will make the 19th Century robber barons historical midgets by comparison.
Peter Murphy, a CFACT analyst, has researched and advocated for a variety of policy issues, including education reform and fiscal policy. He previously wrote and edited The Chalkboard weblog for the New York Charter Schools Association, and has been published in numerous media outlets, including The Hill, New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.