How To Rein In Censorious Technology Giants

Posted: August 25, 2017 by gamegetterII in Uncategorized

 

Over the past decade, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley have transitioned from a mindset of attempting to make government censorship impossible to a mindset of attempting to make government censorship unnecessary. Those with views which are in opposition to the progressive narrative have increasingly found their posts removed and accounts suspended on the social media platforms created by these companies. Though this is not a new problem, it has escalated since the firing of James Damore from Google and the unrest in Charlottesville. Those who are not part of the progressive movement, such as conservatives, libertarians, reactionaries, and the alt-right are increasingly finding themselves shut out of open discourse online, having to either signal compliance with the left or risk being de-platformed on the most popular social media sites. Though the alt-right has borne the brunt of this so far, it is unlikely to stop there, as the contemporary left does not value discourse in the same way as their classical liberal predecessors. There are several proposed responses to this situation, but none of them are likely to effectively deal with the problem. Let us examine these to discover their shortcomings, then craft a novel response that is more likely to succeed.

The Mainstream Libertarian Response

In the mainstream libertarian view, the large size of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, GoDaddy, Paypal, and others are astonishing success stories of free-market capitalism. They tend to view these technology companies as private businesses whose owners should be able to freely choose with whom they will associate or not associate. Indeed, many libertarians view ostracism as a nearly universal positive, working to reward preferred behavior while punishing dispreferred behavior. If these companies behave improperly, mainstream libertarians believe that the market will punish them by elevating an alternative to prominence.

Though ostracism on the basis of behavior is nothing new, the crowdsourcing power of the Internet has transformed it into a political weapon that can be used to ruin people unjustly. Moreover, it is capable of dividing an entire society along ideological lines. When reasoned discourse is shut down and unpopular viewpoints are suppressed by howling irrational cyber-mobs, those who are de-platformed are likely to have their internal victim narratives confirmed, radicalizing them further. This may serve as a precursor to a novel type of civil war, one which arises when the heated rhetoric that is naturally produced as a byproduct of democracy escalates into political violence and there is no peaceful outlet to reduce tensions before they consume the entire society.

In a free market, censorious behavior from the largest companies would be of little concern. As John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” But it is also true that those in positions of power view checks, balances, and competition as damage and seek to route around them. Technology giants accomplish this partly by lobbying governments to regulate their industries in a manner that they can capture, as any other large companies would. But they have another weapon which can be even more potent: they can use their platforms to keep their upstart competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep their competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user base to become successful social media platforms. This was less of a problem in the early days of social media when turnover of the most popular sites was higher, but the near-monopolies of the largest companies are no longer as vulnerable.

The Conservative/Alt-Right Responses

In the view increasingly expressed by conservatives and alt-rightists, the Internet is an essential aspect of life in the 21st century, and the technology companies that deny people access to the most popular social media platforms, domain hosting services, and payment processors are curtailing both the civil liberties and economic opportunities of those people. The largest technology companies are effective monopolies, in that these firms are the only sellers of products and services that have no close substitutes. In response, they call for the state to regulate these companies as public utilities, much as they do to providers of electricity, water, and natural gas. This line of thinking also leads to support among these people for net neutrality regulations. Some argue that government regulation is even more necessary in this case, as the network effects and first-mover advantages of the largest technology firms mean that a competitor cannot provide the same quality of service even if there are no significant barriers to entry into the business of creating social media platforms, search engines, and payment processors.

However, treating social media as a public utility is likely to cause more problems than it solves. When governments began regulating other industries, innovation in those industries slowed. The companies which were nearly monopolistic either remained so or became real monopolies, as competition became even more difficult. Freezing current troublesome companies in place as major players rather than allowing upstarts to displace them is an undesirable outcome. This is exacerbated by the fact that public utility regulations are just as vulnerable to regulatory capture as any other regulations. It is also strange to equate losing social media presence with losing access to goods and services like clean water or garbage disposal, as one can live a healthy life without access to social media. Furthermore, the cost of regulation is likely to be high, and the regulated businesses will pass this cost onto their customers.

Read the rest @ The Zeroth Position here

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