By silencing Donald Trump and his supporters this week, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon just confirmed what their critics had been saying about Big Tech for some time: More and more, America is controlled by a digital oligarchy.
Twitter got most of the headlines when it permanently banned Trump’s account last week, taking away a platform that allowed the president to effectively communicate directly with his constituents. The social network went on to remove 70,000-plus accounts of people who allegedly trade in conservative conspiracy theories. Facebook joined Twitter in banning Trump from its social media networks, while Apple, Google and Amazon went after Parler, a social media network favored by conservatives.
Many defended the moves, saying Trump has used his Twitter megaphone to lie and stoke hatred, to encourage the criminal invasion we saw on display last week in the halls of Congress. It’s true that Trump has said many things on Twitter that raise eyebrows in Washington and no doubt irritate tech executives in Silicon Valley, but removing his platform was a step too far.
Twitter, as a private company, should get to set the rules about who gets to play in its sandbox. But those rules should be applied equally, and by singling out Trump and his supporters – and not taking the same actions against other public figures who’ve arguably said far worse things -- the company is saying it believes it knows what’s better for the country’s interests than America’s own elected leaders, and it is willing to control what its users are allowed to say.
Whether you agree or disagree with Twitter’s actions this week, it’s easy to see the slippery slope that lies ahead should social media companies continue to clamp down on speech they don’t like. And they’re already sliding.
Amazon’s removal of Parler, a social media site favored by conservatives, is perhaps the most alarming reaction we’ve seen. Amazon provided hosting services for Parler, as it does many websites. In fact, Amazon controls as much as 40 percent of the web’s infrastructure, according to media reports. Now that the company has pulled out the rug from Parler, what’s stopping it from doing the same thing the next time one of its clients publishes something it doesn’t like? What if your favorite sources of news are suddenly subjected to Amazon’s editorial standards simply because Amazon controls all of the infrastructure? That kind of behavior will do more to stifle a free press than a swampy government could ever hope to achieve.
Yes, we have a digital oligarchy. Social media networks are controlled by just a few companies who seem to be working in concert to control speech they don’t like and favor the political outcomes they prefer.
The behavior we saw last week from the rioters at the capitol should concern all Americans. But so should the reactions we’ve seen from Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon, among others. Bottom line? Our social media overlords wield too much power and they need to be reined in by Washington.
— Today’s News-Herald