Why ‘Big Tech’ Should Face Stronger Regulation

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Well, another day, another dissenting view silenced. Having avoided the censorship controversy that other tech companies have waded into over the past week, Twitter finally couldn’t ignore the itch anymore and hit the big red “ban” button.

In what is becoming a disturbingly regular trend in the world of social media, Gavin McInnes, along with all Proud Boy accounts, have been suspended from Twitter. The premise for the blanket banning? Supporting Unite the Right, which Gavin had personally denounced on Twitter shortly before his banning, and to which Proud Boys had no affiliation.

This follows InfoWars’ widespread banning from Spotify, Apple iTunes, Facebook and even Alex Jones’ personal LinkedIn profile.

Earlier this week, I wrote a very scathing piece on Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux’s disgraceful no-platforming in New Zealand, where I briefly touched on the topic of freedom of speech, and whether it should be enforced on private companies, or if it a case of business owners having the right to choose who they engage with. As a self-described libertarian and free-market capitalist, my reflexive response was resoundingly in favour of the latter.

[RELATED: Free Speech in the Age of No-Platforming]

Well, I’ve had a few days to reflect on my original opinion, and since I’m not a leftist shill who is blissfully adrift in an ocean of self-created cognitive dissonance, I can openly say I have changed my mind now that I have heard the arguments from the other side and taken the time to reflect on it.

So why would I be in support of expanding government regulation to private businesses? If a Christian bakery doesn’t want to bake a cake for a gay wedding, they shouldn’t be forced to, so why would this be any different?

The reason I raise the gay wedding cake fiasco is that it was the case that was used to argue in favour of Silicon Valley’s selective censorship. Somewhat ironically, those using the argument were generally those who believed bakeries should be forced to bake cakes for gay weddings, but selective big tech censorship is perfectly fine.

But here’s the difference as I see it.

With the gay wedding cake scenario, the basic reason that most libertarians or capitalists would support the business’s right to choose is this: If a company doesn’t want to do business with you, you can easily find another business that would be more than happy to take your money and bake you a cake. And if as a business, you refuse to serve a significant portion of the population, you will begin to haemorrhage customers as your target market is reduced and no one will recommend you, say, for perceived bigotry.

I’m no economist, but most people realize that serving fewer customers means you will make less money. In a nutshell, the free markets will punish you if you are a company that won’t do business with large swathes of the population, because people will vote with their feet and spend their money elsewhere. It makes zero economic sense, but business owners should have the right to do so anyway.

The problem with being sent to the Googlags for your controversial, or, in some cases, completely mainstream, opinions that are in opposition to the predominant narrative, is that there generally is no alternative. There is a monopolistic conglomerate of large social media companies who are all in step with one another. It would be similar to if one bakery decided not to cater a gay wedding, all bakeries in the city followed suit upon hearing the news, similarly to how InfoWars was banned from all of the aforementioned platforms within a 12-hour period.

The common trait among all of these tech companies is that they are all vehemently opposed to views that are not either indifferent or far-left. Diversity most certainly is not their strength when it comes to social and political opinion!

Of course, there are alternative web sites being set up, such as gab.ai, and while this is encouraging, the issue is that they still fall afoul of the same ideological tyranny that exists in the mainstream social media. Unless you have the enormous amount of capital required to host your own content in-house, you will be dependent on cloud services such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google.

These companies are all part of the same Silicon Valley cabal that alternative sites are trying to compete against, and since they are hosting content for upcoming social media sites, they can enforce their own Terms of Service on these start-ups, regarding what content is allowed on the platform. So if you are creating a website to compete with Facebook in the arena of free speech, you basically have to accept Facebook’s terms of service (under the guise of a hosting company) before you can host any content.

It should go without saying that agreeing to these terms makes the whole endeavour completely pointless, thus eliminating any competition. If you aren’t completely horrified by this proposition, I would suggest you haven’t fully understood it.

To use our analogy from before of the gay wedding cake scenario, where all bakeries in the city refuse to bake cakes for gay weddings, let’s say you want to start your own bakery to serve everyone – including filling the gap in the market for all the poor gays who can’t get a red velvet cake for their big day since all the other bakeries are ideologically homogeneous.

Once you have a snazzy name (we’ll just go with “Cakes for All” for this example), the next step is to find a location for your bakery. But there’s a problem – all business premises in the city are owned by the religious bakeries that you are hoping to compete against by opening your bakery, and they can say that for as long as they are providing your business with its premises, they won’t allow any cakes to be baked for gay weddings on threat of closing you down. Now unless you can outlay the costs needed to buy land and build your own premises in addition to your original business launch expenses, you’re back at square one.

Cakes for All Bakery may just be an example for the sake of this analogy, but there is nothing hypothetical about how hosting censorship applies to alternative social media companies.

Just this week, Gab (free speech Twitter) was threatened with being booted off the Internet over the posts of users being deemed hate speech by their hosting provider, Microsoft Azure. So even if you open your own bakery, the established bakers, who are effectively your landlords, can mothball your business if it doesn’t toe the line.

Hopefully this analogy demonstrates the difference between what I would describe as “healthy capitalism”, where anyone can come along and open a business alongside the giants and compete on a level playing field, and a bullying sandbox environment where the big kids serve as the gatekeepers, no competition is allowed, and they will pour sand in your shoes if you challenge them.

The other aspect to consider is the impact of these companies silencing you. Sure, there are millennials who will develop some yet-to-be-named syndrome if they are unable to post selfies or see pictures of other people’s smashed avocado on toast, but what about in the world of business?

Just to pick one example, if you are a journalist and you are banned, not for spreading hatred or lies, but uncomfortable truths (hatefacts, I believe is the newspeak term for them), then what effect does that have on the journalistic profession? It encourages those who are delivering the news to the majority of people to be ideologically aligned with the social media company, at the gunpoint of having your career ended, since modern journalism is so heavily dependent on social media.

That’s a very powerful sword for social media companies to wield, particularly when they have their own political and social agendas.

So in closing, my argument isn’t for equal outcomes, or even for start-ups to be given assistance. But surely, blatantly blocking competitors from competing with you in the arena of free speech is cause for some checks and balances.

What do you think? Comment below, or on Twitter (of all places, I know).

 

Photo credit: William Iven on Unsplash

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