Why Big Tech deplatforming should be deeply disturbing for everyone, regardless of your politics

https://protonmail.com/blog/big-tech-deplatform-antitrust/

Big Tech monopolies have too much control over what can exist on the internet. To preserve democracy, we need to break these monopolies up.

So many of today’s issues are viewed through a political lens, and that includes Big Tech deplatforming. But in reality, deplatforming is a problem worthy of deeper critical reflection as it touches on topics that are fundamental to democracy itself.

Once thought of as an untameable jungle of free speech, the internet is now a walled garden, increasingly monitored and controlled by a handful of unregulated monopolies. The gatekeepers to the walled garden, companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, serve as the judge, jury, and executioner for the internet.

The latest display of their power came on late Jan. 29, when Google banned Element, a chat application that uses the federated Matrix chat protocol. Without warning, and through no fault of its own, Element was cut off from the Google Play Store, losing access to the 2.5 billion mobile devices that run on Android globally. Google claimed there was “abusive content somewhere on Matrix,” but this is like banning web browsers because there is abusive content somewhere on the internet.

After a public outcry, Google reversed its decision less than 48 hours later, saying the ban was made in error. Yet “errors” like this have become disturbingly common. There are hundreds of cases of these “inadvertent bans” by Big Tech. Google has also mistakenly blocked Reddit and podcast apps.

Regardless of your politics, all instances of deplatforming should be deeply disturbing, even when it might seem justified, like in the case of Parler and Trump. The problem is not that Trump (or any other individual) was deplatformed but that deplatforming is possible in the first place. It is a deep societal problem that the public town squares of the 21st century, which are essential for civil discourse, are entirely controlled by a small number of unelected tech oligarchs.

Google, Big Tech, and deplatforming: How we got here

Deplatforming sits at the intersection of free speech, technology, and antitrust, each of which is a highly complex issue on its own.

Under current law, Big Tech platforms have the final word on their services. They have the right to decide which thinkers, politicians, and businesses are allowed onto their platform and which they will expel. This seems reasonable until you consider Big Tech’s scale and how fundamental the internet is to modern-day life.

Most businesses can’t survive without an internet presence, which is subject to just a few gatekeepers. Facebook and Twitter can destroy a company’s social media presence, and Google and Apple can decide which companies can exist on mobile devices. Meanwhile, critical internet infrastructure companies, like Amazon Web Services, can determine the fate of a company’s entire online presence.

This is a precarious position. Big Tech companies have repeatedly proven they will ruthlessly pursue their own interests at all costs. These companies allow misinformation on their platforms to increase user engagement. They constantly spy on their users, trying to find new ways to access previously private data, because the more data they collect, the more they can monetize.

How did it get to be this way? Part of the issue is the revolutionary aspect of the internet and the speed of technology. Regulators are always playing catch-up. However, Big Tech could not have accrued this power without the woeful dereliction of duty by the governments of the world’s major democracies. Politicians on both the right and left have allowed Big Tech to buy up their competition, use their platforms to favor their services over their competitors’, and even clone their competitors’ goods and undercut on price.

Absent any regulation, Big Tech companies continue to expand their invasive reach. Facebook is trying to launch a new cryptocurrency, Google is moving into wearable smart devices, Apple is taking on health care, and Amazon is attempting to wring dollars out of the last few brick-and-mortar shops still standing. Any competitor standing in their way faces getting bought out, deplatformed, or chased out of the market by predatory pricing.

Thanks to this colossal failure, Big Tech now dominates the internet. And they continue working to consolidate their power. Big Tech is now the largest lobbying force in Washington DC. This corruption is present on both sides of the political spectrum. For example, the reported front-runner to head the Biden Justice Department’s antitrust division, Renata Hesse, is a former lawyer who has advised Google and Amazon and whose husband’s firm still works for Google.

The problem, as clearly stated by Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Economy, is that when it comes to Big Tech, “The regulation of the digital world cannot be done by the digital oligarchy.” Unfortunately, the tech giants have increasingly captured the regulators and politicians who are supposed to be representing the interests of the people.

Big Tech has created an internet and political system that primarily benefits the monopolists. But it does not have to be [ … ]

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Author: prevision


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