Banding Together Against Big Tech

Banding Together Against Big Tech
AP Photo/Ben Margot, File
Banding Together Against Big Tech
AP Photo/Ben Margot, File
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It’s time to band together to protect digital speech from the tech monopolies before it’s too late. This isn’t about fringe outliers anymore. This is about whether or not Republicans ever win another major election in America. It’s about whether all Americans can freely argue their politics in public. Ultimately, it’s a battle over who will control the digital lens through which human beings now see the world. 

Leading minds and voices on all sides know the stakes are high. Yet many argue Big Tech can be trusted not to misuse its powers, or that if it does, competitors will inevitably arise to erode the current monopolies. But anyone who believes legacy technology companies are not already crossing red lines is living in denial. 

Since Donald Trump was elected president — fueled by a social media presence outstripping the competition — Twitter has banned users for far less than the content of many of Trump’s old tweets. Strategizing about how Trump and his supporters could have been marginalized on social media now drives Big Tech’s increasingly coordinated efforts to ban and censor users whose views run afoul of progressive ideology. Many of our elites now expect privately held technology companies to stop 2016 from happening again — or else.

Examples of retaliatory and punitive action abound. Raheem Kassam, global editor-in-chief of Human Events, was recently banned for a second time by Facebook for simply stating in a personal status field 11 years ago that “men can’t be women.” Leave aside the fact that expressing the opinion of the vast majority of billions of human beings from the dawn of history to the present day is now considered “hate speech”; Kassam, who reaches millions of people a month online, was locked out of controlling the Human Events Facebook page, which has over 700,000 likes. A former senior adviser to Nigel Farage, he was cut off from encouraging his audience to vote on the day of the EU parliamentary elections. 

Similarly, Google recently labeled the Claremont Institute’s new online publication, The American Mind, a “racially or ethnically oriented publication” and banned Claremont from advertising its own 40th anniversary gala with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to readers of the site. What offended Google’s bots (human or algorithmic) was Claremont’s campaign against identity politics and political correctness. Little did Claremont know arguing against racially based politics would be falsely construed as “racially oriented” content.

Did someone at Google classify the proposition that all human beings are created equal — and should therefore stand against racially based, prison-yard politics — as “white nationalism”?

The truth is, we don’t know. Google and other tech companies are not under enough pressure to reveal their decision-making processes — and so they don’t. 

As more and more Americans fall under the shadow of the “banhammer,” they’re waking up to the truth — and acting on it. In a recent statement announcing it was leaving Facebook after one of its large user groups was deleted, the fitness company CrossFit said that “Facebook’s news feeds are censored and crafted to reflect the political leanings of Facebook’s utopian socialists.” 

Yet the tech companies aren’t taking the hint. As the pivotal 2020 election season approaches, they’re ratcheting up the tyranny, shutting access to their platforms off and on with minimal explanation, or none at all. To restore their access, companies such as CrossFit, nonprofits such as the Claremont Institute, and individuals such as Kassam must seek an audience with the online overlords. 

To gain such a hearing, it seems, only raising a ruckus will do. In Claremont’s case, Google said it made a mistake after the think tank went public. After Kassam went public, access to his Facebook account was also restored — again, with no explanation. But as Kassam pointed out on air, those without access to a loud megaphones do not have the same ability to publicly question Big Tech’s banishments. 

It is deeply troubling that such “mistakes” overwhelmingly afflict one side of the political spectrum in America and not the other. Worse, Big Tech relentlessly targets society’s most interesting and original voices, rather than the lemming-like chattering classes who jealously guard their media control. Feminist Meghan Murphy was banned from Twitter for the new secular sin of “deadnaming,” i.e. using the birth name of a transgender person. Increasingly coordinated digital censorship and erasure is out in the open. And, increasingly, reasonable liberals are intimidated into silence and complicity by the militant leftists and the Fortune 500 corporations they know can destroy them, too, with the push of a button. 

Why has it taken so long for all of us to band together? Many on the American right are funded by Big Tech foundations, and thus seek to accommodate Big Tech’s biases to maintain that funding stream. But many more still seem to think that only fringe groups have anything to fear. They’re making a terrible mistake. 

The idiotic rejoinder from many “intellectuals” on the right is some version of “Start your own Google!” -- as if the only answer to the abuses and bad service of large multinational corporations is more of the same corporate competition. This isn’t just glib and impractical. It’s dangerously foolish. There will be shattering consequences to our shared political lives if we continue to ignore the clear ideological pattern of such incidents. 

The freedom and regulation of social media and Big Tech presents complex challenges and policy questions that will require sustained debate and political action. But whether or not online access is a civil right, in the absence of proper application of existing government checks on consumer exploitation, a first and obvious step is to band together to create a consumer watchdog — a kind of consumer union that can assist all those affected by the overreach of Big Tech, by legal means if necessary. 

There should be no objection on the right or left to such a time-honored, free-market solution. Consumers have every right to band together, demand better treatment and more transparent practices, and seek legal remedies under existing law. 

We will be working with many others to fund this effort and identify committed attorneys and activists willing and able to systematically approach these abuses — and fight back — before it is too late. More will be announced in the coming weeks, but for now we ask all who wish to follow and support this effort to sign up here

The Big Tech problem is growing worse by the day. To keep our public square public and free requires our vigilance and commitment. If we don’t act together soon, we will lose our republican form of government, which requires public debate and deliberation in order to survive. Citizens will live in fear, their heads down and their mouths shut, “free” only to recite the compulsory platitudes of a new, post-democratic regime.  

If we don’t band together now, we run the risk that we will each be banned separately in the near future. 

Join us. 

Harmeet Dhillon, a trial lawyer who focuses on technology and employment issues, is a longtime critic of digital censorship who has sued Google and Twitter.

Matthew Peterson is the vice president for education at The Claremont Institute and editor of The American Mind, which Google recently temporarily banned from advertising to its readers.

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