Big Tech Versus Freedom

January 14, 2019 Updated: February 21, 2019

There are many books about presumed plots to take over the world. One of the most famous, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” is about a Jewish plot to do exactly that. It is known to be a fabrication that wasn’t written by Jews, nevertheless, more than a century after its publication in 1902, it is still widely believed worldwide.

If there is a real-life version of a plan for world domination, Big Tech certainly has made an alarming start. I define Big Tech as social media sites such as Facebook, search engine companies such as Google, and financial services such as banks and credit card companies, to the extent some have become politicized, as discussed below.

I will first provide a sampling of the complaints. All of these are subject to verification, but there is plenty of evidence, given the number and magnitude of these complaints, to justify intense investigations. However, my major focus will be on the range of potential solutions that are consistent with civil liberties, as I haven’t seen enough thoughtful work on this subject, and society will require several years to resolve these problems.

Issues

International: It has been reported that Google has developed a search engine for China called “Dragonfly” that is designed to suppress web searches for restricted topics, such as human rights and protests. It links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers. Since it is entirely possible that a search engine may record more information about an individual than his or her spouse or business partner possesses, this would be terrifying if implemented.

In Germany, it has been reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was overheard complaining that Facebook had to do a better job of suppressing the posts of Germans complaining about the many alleged sexual assaults committed by the new migrants. It was irrelevant whether or not these complaints were justified.

The United States: Before providing specific examples, it’s important to understand that many leftist institutions largely regard all conservatives as indistinguishable from Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists. One compelling example of this point is well-known conservative advocate Ben Shapiro. When he scheduled a speech at Berkeley, an estimated $600,000 for protection was required to counteract leftist groups such as antifa which stands for “anti-fascist.” Yet, amazingly, Shapiro is an orthodox Jew. He is also a Harvard-trained lawyer who avoids caustic speech. While conservative, he is quite willing to also criticize both his fellow conservatives and President Donald Trump. If he is unacceptable to the left, half of the country is unacceptable to the left.

Google searches dramatically favor left-leaning sources such as CNN and The Washington Post, while substantially excluding conservative sites such as National Review. A Google search referred to the National Federation of Republican Women as the “National Federation of Republican Enablers” and another listed “Nazism” as one of the ideologies of the California Republican party. While these results were removed, their appearance doesn’t inspire confidence in Google’s neutrality. Leaked internal communications reveal discussions of ways to limit the influence of conservative sites and policies such as the travel ban.

Google maintains it is neutral politically, yet a leaked video showed a company assembly in which its top executives were bemoaning the results of the 2016 election. If the firm were truly neutral, its actions should, for both employees and the public, avoid even the appearance of bias.

Facebook, through its “news curators,” has suppressed stories of interest to conservatives, such as famed military sniper Chris Kyle (featured in the movie “American Sniper”) and evidence that former IRS executive Lois Lerner used government power to suppress conservatives. They raised the profile of stories on Black Lives Matter before the group was trending on its own. Conservative sites on Facebook have seen dramatic traffic declines.

There are recordings in which Twitter employees admit that they “shadow ban” conservative users, whereby the system creates the impression their messages are delivered to followers when they are not. One case involved four conservative members of Congress (out of 535) who were shadow banned with the excuse that there was a fault in the computer “algorithm.” An algorithm is supposed to be a complex set of logical rules, not a list of conservative congresspeople Twitter employees don’t like.

YouTube has restricted large numbers of videos posted by conservative commentator Dennis Prager. These short videos discuss a range of mainstream conservative issues.

A similar problem exists with financial services. Credit cards have become increasingly necessary for conducting business, including allowing customer purchases. Yet one conservative organization, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, had its credit card services cut off because a liberal group labeled it extremist. Citibank denies financial services to firms that sell guns to individuals less than 21 years of age or sell high capacity guns, even though these sales are legal.

Will the Problems Solve Themselves?

There is no indication that these problems will solve themselves. When they are exposed, there is an insidious process in which the Big Tech responses are incomplete, evasive, and misleading. Given their enormous wealth, these companies have access to immense resources for lobbying and litigation.

It has been claimed that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will address these issues. It will not. Computer software, no matter how sophisticated, depends on the information provided, and if this information is biased, such that all people who want to secure the border, for instance, are racist, then the analysis will be worthless.

Proposed Solutions

Clarifying who conducts foreign policy. Given the Dragonfly software noted previously, new legislation should be passed to explicitly prohibit private U.S. citizens and corporations from assisting totalitarian governments in suppressing the civil liberties of their citizens.

An anti-monopoly, public accommodations approach. The United States has a long history of anti-trust actions, starting with President Theodore Roosevelt. These reflected the view that concentrated power in critical industries such as oil was harmful to the public. This policy has continued under both major political parties in the regulation of “natural monopolies” such as electric utilities.

Imagine if airports came under the control of conservatives and they excluded liberals. Offering the excuse that there are other modes of transportation would be preposterous and would never happen. Similarly, given the enormity of the threat to freedom, the idea that people who are unhappy with Big Tech speech suppression could spend decades of time and billions of dollars to create their own environments is equally absurd—and if they did, they probably would be bought out.

Financial services such as banking and credit cards should be open to everyone, regardless of political viewpoint.

Information is the most important commodity in the modern economy, and Big Tech controls much of it. Accordingly, these companies should be regulated as natural monopolies or broken up.

Eliminate an unjustifiable legal exemption. In general, print publishers such as magazines can be held liable for anything that appears in their publication. However, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 states that, unlike print magazines, online platforms can’t be sued for statements posted by users, so long as the posting isn’t edited in any way.  This reflects a general view that the development of the internet required some extra latitude, and that these platforms would be content neutral, that is, they wouldn’t choose what is published. But that is exactly what they do.

My response is that there are two kinds of content control. Suppressing illegal activities such as incitement to violence and child pornography is necessary; however, if this filtering extends to suppressing legally protected speech that doesn’t reflect one preferred political viewpoint, the liability rule should be reimposed, thereby effectively fining these companies by imposing huge additional costs of doing business.

Big Tech is increasingly becoming like The New York Times, which is largely limited to liberal reporting, and entertainment sections such as theatre reviews and travel that are presumably not politicized.

A new court: Society has established family and drug courts on the sensible theory that justice requires knowledge and experience with the relevant subject. A new Court of Science and Analysis would handle the anti-trust/monopoly issues discussed above, as well as related ones. Statistical tests could be constructed to determine if the sites are broadly representative of the viewpoints of Americans and members of Congress. Failure to comply with reasonable regulation would, consistent with the United States’ history, result in fines and the possible breakup of the offending company.

Voluntary persuasion. As previously noted, asking the public to create alternatives isn’t a viable solution. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to attempt to persuade people that there are other good search engines besides Google, and other sites for exchanging political information besides Facebook. I hope it will become accepted that sites related to the activities of family and friends should be separate from political sites.

Arthur Wiegenfeld is an independent investor in New York City. He has training in economics, finance, physics, and computer simulation. Comments to artsdy@gmail.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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