Big tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter can arbitrarily censor internet content viewed or posted by users to influence their political views. After the 2016 election, tech giants enhanced their systems and algorithms to more effectively control and block internet content that does not conform to their mostly left-leaning views.
Concerns are being raised about Silicon Valley’s influence on democratic politics including elections, Allum Bokhari an investigative journalist said in an interview on The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders.”
Since “There’s no regulator stopping them using that power, and it is going to have a big impact on what Americans are allowed to see, what Americans are allowed to read about,” which may amount to interfering with “this crucial election,” Bokhari said.
It has become especially evident after the 2016 election when then-presidential nominee Donald Trump won, taking by surprise his opponents and those with far-left political views, including those at most of the big tech companies, according to Bokhari.
After that, initiatives have been created by anti-Trump employees of these companies to suppress misinformation, fake news, and hate speech with a focus on “suppressing the Trump movement, making sure 2016 doesn’t happen again,” Bokhari told The Epoch Times.
Bokhari conducted investigations on Big Tech censorship, interviewed whistleblowers inside them who were concerned about the political direction of these tech giants and their “completely unaccountable influence” on politics, and wrote the book “#DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.”
Recently seen examples of their influence were “censoring one of America’s oldest newspapers, the New York Post,” “shutting down the White House press secretary’s account,” or censoring President Donald Trump’s Twitter account on numerous occasions, Bokhari said.
Methods of Internet Censorship
Bokhari’s source inside Facebook told him about a “depolarization initiative” carried out by the company. Facebook analyzes videos and posts viewed by people who changed their political opinion “from the so-called far right to the center on Facebook” and uses this information to create a model to “invisibly influence” other so-called far-right users to change their political opinions in a similar way, Bokhari said.
“It seemed like a kind of brainwashing model that Facebook is working on,” Bokhari said. Depolarization “sounds politically neutral,” seems like Facebook tries to “make everyone less partisan,” Bokhari said, “but it conceals, I think, a very insidious program.”
Another means of invisible censorship is erasing links to conservative media, Bokhari said. For example, in July Breitbart published data showing that visibility of Breitbart News in Google search results for anything “has gone down by 99 [percent], compared to the same period in 2016,” Bokhari said.
Big tech companies also assign a secret score to each user for every post on Facebook, Twitter, every website tried or what is put on Google and use this score to determine what will appear on the top of search results or on Facebook feed, YouTube feed, or Twitter feed, Bokhari said.
This method, called quality ranking, was used in the past to identify websites with malware, viruses, websites producing spam, or other unsafe contents to prevent them from appearing on the top pages of Google search results or social media feeds, he explained.
Over the past four years, however, this mechanism was enhanced and used to achieve some political goals. New criteria for scoring were added to algorithms, and now it scores whether “the website or the post or the YouTube video contain misinformation, or hate speech or fake news or conspiracy theories,” Bokhari said. “So now, this quality ranking is determined in part by your conformity to the values of Silicon Valley.”
Bokhari wrote in his recently published book that the Big Tech companies are the ones who define what is considered “misinformation,” “hate speech,” “violence,” or “bots” for the purpose of scoring. They trained their systems to score user content according to their definitions.
The reason “why Antifa and other violent far-left rule breakers get a seemingly free rein on social media platforms” is that algorithms on these platforms “simply haven’t been trained to detect them,” Bokhari wrote.
Bokhari cited in his book a Twitter engineer who said in an undercover video recorded by Project Veritas, that accounts using “stereotypical conservative phrases” in their posts such as “guns, God, America, and with the American flag and the cross” were classified as bots by Twitter’s system.
“[Quality ranking] is becoming eerily similar to the Chinese social credit system where again, you are ranked based on your level of conformity to the values of the ruling elite. That’s what we’re, that’s essentially what Silicon Valley is moving towards,” Bokhari said.
The Chinese social credit system is based on extreme surveillance and documentation that assigns each citizen a rating, and either rewards or punishes them. Punishments may include blocking people with “poor” social credit from buying travel tickets.
How to Rein in Big Techs
The Big Tech companies control most of the political speech and activity that takes place on their platforms, and this is “a really difficult situation,” Bokhari said. “So if you’re going to try and organize against them, well they control the platforms where you’ll be organizing.”
The other big difficulty is that they fund conservative institutions, progressive institutions, Republican politicians, and Democrat politicians, Bokhari added.
“One glimmer of hope is that the Trump administration does seem to be taking meaningful action on the issue of Big Techs’ power,” Bokhari said.
In October Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) unveiled legislation that would require big tech companies to adhere to the “First Amendment standard for their content moderation practices.” The bill would limit the immunity the companies have when they restrict speech or censor certain content, allowing for more accountability.
The response of the Democrats in Congress to the issue of Big Tech power “has essentially been the complete opposite of the Republicans,” Bokhari said. With the exception of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), “who seems to understand the censorship issue,” most Democratic politicians support “censoring more hate speech” while Republicans want the tech companies to stop censoring, Bokhari said, so it is difficult to get the majority in a divided Congress.
Even among Republicans, there is an opposition against regulating the tech giants as some Republicans consider it interfering with the free market, Bokhari said. However, Bokhari did not agree with this view because Big Techs’ censorship power comes from a special government privilege given to them in 1996 in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“The only power in the Western world right now trying to rein in the tech giants is the executive branch in the United States. Every other government around the world seems to want more hate speech regulations from these tech companies. They want more censorship, they want more control,” Bokhari concluded.