by Brian Maloney
Do non-conforming voices have a prayer against Silicon Valley in November’s critical election? Before the cycle even begins, disturbing new developments show how conservatives and others already may have been marginalized by Big Tech behemoths.
Between press releases, congressional testimonies, and pending lawsuits, Google, Twitter, and Facebook echo over and over again the refrain that they aren’t biased against political opponents. Will repeating this lie often enough eventually convince the public it’s true?
Sadly, from experience, conservatives and others know the truth. Paper-thin rationalizations and all-too-convenient “mistakes” fail to mask these companies’ true intentions. Big Tech is looking to erase right-leaning voices, and it’s a threat we can’t afford to ignore.
In the latest troubling example, Google’s YouTube on December 12 took a sneaky step in the wrong direction, releasing new guidelines on “harassing” and “toxic” speech. If only its real aims were that innocent—both terms are actually coded language for speech the Left doesn’t like—meaning, of course, conservative.
Cracking down on whole channels (which can now be entirely yanked at will) as well as commenters for disallowed speech, the revisions rightfully have conservatives and others worried. Many have worked for years building a following and developing revenue channels, so millions are at stake. This is a pattern of censorship users have seen time and time again from Big Tech.
Not to be outdone, Facebook purged hundreds of pages during 2019, including those of influential right-wing voices like Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson.
And then there’s Twitter, where a double standard on the issue of account moderating is equally biased. According to one study from Quillette, “of 22 prominent, politically active individuals who are known to have been suspended since 2005 and who expressed a preference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 21 supported Donald Trump.”
As it consistently demonetizes and de-platforms conservative accounts, YouTube is certainly no better. For reasons that remain baffling, Dennis Prager’s PragerU channel—which features short, conservative educational videos on a variety of topics—has been placed into “restricted mode” and ruled inappropriate for younger audiences.
How have these tech overlords continued to get away with their blatant suppression of free speech? By twisting legal definitions to their advantage—a tactic with which they have substantial experience. In fact, Google currently is headed to the Supreme Court over that precise issue. In Google v. Oracle, the search engine company has tried to manipulate the legal definition of copyright in order to excuse its theft of intellectual property. After stealing numerous software packages from its competitor, Google argued that digital code isn’t actually protected under copyright.
If Google were to triumph at the Supreme Court, it would no longer be legally responsible for its theft of intellectual property. Such a ruling would eviscerate copyright protections for digital property. But Google would have succeeded in mangling the legal definition to fit its own agenda, consequences be damned.
Now, Big Tech is using the same strategy to censor non-believers. Much in the same way Google twisted “copyright” to suit their needs, Big Tech is manipulating the legal distinction between publisher and platform. They are attempting to carve out a middle ground between the two categories, so they can have the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither. And that makes censoring their political adversaries much easier.
Despite the two being mutually exclusive, they claim the legal privileges of platforms while exercising the discretionary authority of publishers. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al., argue that they are platforms, akin to a telephone company. Using that definition, they aren’t legally responsible for the content on their site—just as a phone company can’t be held liable for criminals conspiring over their line.
At the same time, however, they act like publishers. Unlike platforms, they choose what to present to their audience. The New York Times, a publisher, curates an insufferable selection of left-wing content available on its site. These companies are doing the exact same thing—promoting the opinions they find acceptable and erasing those they don’t. And just like the Times, these media “platforms” have no use for non-progressive thought, so they censor it.
In this way, Big Tech is silencing alternative viewpoints while somehow remaining above reproach. When legislators attempt to hold them responsible for their brazen censorship, it falls back upon the legal protections afforded to them as platforms. Conservatives cannot allow these leftist-dominated industries to control the language, because once they do, their viewpoints will vanish.
As it stands, Big Tech has been exceedingly effective at hamstringing the messaging capacity of opponents. Through legal sleight-of-hand, they censor alternate opinions, remove their content and block pages. As Google clearly demonstrated in its ongoing lawsuit, it won’t hesitate to redefine legal terms to gain the upper hand. This is a pernicious threat to all who choose to think differently—one that must be addressed without delay.
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Brian Maloney is the co-founder of the Media Equality Project, a conservative watchdog group. Follow him on Twitter at @SScalpings.
Photo “Google Censorship” by Mike Mackenzie. CC BY 2.0.