Considering James Damore’s memo and the information that has come out since then (Women say they quit Google because of racial discrimination: ‘I was invisible’), last week was not a good one for the tech uberlords.
We won’t get into the politics, but several of the big tech players, including Cloudflare, GoDaddy Inc., Google, Facebook, Twitter, GoFundMe, Spotify and Airbnb decided to threaten freedom of expression online by blocking and/or otherwise not doing business with so-called white supremacists. Not all so-called hate groups, mind you, or groups that might otherwise be a danger to, say, children et al (Facebook Refuses to Remove Flagged Child Pornography, ISIS Videos).
Says the Wall Street Journal (Tech Censorship of White Supremacists Draws Criticism From Within Industry: The moves by tech companies like Cloudflare have been chided for threatening freedom of expression online), “The debate intensified over whether the growing number of tech companies that blocked white supremacists and a neo-Nazi website on the internet have gone too far, as a prominent privacy group questioned the power a few corporations have to censor.”
The Electronic Freedom Foundation warned that “All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected…We do it because we believe that no one—not the government and not private commercial enterprises—should decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t.”
Meet the Competition
Caught up in the sudden censorship movement: Twitter competitor Gab. As Venture Beat reports, Gab app banned from Google Play Store over hate speech concerns as web giants face free speech crisis (updated). “For Gab founder (and former YCombinator alum) Andrew Torba, this move is likely to fuel his crusade against what he already felt was the overwhelming control a handful of companies, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, wield over speech on the internet.”
Not that this is Torba’s first run-in with the Silicon Valley powers that be – and its echo chamber.
Not mentioned in the piece: that Gab has developed a YouTube/Periscope/Facebook Video competitor, which will leave the tech oligarchs, who are blatantly attempting to control the conversation as well as the advertising dollars, with potentially serious competition, especially in light of the fact that it may well become the platform of choice of people who seem to arbitrarily suffer at the hands of the tech monoliths, as happened to Diamond and Silk recently, two humorous black women who are decidedly neither racists nor white supremacists.
And why not kill the potential competition before it has a chance to see the light of day?
In the name of the greater social good, naturally.
Imagine what might have happened had Amazon decided to sell more than just books and had branched into, say, a full online shopping portal, ultimately adding an entertainment portal, food delivery, and even went so far as to help to control the conversation by buying a once-esteemed newspaper…
Were we not warned not too long ago about the dangers with these companies becoming so powerful that they could shut down competition? It’s happening. At internet speed.
Apple, of course, also came out against hate speech (Tim Cook: Apple donating millions in response to Charlotteville violence), less than a month after Apple Removes Apps From China Store That Help Internet Users Evade Censorship. The message is consistent: Apple is clearly in support of suppression of free speech/information.
Google: An Equal Opportunity Censor
But it seems that tech companies don’t merely censor from without. Google employees deterred from reporting discrimination, US official says, The Guardian reports. “Google denies claim as US official describes ‘chilling effect’, saying employees have expressed fear – the company’s strict policy prevents them from speaking out. Following a judge’s ruling that Google must hand over salary records and employee contact information to federal regulators investigating possible systemic pay disparities, a labor department official said the agency was worried that the technology corporation’s restrictive employee communication policies could impede the next phase of the inquiry.”
Welcome to a Google world, and it’s one that literally and figuratively seems to know no boundaries.
It’s easy to follow the herd mentality, especially when cloaked in a conversation that seems so popular. Careful when you willingly give up a freedom in support of a particular viewpoint, as the EFF warned. We will remind you that there was a time when gay-bashing was widely accepted. And gays are a minority. What if their voices had been silenced or universally banned? Being anti gay was certainly a popular sentiment in its day. There are places in the world where it continues to be literally a death sentence.
Careful whom you so readily and willingly silence. And whom you put in charge of making that decision.
More importantly, always a good idea to follow the money – or the potential money stream – and the power grab. In this case, the tech uberlords threaten not only freedom of speech, but competition, as we see in the case of Gab. In the words of country singer Aaron Tipping, You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. Onward and forward.