Does Big Tech have too much power?
Lets get one thing out the way, Social Media platforms do indeed require censorship. We have seen too many grim and gruesome reminders of why that is the case. The most gut-wrenching of which was the use of Facebook to incite Genocide in Mayanmar. There are cases of censorship where it is universally understandable why it takes place, but this line starts to blur a little when other high profile cases of censorship are studied closely.
Twitter and Facebook decided to suspend President Donald Trump from their respective platforms on 7th January, 2021, the day after the U.S. Capitol was breached. Their reason cited being that the President was using these platforms to incite the violence.
While many praised the decision for preventing the president from doing more harm at a time when his adherents are taking cues from his false claims that the election was rigged, republicans criticized it as a violation of Trump’s free speech. This case is controversial because it shows a tech company having the power to censor a politician, and not just any politician, the President of the United States. While the reason for this might be for the good, it does raise a question of private corporates being the one to make this decision.
So, is it a violation of free speech?
Are Twitter and Facebook taking away the President’s First Amendment rights? Well, No. Despite being the host of seemingly all of the world’s communication, Twitter and Facebook are private firms and are also protected by the First Amendment. They have the right to choose which content they want to have on their site. So what they are doing is technically legal but it does still raise some very serious concerns.
One of the main problems with this censorship is that it doesn’t seem to be consistent. While twitter may ban Donald Trump for inciting violence, one doesn’t need to look too hard to find other Politicians around the globe, getting away with similar or worse cases of fomenting unrest. But still it can be argued, that these platforms are well within their rights to host that content. So, these platforms do have the right to not be neutral, they can be politically biased with which content they decide to show, but the problem escalates when people do not have a choice to switch to another platform.
As a far-fetched example, if Facebook decides to ban all content relating to watermelons one day, the people interested in watermelons don’t have the choice to go to any other social media platform. The competition simply does not exist. That right there is the problem. Monopolization and the lack of competition. So yes, Social Media Platforms do indeed have too much power.
While Monopolisation is the problem, it is also a clear path to a solution. As we discussed in our interview with TechAltar, or Marton Brazca, a man well-versed with the on-goings of the tech world, one possible solution to this problem might just be increasing competition. If we had alternative sources for our information, multiple social media platforms, one or two couldn’t de-platform something entirely. It would take a conglomerate of all the competing platforms to democratically agree for something to be objectively censorable, which is much more trust-worthy and objective than two or three companies calling all the shots.
The Television Platform is a good example of how competition helps prevent such a problem. If one TV channel decides to not air a particular subject, it doesn’t mean that it can silence the issue altogether, there are multiple other news channels willingly to talk about that issue.
How do we increase competition?
Now this is where we hit a giant obstacle. Overcoming this is a herculean task. Social Media companies are relentless in terms of their monopolistic policies, but there is one thing that has the potential to challenge this, a word that shakes up companies to their very core, Anti-Trust Law Suits.
What are Anti-Trust Laws?
Antitrust laws regulate the conduct and organization of business corporations and are generally intended to promote competition for the benefit of consumers. This includes anti-monopolistic policies as well.
Recently, there have been several anti-trust law-suits against big companies like Facebook and Google. These law-suits are so time and money consuming that they have forced a lot of companies to self regulate.
It is difficult to implement antitrust, but this possible solution should not be dismissed. Tech is a monopolistic field, but antitrust stops companies from abusing monopolies in one sphere to gain leverage in another.
It will take time, but this is the only possible hope we have to curb big social media companies of their seemingly unobtrusive power.
~ Prabhpreet Singh