After a week of revelations about Twitter’s suppression of conservatives in search results (an entirely predictable result of their inherently biased algorithm), Republicans seem to have finally had enough.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who himself was suppressed in search results, has filed a complaint against Twitter with the Federal Election Commission. Rep. Devin Nunes has promised to look into “legal remedies” against the company. And President Trump has vowed action against what he calls “illegal” and “discriminatory” practices on the part of Twitter.
This is the right approach, and the only way to frighten Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies away from purportedly unbiased algorithms that are in fact designed to help left-wingers censor their political opponents.
This is the same approach that President Trump took with trade — by breaking with decades of establishment GOP dogma on free trade and threatening action against companies that moved American jobs offshore, the President got what he wanted. He created so much apprehension in corporate America that they began moving jobs back to America even before he took office. The U.S. is now enjoying a manufacturing boom.
If Republicans want Silicon Valley to stay honest, they must take the same approach. It’s the only way big tech’s brazen discrimination against conservatives will end.
The problem extends far beyond Twitter itself. Consider Gab.ai, the free-speech maximizing competitor to Twitter. It’s been banned from Apple’s App Store and Google Play because it allows most lawful speech, including what Silicon Valley considers “hate speech,” on its platform. That means Gab is effectively excluded from Android and Apple devices, which represent almost 100 percent of the smartphone market.
Absent regulation, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale will spend a long time waiting for that iPhone app.
I’m not against @getongab. Just get me an iPhone app. I am all for a @Twitter replacement. This platform is so left I need to balance myself right with an elephant. Pun intended. 😬 https://t.co/38SIyW3mB1
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) July 3, 2018
So, Gab is effectively banned from smartphones, for the crime of being too committed to free speech. How can it compete with Twitter when the rest of Silicon Valley team up to choke off its distribution? It’s as if the U.S. Post Office and UPS decided amongst themselves that FedEx is no longer allowed to use highways. There’s no true “competition” here.
The same is true of payment processors. Want to raise money for a conservative cause online? Sorry, Patreon and GoFundMe won’t let you. Want to build a free-speech friendly alternative to Patreon and GoFundMe? Sorry, PayPal and Stripe won’t process your customers’ payments. Want to build a competitor to PayPal and Stripe? You still need Visa and MasterCard to play ball.
Even the underlying architecture of the internet, meant to be free and open to all, is now at risk of political censorship. DNS registrars, which are responsible for website addresses (e.g breitbart.com), have the power to effectively kick a website off the internet. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing over the past two years, first to neo-Nazi websites like the Daily Stormer and Alt-Right.com, and then to mainstream conservative ones like the Rebel Media.
Gab, too, faced the loss of its DNS registrar over a single anti-semitic post on the platform. Note the double standard: Mark Zuckerberg is allowed to keep Holocaust deniers on Facebook without any blowback from DNS providers, but the same leeway isn’t extended to a competing social network. It raises the question of whether objections to Gab are made in good faith. If Google and Apple really kicked it off their platforms over “hate speech,” why won’t they do the same to Twitter (still host to Richard Spencer) and Facebook (still host to Holocaust deniers) as well? Is their hostility to Gab really about their strict content rules, or is it about protecting established social media giants from competition?
Regardless of the reason, freedom of speech on the internet, as Sen. Ted Cruz recently pointed out, means freedom of speech even for people you vehemently disagree with. When DNS registrars can kick websites off the web, even neo-Nazi ones, internet freedom is effectively dead. And when neutral platforms like Gab face the same censorship simply for permitting lawful, first-amendment protected speech, it’s double dead.
Am no fan of Jones — among other things he has a habit of repeatedly slandering my Dad by falsely and absurdly accusing him of killing JFK — but who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech? Free speech includes views you disagree with. #1A https://t.co/RC5v4SHaiI
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 28, 2018
Online censorship is accelerating so fast, across so many platforms and services, that regulation seems to be the only answer. Competition is impossible when your website can be kicked off the internet, your app can be banned from smartphones, and your financial backers can be banned from supporting you through the web. A progressive racket now governs big tech, preventing Americans from exercising freedom of speech and freedom of association. Liberty-minded lawmakers must act.
More importantly, they must act before the Democrats — who have no intention of preserving internet freedom, and in fact, want to restrict it – do. House Dems have already drawn up a raft of proposals which are entirely focused on combating “misinformation” rather than giving users more tools to choose what they see on tech platforms. One proposal in the document would effectively end anonymity on large tech platforms by requiring them to determine the origin of posts and accounts. If Republicans want tech companies to be obliged to protect the freedom and choice of their users rather than restrict them, the race is on.