It’s no longer shocking to hear news like Google cooperating with state censors in Russia. As American companies seek entry into foreign markets, they are increasingly willing to appease societies that are hostile to western traditions of liberty. It’s a reminder that liberal values aren’t tied to capitalism alone, but to the people and cultures that believe in them.
Google’s decision to work with Russia came after months of controversy over “Project Dragonfly,” the tech giant’s plan to create a censored search app for China. Google only backed down from that project following bipartisan political outcry, including from Vice President Pence and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).
But Google is far from alone in its decision to appease an oppressive regime. Last month, Netflix attracted condemnation after it pulled an episode from one of its comedy shows following complaints from the Saudi Arabian government. The episode featured jokes about murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Don’t expect bravery from Facebook either. As early as 2017, it sent one of its VPs to Pakistan to address complaints about “blasphemy” on the platform. Facebook-owned platform Instagram recently deleted an account promoting LGBT rights in Indonesia, following widespread anger from the country’s Muslim population.
Shortly before Instagram’s move, Google blocked a number of LGBT apps in its Play Indonesia store, following a request from the Muslim-dominated country’s government.
Beyond what’s banned, look also at what’s allowed — Google and Apple have attracted criticism from conservatives for banning free speech apps like Gab. Meanwhile, they’ve allowed a Saudi Arabian smartphone app that allows men to track the movements of women and “stop them leaving the country.”
Welcome to globalized free trade, where household-name American companies bend over backward to appease the whims of foreign tyrants. Where the same corporations that fire their own employees at the slightest hint of sexism help Saudi Arabian men keep tabs on women’s movements. Where corporate social media accounts deck themselves out in rainbow flags at every opportunity, while the companies they represent help Islamic mobs suppress sexual minorities.
The problem is likely to get worse. In a globalized economy, western companies have every incentive to look to authoritarian societies to market their products — demographically, those countries are on the rise while liberal societies are on the decline.
China has a population of 1.3 billion — almost double that of Europe and the United States combined. The fertility rate in the aftermath of its one-child policy is low, at 1.62 — but still not as low as the E.U. average of 1.60.
When you subtract the birthrates of immigrant populations from European countries, the fertility gap appears even starker. In 2015, the birthrate for non-immigrant German women was 1.43 — the same as that of Japan, the country that has long been the world’s poster child for demographic crisis.
The distinction between immigrant and non-immigrant birthrates in the west is important, because many of the minority communities in western countries are disproportionately likely to reject liberal values. In Britain, for example, 52 percent of Muslims say they would ban homosexuality. The Muslim fertility rate in Britain? 2.9, compared to 1.8 for for non-Muslims. Western corporations might have to put away their rainbow flags in the future United Kingdom.
The repressive foreign regimes that western companies are now cooperating with also preside over booming populations compared to western societies. Pakistan has an average fertility of 3.48 babies per woman, more than twice that of the European Union. In Saudi Arabia, it’s 2.53. In Indonesia, 2.36. All are above the replacement rate.
As populations in repressive societies expand, western corporations are faced with a simple choice: dispense with their woke progressive values, or wave goodbye to billions of potential consumers. In a globalized economy where they face little political restrictions at home for co-operating with authoritarian regimes, it’s a pretty easy decision.
“The Good Censor,” an internal Google research document leaked to Breitbart News, admitted as much. Acknowledging a “shift toward censorship” amid a steep rise in government takedown requests around the world, the briefing noted that moving further towards censorship would allow the company to appease foreign governments and “maintain global expansion.”
If they don’t want American companies cooperating with tyranny abroad, conservatives must once again scrutinize their old commitment to free trade. It’s certainly possible to have free trade and western values — but only if western demographics are rising beyond those in authoritarian societies. They’re not. And in a globalized economy, that creates an incentive for western corporations to cater to the latter over the former. Enjoy the mockery of Saudi Arabia on Netflix? Too bad, it won’t stay there for long.
Under present conditions, the grim global future involves western companies — who own the most powerful tracking and censorship technology in the world — joining forces with foreign regimes to help them oppress their own countries.
There are two alternatives. First, western politicians can use their influence to counter globalized market incentives. That’s what happened in the case of Google’s “Dragonfly,” as a massive, bipartisan political backlash at home forced the tech giant to kick the dystopian project into the weeds. A similar backlash may be emerging over Saudi Arabia’s woman-tracking apps.
The other alternative, which would solve more problems than just this one, is to follow the lead of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, and take serious steps to reverse the western demographic crisis.