If any conservatives still had any doubts about Big Tech’s intentional censorship of conservative voices, recent events should serve as sufficient proof.
First, Project Veritas posted interviews with whistleblowers from Pinterest and Google revealing that these companies deliberately discouraged conservative content, with the hopes of opposing President Trump and fostering a leftist agenda. As a matter of course, YouTube and Vimeo have blocked access to these interviews and have done their best to bury this story.
Next, the knitting site Ravelry announced that it would ban pro-Trump messages and users from their site, citing their position as the equivalent of “white supremacy.” Other sites and businesses have supported Ravelry and may impose their political agenda and discriminate against Trump-voters—if Ravelry can get away with it, why not?
Then, Reddit decided to quarantine r/The_Donald, the largest online forum for Trump supporters. This means Reddit users cannot search the forum nor see it listed on the front page and must accept a warning statement to access the site. Additionally, users have to log in on their desktops before getting mobile access. These restrictions obviously mean to limit the reach of the online community, discourage activity and spreading information, and lay the groundwork for permanent banning.
Most recently, Google shut down Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s advertising account after the campaign showed an uptick in spending right after the first primary debate. In response, Gabbard is suing the company for $50 million in damages.
These are just the most recent political moves of large social media companies. Until conservatives (and less-favored progressives) respond to this with some degree of seriousness, more will certainly follow.
What a Serious Response Would Look Like
What would a serious response look like? First, politicians would legally protect free speech and prohibit social media platforms from arbitrarily censoring content. Second, people need alternative platforms that actually allow for free speech and equal access to users.
As it so happens, both actions have been proposed, but have gone nowhere. In the first case, Sen. Josh Hawley proposed a bill, “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” that would treat large social media platforms like publishers if they start manipulating content.
Republican politicians have either criticized the bill for attempting to regulate private companies’ practices or have put the matter off. As for Democrats, they have no real reason for supporting the bill, since they mostly stand to benefit from Big Tech censorship.
In the second case, a few web developers—like Parler, Trump Town, and Voat (alternatives for Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, respectively)—have created platforms to better accommodate conservative speech. However, these sites remain relatively small and haven’t attracted famous personalities with large followings. To make matters worse, users with more extreme views, having been banned from the bigger platforms, often flock to these sites and quickly turn them into cyber-ghettos.
Judging from the lack of action taken, it seems evident that conservative politicians and pundits have little interest in challenging the status quo. For those wondering why, the answer is simple: these people benefit from the current arrangement, even if they never say so.
As a rule, politicians do not want to change the system in any serious way. After all, it is this system that allows them to win elections. When some senator tries to advocate actual change, like Hawley with Big Tech, or Ted Cruz with Obamacare, or Paul Ryan with entitlement reform, other senators will cheer them on from a distance and proceed to do precisely nothing.
Sure, they may have campaigned on these issues and promised to reform America’s “broken system,” but if they actually solved the problem, they’d risk making the matter worse, losing support (since taking a position would necessarily exclude some constituency), or lacking an issue to run on in later elections. More importantly, changing the system requires far more work and intelligence than staying pat and whining about things occasionally. As Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “It takes a master carpenter to build a barn, but any jack-ss can kick it down.”
Furthermore, politicians, especially Republicans, can always blame the opposition for their inaction and occasionally use them to look tough, so they may insist on keeping them around. If they passed a bill that removed Big Tech bias or joined an unbiased platform, they would immediately lose their scrappy, anti-establishment image. This would easily ruin the appeal of people like Donald Trump, or Cruz, or Mike Lee—as well as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for that matter.
Perhaps, most of all, a censored online forum—which is another way of saying a regulated online forum—favors those who are already popular. In theory, any good conservative can try to build a grassroots campaign and promote himself on social media. In reality, biased search algorithms, regular waves of banning users, and built-in echo chambers prevent real competition. Just like regulations help big businesses by preventing smaller businesses from entering the market, speech regulations on social media help incumbent politicians by preventing potential competitors from building up a following.
For many of the same reasons, popular conservative media figures are likely to shy from combating Big Tech censorship. They too profit from the system as it’s currently configured. They too can build up large followings by playing the victim to Big Tech bias. Steven Crowder even awarded Carlos Maza an “Employee of the Month” award, since the latter’s demands for YouTube to take action against Crowder led to a huge spike in subscriptions to Crowder’s paid content. They too profit from the competition being censored into obscurity.
These Principles Happen to Work for the Big Guys
Of course, all these people will never admit to acting in self-interest but will cite the principles of free speech and limited government. They may recognize that Big Tech companies discriminate against conservatives, but will complain far more about the federal government trying to correct that. They may encourage every bold entrepreneur to rise to the challenge of creating a new social media platform, but they will never dare endorse those platforms if it means losing followers.
The collective reluctance from conservative elites to defend free speech rightly upsets average Americans, who find themselves marginalized in the public square. They must sit helplessly as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter normalize radical leftist ideology by amplifying certain voices and stigmatizing conservative opinions by silencing them. In such an environment, decency and honesty are liabilities, and dialogue and debate become impossible.
Left unaddressed, this bodes ill for future elections and traditional cultural institutions. Trump correctly remarked that Big Tech companies are “trying to rig the election.” With the mainstream media and online media both coordinating to box conservative media into a ghetto with little means of affecting the majority of American voters, Democrats and leftists will always win. No self-respecting voter wants to vote for the bigotry that Big Tech platforms have made synonymous with conservatism.
Instead of waiting for elites to lead the way, the traditionally silent majority of moderate and conservative Americans will have to break their silence before it’s too late. They will need to organize a grassroots movement, a new kind of Tea Party, that supports politicians like Hawley and groups like Project Veritas who are willing to confront Big Tech’s abuses.
At the same time, they move to other platforms and bring others with them—gentrify the cyber-ghettos. If enough people join such a movement, then conservative leaders will finally give this issue the attention it deserves.
Americans should understand that this is not about defending crackpots and bigots; this is about safeguarding common sense and promoting merit. Free speech is not about saying whatever one wants, but about saying what is true and being heard.
Americans already enjoy the innovation and abundance of a free market. Now they must pursue the parallel benefits of free speech: better ideas, and more of them.