The war between Big Tech and the Bill of Rights is really heating up.
The latest shot was fired at The Atlantic, a publication funded by Steve Jobs’ widow through the Emerson Collective, (that’s spelled Apple if you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of Silicon Valley dynasties), celebrating the Chinese solution to free speech.
Yesterday I wrote about Silicon Valley’s Control Virus.
China is more than the tech industry’s partner: it’s the future. The social credit system and surveillance society, the skyscrapers and robotics, the high-speed rail and the massive factories are more than just TED talks, they’re a grim chrome-plated reality. The censorship, surveillance, and propaganda deployed by Silicon Valley in response to the pandemic was a Chinese solution privatized in an American fashion.
Gates, like other Silicon Valley technocrats, has to keep spreading the myth of Chinese expertise in battling the Wuhan Virus, not just because Microsoft needs the approval of the Communists, but because the Peeps are to tech industry technocrats what the Soviet Union with its collective farms and planned economy was to the New York and Chicago academics of nine decades ago. The future.
The one thing that China’s Xi and Gates’ corporate culture in Redmond could agree on is that people are stupid and need to be told what to do. Most will never do what they’re supposed to unless they’re manipulated, prodded, and even bullied into doing what the masters of the universe think they should.
And The Atlantic’s piece embodies all of that to a fault.
Covid-19 has emboldened American tech platforms to emerge from their defensive crouch. Before the pandemic, they were targets of public outrage over life under their dominion. Today, the platforms are proudly collaborating with one another, and following government guidance, to censor harmful information related to the coronavirus.
Was this translated from the original Russian or the original German?
As surprising as it may sound, digital surveillance and speech control in the United States already show many similarities to what one finds in authoritarian states such as China. Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices, which further values and address threats different from those in China. But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.
In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong
It depends on what your metric for right is. But why not put your money where your mouth is and call for a Communist dictatorship? Is expecting dot com platforms to run your dictatorship for you because you have contempt for most of the country really more efficient?
The result a decade later is that most of our online speech now occurs in closely monitored playpens where many tens of thousands of human censors review flagged content to ensure compliance with ever-lengthier and more detailed “community standards” (or some equivalent). More and more, this human monitoring and censorship is supported—or replaced—by sophisticated computer algorithms. The firms use these tools to define acceptable forms of speech and other content on their platforms, which in turn sets the effective boundaries for a great deal of speech in the U.S. public forum.
Admitting that is a good step.
Google, Facebook, and a handful of other companies effectively control speech in America. This is a bad development. It effectively shreds the Bill of Rights. An outcome that the two law profs here view as a good thing.
What is different about speech regulation related to COVID-19 is the context: The problem is huge and the stakes are very high. But when the crisis is gone, there is no unregulated “normal” to return to. We live—and for several years, we have been living—in a world of serious and growing harms resulting from digital speech. Governments will not stop worrying about these harms. And private platforms will continue to expand their definition of offensive content, and will use algorithms to regulate it ever more closely. The general trend toward more speech control will not abate.
Not as long as there are a handful of digital platforms that monopolize and define the internet, and who share the same basic politics and worldview.
That is what we need to change. If we don’t, the authors will be right, free speech, and for that matter, a conservative political movement, will be dead.
I’ve spent years writing and speaking about this. Recently there’s been some gathering momentum for action. Breaking up the big dot com monopolies is a vital free step. Or the monopolistic spiders of Google, Facebook, and Amazon will eat everyone in the web.
Here’s a little taste of the coming nightmare.
Behind the scenes, and unbeknownst to most Americans, data brokers have developed algorithmic scores for each one of us—scores that rate us on reliability, propensity to repay loans, and likelihood to commit a crime. Uber bans passengers with low ratings from drivers. Some bars and restaurants now run background checks on their patrons to see whether they’re likely to pay their tab or cause trouble. Facebook has patented a mechanism for determining a person’s creditworthiness by evaluating their social network.
These and similar developments are the private functional equivalent of China’s social-credit ratings, which critics in the West so fervently decry…
The authors argue that we have a choice between the platform monopolies unilaterally dismantling the Bill of Rights or the government doing it for them.
The First and Fourth Amendments as currently interpreted, and the American aversion to excessive government-private-sector collaboration, have stood as barriers to greater government involvement. Americans’ understanding of these laws, and the cultural norms they spawned, will be tested as the social costs of a relatively open internet multiply.
The harms from digital speech will also continue to grow, as will speech controls on these networks. And invariably, government involvement will grow. At the moment, the private sector is making most of the important decisions, though often under government pressure.
Which means that we have 3 choices
1. We can give up our free speech to Big Tech
2. We can give up our free speech to the government
3. We can break up Big Tech and limit the power of the government
Some social conservatives have been going to door no. 2. Attacking Section 230, while popular with some, has the potential to do that. Some social ‘conservatives’ envision a powerful government as their means of creating a better and more moral America. This is a dangerous rabbit hole that will lead exactly where all big government leads.
Fighting for control over a tyrannical system with the Left, only to make it more so in each iteration, will take us down to the dying days of the Roman Empire. That would be history repeating itself as farce.
Freedom will be either lost or won, forever within likely the 2020s. The determining battles will be fought on the internet.
The future is ours to lose.