Big Problems with Big Tech

By Ken Blackwell Published on December 20, 2018

We live in an increasingly tech-centered age. Driverless cars, microchip implantation, and facial recognition. These are all things found before only in science fiction and have somehow become a reality. Americans are wholly dependent on their smartphones and apps. And while this technology has become easier and easier to buy, it still carries a high price. Too many of us are signing away our privacy to the likes of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Facebook: Censored Pro-life Post

Social media apps and websites claim to promote all-American values like free speech, transparency and connectivity. All in the true spirit of the internet. But we’ve recently seen what happens to people whose speech does not align with the political goals of a company. Facebook recently censored African pro-life advocate Obianuju Ekeocha. Her crime? Posting a link to an article. The article was harmless, a simple spotlight piece on Ekeocha’s pro-life activism. But Facebook silenced her speech. They said it “goes against our community standards.” Translation: the community is closed to conservatives.

Twitter: Blocked Conservative

Like Facebook, Twitter also polices its platform with an uneven enforcement of its own policies. It recently blocked the account of Jesse Kelly, a former Marine and stalwart conservative whose opinions are fairly mainstream. Twitter even violated their own policy by not providing a reason for the ban. Twitter reinstated his account after Congress threatened to investigate. Looks like they may indeed have something to hide. Other examples abound, including the “shadow banning” of elected representatives like Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, and Devin Nunes.

Google: Discussed Modifying Search Results to Sway Opinion

The tech giant Google has also been credibly accused of a bias against conservative speech and activity. Earlier this year, it suggested that the California Republican Party promotes Nazism. In fact, Google employees discussed modifying search results to sway opinion. Changing search results may not sound that harmful, but a new documentary, The Creepy Line, suggests otherwise. The filmmakers devised an experiment. They concluded that replacing certain search results can sway the opinion of an unwitting adult by 20 percent. In some demographics, they swayed opinions by 60 percent.

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Even more worrying: 99.5 percent of participants did not realize that they were being shown biased search results. This means that someone at Google intending to sway an election in favor of a particular candidate could do so without much stopping them.

Holding Big Tech Accountable

Those who have had enough of the policing from the tech gods of Silicon Valley have begun to do something about it. The Media Research Center recently launched Tech Watch, which aims to keep an eye on big tech. It’s much like what MRC’s longstanding NewsBusters blog has done with the media. They are leading the charge in holding Big Tech accountable, something that is increasingly needed. If conservatives are going to decide what to do about censorship of our speech online, we’ll need every tool we can muster at our disposal.

Watchdogs like the MRC Tech Watch and information downloads like The Creepy Line are a tremendous start to tackling this issue, but we are far from finishing the fight.

There is room for disagreement among conservatives on what should be done about the power of social media companies and big tech. Congressman Steve King of Iowa suggested “converting the large behemoth organizations that we’re talking about . . . into public utilities.” Other conservatives want to go after the tech companies for violating antitrust laws. Perhaps these are necessary steps. But at the very least, it’s crucial that users are more aware of how social media companies use their content, and how the companies can manipulate them.

One publication keeping track is a start, but it’s not enough. To come to a well-rounded conclusion on how to deal with this growing issue, more information must be gathered and more experiments run. More questions must be asked of Twitter, Facebook, and Google. If regulation is necessary, it will need to be carefully crafted and reasonably limited. Watchdogs like the MRC Tech Watch and information downloads like The Creepy Line are a tremendous start to tackling this issue, but we are far from finishing the fight.

 

Ken Blackwell, a conservative columnist, is on the Board of Directors of the National Taxpayers Union.

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