The companies that make up the FAANG stocks have acted in consort and the result is terrifying. (The companies are Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google which is now Alphabet, but FAANA isn’t nearly as cool an acronym.) This is important to me for two reasons. First, I believe in free markets, and what just happened shakes that belief. Second, I’ve given some advice recently that may have been pretty bad. I’ll go into each after I detail what has happened. We’ll take the FAANGs individually, but out of order.
Netflix — Netflix is the least egregious offender of thought suppression on this list, but like most media, they have an anti conservative bias. Virtue signaling on shows, ridiculing and marginalizing conservative values, leftist board members and executives, and support of organizations that burn down parts of cities are par for the course with media companies. But offering the Obamas a platform for what can only be described as a publicity machine (along with a $50 million payday) firmly seats the company as anti-conservative. At least until they offer Trump (or Mike Pence, or Ted Cruz, or hell, even Lindsey Graham) a similar deal. Liberal messages get air, conservative ones do not. All of this predates the current coordinated attack, but they are part of the FAANG, and share similar ideology, so I felt compelled to include them for completeness sake.
Twitter — Not quite a FAANG, but they sure got the ball rolling. If you’re reading this near the time I am writing it (1/12/2021) and unless you live under a rock you know where this is going. I have purposely tried to be living under a rock and this is still filtering into my life… Anyway, the President of the United States was banned from Twitter for inciting insurrection. His specific crimes were saying that he actually won the election (which 40% of Americans think he did) and saying “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol Building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” When the violence started he denounced it. Twice. But just like the lies about him not denouncing white supremacy, and saying that the KKK are ‘fine people’ his actual words won’t get out. And he can’t even make his own case. The President of the United States has been cancelled. It sends chills up my spine just writing that. Not because I like this President, I do not. But because if the sitting President can be silenced by a small group of companies what hope do the rest of us have if they disagree with us?
Facebook — Not to be left out, Facebook banned the President as well. Add this to their suppression of conservative voices through algorithm, supposed ‘fact checking’, demonetizing, and outright banning and you have a pretty good case for speech control, and thus thought control.
Amazon — Amazon decided that a platform for free speech (Parler) had too much hate speech on it, and might cause further violence, so they just took it down. It was as if 8 million voices suddenly cried out in terror and were silenced. They also removed the President from Twitch, which I’m sure someone noticed I guess.
Apple — Previous to Amazon destroying Parler altogether Apple and Google removed it from their app stores, effectively eliminating any further growth and strangling the app.
Google — As mentioned above, they killed Parler, but they have been actively waging an anti-Trump anti-conservative campaign for a long time with their search engine algorithm modifications and suggested completion of word and phrase stems in their search boxes. Quick example ‘did hil’ has no suggestions in Google, presumably because no one ever looks up things like ‘did Hillary win the Nobel Prize’, or ‘did Hillary have a cat’. On DuckDuckGo (If you’re not using this instead of Google you need to be) the stem ‘did hil’ returns concede, accept defeat, claim voter fraud. Seems like things people might search for. Seems like if Google wanted to be helpful, it would supply those. But that’s none of my business.
So that wraps up FAANG. Let’s have a couple (dis)honorable mentions. TikTok removed the videos of President Trump asking everyone to peacefully return home. Can’t have those circulating. Destroys the narrative. YouTube (owned by Google) did the same. We really don’t want the narrative that Trump was calling for peace and order out there. It might threaten the impeachment. Snapchat suspended the President. Like with Twitch, I’m sure someone noticed. Shopify shut down online stores related to Donald Trump. And even Reddit, the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet’ banned the subreddit r/DonaldTrump. I know I’m missing stuff. I imagine that the President’s Pinterest account is shut down, and Air BnB has taken Trump Tower off of its property list. Hell, I bet Tom even unfriended him on MySpace.
This all sounds silly until you consider the ramifications. The sitting President of the United States has been effectively deplatformed. That won’t happen to you, of course. You’re not like him. I’m not like him. Until you or I are enough different from the powers that control communication that we need to be silenced, then, we will be. This happened to a man with nuclear launch codes. That terrifies me even more than this man having nuclear launch codes, which make no mistake, has terrified me for the last four years.
Throughout this post I’ve discussed things happening to the President and also to conservatives. I do not mean to say that the President is a conservative. Like most politicians and most people, he is conservative on some issues, liberal on others.
But, but, but, its a free market. Yes it is. I have, from the beginning said that if Twitter wanted to ban people from their site for being conservative they should be able to do so. I also believe they should be able to ban people from their site for being too tall, or too fat, or even things that we as a society have made laws against banning for, but that issue is for another day, or probably no other day. The point is, if they want to throw someone off, it’s their site. Go for it. The market will sort it out.
Well, the market was sorting it out. Conservatives and populists were leaving Twitter and other social media sites en masse for alternatives like Parler. I did not foresee companies powerful enough to shut down markets entirely. To a certain extent Parler’s decision to host its site on Amazon’s servers was a mistake, and they can (and will) find another host. But short of buying their own equipment and hosting everything themselves they can still be held hostage and forced to comply with whatever ever speech limiting directives their server company demands. Again, it’s a private company, so up until now I’ve been ok with this.
But now we have Apple and Google eliminating the app from their devices. Between the two of them they control virtually all of the smartphone market, the way that most people now interact with the internet. For all practical purposes, the smartphone is the town square, and the the town square has just declared that some speech, legally protected by the Constitution, is not allowed. This is a problem. We are heading down the road to corporatocracy. Perhaps we’ve already arrived.
I can see an opportunity for an entrepreneur to start a server business with the goal of protecting free speech. Their product will be more expensive because they will not have the economies of scale, relationships, or experience to compete, but this can be done. Starting a new cell phone service is also a doable thing. Several companies have sprung up, some even with a conservative bent.
But protecting freedom on your mobile device seems like a very tough nut to crack. At the least you’d need a new app store. Which means people writing apps for the new app store and perhaps even new hardware to run the apps. I am pretty sure you’re not getting a second app store to run on an Apple device. It might be possible on an android phone, but keep in mind that Android is owned by Google, so they could deep six anything you did, just like they deep sixed Parler. And the existing duopoloy in the app store market serves most people well. It is unlikely to be disrupted just because some people (40% or so) lose their ability to communicate freely about things that their tech overlords don’t like.
Considering all of this I have to wonder if it’s time to make a law protecting free speech on privately owned platforms. Even six months ago I would have been dead set against this, but now I’m not so sure. I find myself wondering as I write this if WordPress will decide that it shouldn’t be seen? Will GoDaddy? Do I need to code my own site directly, and host it on a server in my bathroom? (Thanks for the idea Hill-dog!) So, that is the primary implication of all of this. We are no longer free to communicate about certain topics, full stop. Do we live with it or change it?
Second thing worth mentioning is that a while ago I recommended starting a business, either in the real world or online, catering to liberals or conservatives. I still think that is a good idea, but there is a new danger to take into account if you decide to do it. Keep in mind that if you start an online business and you sell through Amazon, rely on people finding you through Google, market through Facebook or Twitter, post videos on YouTube or Twitch, sell on Shopify, expect people to find you on their mobile devices, or just about any other thing you could possibly do online, your connection to a tech company is a potential threat. Some injustice, real, perceived, or even imagined could take your business away from you. And that is the most frightening thing of all.