An unintended consequence of the “permanent suspension” of US President Donald Trump’s account on Twitter is how the awesome power of Big Corporate Social Media — that can so arbitrarily be wielded — has been laid bare for all to behold. It has now come to light that Twitter and the rest of the Silicon Valley Boy’s Club did something that could have been done earlier. But that’s just one way of looking at it. More disturbingly, it could do the same thing again and under circumstances that may not necessarily be for “the social good”.
For that matter, we must question who really is the final authority on what this “social good” is. In the context of a democracy, it depends, in principle, on what the majority says it is on account of how legislative bodies of democratically-elected representatives of “the people” are authorised to make those rules. And, indeed, they do via transparent processes that are subject to checks and balances known to the public. And then there is the way a private owner of space essential to a broad swathe (arguably the critical mass) of public discourse that has become essential to most people’s lives crafts and executes similar rules. Like Twitter. Or Facebook. Evelyn Douek writes in The Atlantic that she finds this disturbing.
This week a small handful of extremely powerful tech executives slowly tiptoed toward the edge, egging one another on, being pushed by commentators and employees, until they agreed to hold hands and jump. This was a display of awesome power, not an acknowledgment of culpability. These were more editorial and business decisions taken under fire than the neutral application of prior guidelines. A tiny group of people in Silicon Valley are defining modern discourse, ostensibly establishing a Twilight Zone where the rules are something between democratic governance and journalism, but they’re doing it on the fly in ways that suit them.
Writing for The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg calls this power scary.
Private companies have shown themselves able to act far more nimbly than our government, imposing consequences on a would-be tyrant who has until now enjoyed a corrosive degree of impunity. But in doing so, these companies have also shown a power that goes beyond that of many nation-states, one they apply capriciously and without democratic accountability. As The Verge noted, it’s hard to make sense of a system that leads to the trolly left-wing podcast “Red Scare” being suspended from Twitter, but not the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Indeed, Silicon Valley has, just in the last several days, shown that they are more powerful than the government of the planet’s mightiest nation. They had evidently sent chills up the spines of some European leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the decision of Twitter to ban the US President as “problematic” and France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire asserts that “Digital regulation should not be done by the digital oligarchy itself. […] Regulation of the digital arena is a matter for the sovereign people, governments and the judiciary.”
It seems that the spectacle of Silicon Valley’s titans colluding to exclude US President Donald Trump from the netisphere has raised many questions — and eyebrows. The speed with which they and their woke cheerleaders elevated themselves to “heroes” could be matched by the speed with which more sober observers could throw a wet towel over the mutual high-fivin’ party seeing that there is evidently a bigger lesson to be learned by America from all this — a lesson that many governments in Europe had already applied in aid of legislation in their respective countries.
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