We live in an increasingly tech-centered age. Driverless cars, microchip implantation, and facial recognition are all things previously found 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 purchase, it still carries a high price: too many of us are signing away our privacy to the likes of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
Social media apps and websites claim to promote all-American values like free speech, transparency, and connectivity in the true spirit of the internet. But we’ve recently seen what happens when some people who say things that do not align with the political goals of a company. Facebook recently censored prominent African pro-life advocate Obianuju Ekeocha for the crime of posting a link to an article. The article was harmless, a simple spotlight piece on Ekeocha’s activism. But Facebook silenced her speech, explaining only that it “goes against our community standards.” Translation: the community is closed to conservatives.
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 reasonably mainstream. Twitter even violated their own policy by not providing a reason for the ban. Twitter reinstated his account after a threat of investigation from Congress, indicating that 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.
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 newly released documentary, The Creepy Line, suggests otherwise. The filmmakers devised an experiment which concluded that replacing certain search results can sway the opinion of an unwitting adult 20 percent, and even 60 percent in some demographics, in favor of the administrator’s desired outcome.
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 would have no technical issue stopping them.
Those on the right who have had enough with 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, much like 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 be able to decide what to do about censorship of our speech online, we’ll need every tool we can muster at our disposal.
There is room for disagreement among conservatives about what should be done about the power of social media companies and big tech. Congressman Steve King of Iowa has 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 the content the users themselves provide, 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, more experiments run, and 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.