Long time readers of OutKick know that above everything else, I am a First Amendment absolutist. I believe the First Amendment is our most sacred right, and I believe the marketplace of ideas — which is the natural outgrowth of our First Amendment rights — is our most important democratic asset. The marketplace of ideas is what allows all of us — left, right, independent, indifferent — to have a voice in our national debates without fear of government interference. Thanks to the marketplace of ideas, perspectives that were once minority beliefs are allowed to enter into our national discourse and potentially become majority opinions one day.
Heck, the marketplace of ideas even allows us to reach the wrong conclusion as a country — i.e. Prohibition — and then later work to reverse that decision by repealing it.
Our elections are the ultimate reflection of the marketplace of ideas. We engage in robust debate and then are allowed to head to the ballot boxes to voice our opinions on how we will be governed. Indeed, our First Amendment rights are a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence, protected by the courts, and long established to ensure none of us are punished by the government for our political beliefs.
But what happens when the marketplace of ideas becomes threatened, not by the government, but by private technology companies, all of which have grown on a massive scale and that monitor and control our national discourse in a way our government could never have done?
We have a new challenge which has not been contemplated in our legal history. Big tech companies, in many ways, are far more powerful restrictors in the marketplace of ideas than our government has ever been. And unlike our government, which is subject to the will of the American voters and to rigorous check by the courts, big technology companies have effective monopolies in their chosen marketplaces and therefore have virtually no restraints on their power right now.
Over the past week, we have witnessed the most serious threat to America’s marketplace of ideas in my lifetime. As large tech companies have acted in rapid fashion to suspend President Donald Trump’s social media accounts in the wake of last Wednesday’s protests, they have raised troubling and chilling threats to our national discourse.
Within a matter of days, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Spotify, Snapchat, Instagram, Shopify, Reddit, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, and Pinterest all either banned or restricted the democratically-elected president of the United States, Donald Trump, from speaking to the country on their platforms.
You don’t have to be a supporter of Donald Trump to be terrified by the collusive power of these bannings. Heck, you can even hate everything he represents and still find this censorship repulsive.
Trump’s ban is an unbelievable example of Big Tech collusion and censorship that should terrify everyone, regardless of what you think of President Trump. The precedent that is being set here by large technology companies is an awful one: if we don’t like your speech, we will ban you. If these tech companies can do this to the president of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, what can they do to you or your organization if they decide they don’t like what you are saying?
These decisions represent a massive — and monopolistic — anti-competitive and collusive choice by our nation’s most powerful technology companies. Regardless of your politics, be they Democrat, Republican, or independent, everyone should find these actions to be chilling and incredibly scary.
Let me explain what the result of these decisions will be in a way that I think everyone can understand.
Just about every American reading this article agrees that China’s censorship of its citizens’ thoughts on the Internet violates the basic principles upon which America is founded. China’s Internet wall stifles the country’s marketplace of ideas and ensures the government retains control of the opinions that are allowed to be freely expressed there.
Most Americans would rightly rebel against the idea that our own government might ever seek to censor the free exchange of thoughts in our country. It would be a flagrant violation of our own First Amendment rights. But what most Americans aren’t recognizing is this isn’t the way our speech will be restricted in this country. Our courts, at least so far, will prevent our government from taking actions that violate the First Amendment, on the Internet or elsewhere.
Instead, Big Tech companies have banned the president’s individual accounts, attempted to suppress Parler (which I will discuss in a moment), and continued to clamp down on opinions deemed to be “unacceptable” in American life. We are now in danger of seeing the same results in American Internet life as they have in China. Instead of the government constraining the marketplace of ideas in our country, we’re seeing the Big Tech companies do it.
We’re reaching the same result as China when it comes to the Internet, just through a new pathway.
Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, are all achieving the same results as China’s government. In so doing, they are providing many of the same results as China. The Big Tech thought police are afoot in this country and, sadly, they are taking actions they believe are making us safer, but which are in reality setting disastrous and terrifying precedents for the country.
Why is this able to happen?
Because big technology companies have achieved monopolistic power. When all of these Big Tech companies simultaneously reach the exact same decisions about bannings within a matter of hours or days, the default impact is just as substantial as when a government acts to suppress speech. The results are the same: ideas that would otherwise be distributed to the general public are no longer available for mass consumption.
And far from making things safer in this country, these bannings just ratchet up the anger to a higher degree, driving discussion out of public forums and underground, where it is harder to monitor and police safely. In other words, the actions of big tech companies are almost assuredly driving anger up to a higher level as opposed to ameliorating it.
Some far left wingers, suddenly fans of capitalistic marketplaces, will scream out, “The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. This is how capitalism works. If you don’t like the way Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, Google, Amazon, Apple and (insert additional colluding tech company here) operate, you can start your own company!”
Well, that’s exactly what Parler did.
If you’re not familiar with Parler, it’s a company founded by conservatives who believe Twitter stifles discourse with arbitrary and capricious bannings, constantly trends topics to advance left-leaning perspectives, and makes fundamentally unfair company decisions.
So they started their own company, Parler. That is, they responded to what they saw as poor business decisions made by Twitter and created a new alternative in the social media marketplace. That’s how capitalism is designed to work. If you see an underserved market, you can fill it and reap the rewards.
But look at what happened to Parler in short order over the weekend: Google and Apple refused to carry its app, meaning it’s virtually impossible for new users to download it right now.
As justification for the bans, Google and Apple cited some of the comments made by users on Parler. But this is nonsensical justification. I’m on Parler. I’ve posted the same things I post on Twitter: my opinions and pictures of my family. So have millions of other people. Yes, some people “misbehave” on all social media apps. Heck, look in my Twitter mentions if you doubt this. All social media apps feature toxic content by design. Indeed, it is ironic that the same social media companies that reward emotional content then act surprised that emotional content leads to emotional results.
Blaming Parler for the U.S. Capitol incident is like blaming Twitter or Facebook for the scores of violent riots that spiraled out of BLM protests this summer. Imagine the reaction if Facebook, Twitter or Instagram had shut down liberal accounts because they were planning BLM protests on the site. People would have justifiably lost their minds and argued that the companies were picking sides. Yet here we are, a place where some violent protests are good, but some violent protests are so bad they have to be prevented from ever happening again by shutting down all Internet discourse.
There is no doubt that left-wing protests have been far more violent than right wing protests for the past six months. None at all. Hell, imagine the reaction if Donald Trump pledged to bail out anyone arrested at the Capitol. The Internet would have lost its mind. But that’s EXACTLY WHAT KAMALA HARRIS DID FOR PROTESTERS ARRESTED FOR RIOTING THIS SUMMER.
I’m not getting into whether I agree or disagree with any protester. As a First Amendment absolutist, I support everyone’s right to protest so long as those protests don’t turn violent or run afoul of the law. But to pretend the Big Tech response to violent protests has been consistent no matter the politics is patently absurd. In my opinion, the standard should be simple: the moment you break the law, you should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, whether you’re a protester or stealing a car for a joyride. But that’s not what’s happening here. It’s content-based discrimination, predicated on political viewpoints exclusively.
This wasn’t it though. After Google and Apple banned the Parler app on their devices, the place the vast majority of Americans go to download apps, Amazon stepped forward and said it would no longer allow its web hosting services to provide Parler the ability to be hosted on the Internet.
Let me repeat that. Amazon, a company founded to sell books and promote the free exchange of ideas more efficiently, effectively enacted the largest modern-day book burning in world history by shutting down Parler. Amazon’s message was clear: if we don’t like your political perspective, you have no right to reach an audience on the Internet.
This should terrify every American.
And how about Google here? Google’s pledge upon its founding was to organize all the information in the world and to do no harm. That was literally written into their corporate charter. And now they are selectively removing information they don’t like from the marketplace of ideas, which makes the information they cite less reliable. It’s a total refutation of their founders’ aims.
Apple may be even worse. Apple has specifically censored its own content to avoid offending China. The company literally said it would produce no content that upsets China. Now, they are selectively eliminating political opinions from the public discourse that they don’t like .
Honest question: how do Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Google’s Sundar Pichal, the three leaders of these companies, sleep at night? The same is true of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. Are they aware of what their companies are doing, or are they just sleepwalking our country into a Chinese-like Internet state? Are they really this afraid of people saying bad things about them online? How is there no billionaire tech champion for free speech in the country?
It’s not courageous to do what everyone else does in times of tumult and tempest. It’s courageous to stand up for the marketplace of ideas when everyone is screaming for censorship. That’s true courage. Is there no one out there in Big Tech who will stand up and say, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?” Or are they all cowards?
As a result of monopolistic collusion on the part of Big Tech, Parler can no longer be downloaded, and it may soon be removed from the Internet entirely. Again, this is a modern-day technological book-burning lit afire by three of the biggest American tech companies in the world.
Instead of the government restricting speech, you have three “different” trillion dollar companies — Amazon, Google, and Apple — colluding to reach the same exact view at the same exact time. They are using their monopolistic market clout to effectively tell Parler it can’t exist. They are using their marketplace dominance not only to destroy the marketplace of ideas but to destroy the marketplace, period.
American Big Tech has become our own Frankenstein version of China.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen acts that call out for serious investigation of anti-trust law violations than these collusions by big tech companies against the president, Parler and others.
All Americans should be terrified of the power these technology companies now wield and also of how terrified our leaders are to speak out against that power for fear of being targeted themselves. Again, this should not be a partisan issue. If these precedents continue, eventually all of us, yes, including me and this website and many of you reading this right now, could be in danger of tech cancellation for “unacceptable” beliefs.
Right now, instead of battling China for world supremacy and seeking to export basic human rights around the globe, we are in danger of becoming China. Our leaders argued that opening up China to American products was going to make China more like America, but what if the reverse is true? What if China is making America more like it?
Because right now I think that’s exactly what’s happening in our country.
And most people don’t even realize it.
It’s past time to act, and it’s past time for reasonable people of all stripes and persuasions to stand up for the American marketplace of ideas and support our fundamental right to disagree. Right now, our country is obsessed with cosmetic diversity while simultaneously destroying the kind of diversity that really matters in a democracy — diversity of thought.
Without diversity of thought and a robust marketplace of ideas, we’ve built our own great Internet wall in this country that will ultimately lead us to only one place — totalitarianism.
And if you think it’s scary when people have different opinions online, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait until everyone “agrees” on everything.
That’s where Big Tech is leading us.
They must be stopped.