Big Tech’s suffocating censorship of all unapproved opinions and facts marches on, as Google’s YouTube, without warning or explanation, demonetizes The Epoch Times video channel, thus depriving the growing “Truth and Tradition” news and opinion outlet a significant chunk of revenue.
The Epoch Times’ experience with Google isn’t the first time a non-liberal digital news outlet suffered the wrath of Silicon Valley’s censors. In fact, it’s not even the first time Epoch has been censored, as Facebook did something similar in 2019.
Lots of conservative news and opinion sites have been censored in recent years, either unobtrusively in being pushed way down the results in searches during the earlier phases of the current crackdown, or in being labeled as purveyors of “disinformation” by unaccountable, non-transparent “fact-checkers,” or most recently and outrageously in being banned from a platform entirely.
And it’s going to get worse, as seen in Twitter’s recent announcement of its “Bird Watch” program that “allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context.”
If that sounds vaguely familiar, it should as it could easily become a Stasi-esque tool for organizing millions of informers to help the authorities in Silicon Valley and the federal bureaucracy keep track of who says what when and where, and to then punish them for expressing unapproved ideas.
Consequently, lots of smart, concerned people are seeking ways to deprive Big Tech of its current unprecedented power to shape public opinion and conduct. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) earlier this week, for example, introduced a legislative proposal designed to corral what he calls the “five families of darkness: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, and Apple.”
The proposal’s major provisions include one imposing a daily fine of $100,000 on any social media that de-platforms a candidate for elective office during a campaign season.
At the federal level, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) continues to be one of Big Tech’s chief pains-in-the-posterior in the nation’s capitol, demanding answers, for example, from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey on how their firms coordinate their censorship programs.
Hawley is also a forceful advocate for reforming Section 230 of the Federal Communications Act that insulates Big Tech from the accountability imposed on all other publishers by the threat of libel and defamation litigation.
Efforts like those of DeSantis and Hawley are vitally important and ought to succeed, but they strike at symptoms of the problem without getting at the heart of Big Tech’s incredible power and affluence. Allow me to explain.
Between them last year, Google, Facebook and Twitter generated more than $130 billion in advertising revenues, made possible by their incredible ability to harvest data about you and me in our presence on the Internet, and to then sell the benefits of having that data in the form of highly targeted, real-time advertising.
All of us enable Big Tech to have this power because we grant it to them to track us on the Internet (as well as in the physical world) through the use of those ubiquitous “cookies,” search algorithms, smartphones and other smart devices like Alexa.
But wait a minute, aren’t my preferences, movements, services sought and bought, medical information, bank and credit card statements, opinions, search patterns and other associated factors of personality and conduct my personal property, part of my “space” as an individual?
Imagine if under the law you exclusively own your personal data and have the original authority to control how it can be accessed and used on the Internet? If that were the case, then Facebook, Twitter, Google, et. al. would have to obtain your prior, written permission to access your personal data, as well as have a prior written agreement governing how your personal data can be used, and who receives the benefits thereby?
What if we all insist on written agreements that allow Big Tech to keep only 10 percent of the revenues generated from the use of our personal data, with the other 90 percent of it coming to each of us?
Instead of Google, Facebook and Twitter getting every penny of that $130 billion plus in advertising revenues last year, they would have only received $13 billion, with the remaining $117 billion being forwarded to each of us in proportion as our personal data was utilized?
This isn’t a novel idea, as such a system has been around for decades in the entertainment business in the form of royalties. Every time you play a recording artist’s song, somebody pays for the right to offer it to you and the artist gets a cut. Ditto with television sitcoms in syndication for the actors who performed in the episodes.
Just think: If Big Tech must get your permission in the form of a written agreement — subject to mutually agreed upon periodic renegotiation — to access your personal data and then pay you for whatever revenues are generated thereby, a paradigm shift would result that would fundamentally change America’s culture and politics.
Power would be restored to the individual and taken away from the collective.
What are we waiting for?
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative journalist who covers Congress for The Epoch Times, and who is founder and editor of HillFaith, an apologetics ministry sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with congressional aides.