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About two years ago, I posted a comment suggesting Google and its Obama-supporting workforce and management might have the power to redirect searches and control information in a way that favored one political point of view. My point was it does not take very much to influence an election outcome. The tools and temptation are there.
As many are aware, Google’s management and staff helped put together the indomitable Obama big data, drill down, finite, targeted social media, voter mobilization effort in 2012. I proffered that Facebook might do the same. My thoughts were dismissed very quickly by some knowledgeable people on Ricochet as impossible given that Google so carefully controls its search algorithm and no such hanky-panky would be tolerated. Who believes this is not possible today?
Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks or downloading services are private. They are not subject to the First Amendment and therefore can arbitrate what is transmitted over their private networks. To police this and behave in a responsible way, they label any material which they deem inappropriate as “hate speech.” There is no way to know if they are limiting access, turning off the flow, or simply cutting out points of view that they deem “hate speech” unless they announce their intention to do so.
Republican politicians and conservatives have accused such companies of turning down the flow of Tweets, hits, and search results. There is clear evidence this has happened, whether this was intentional or not. If it happens at a critical moment in a campaign, in a particular locality, might it make a difference in the election outcome?
Removing or restricting “hate speech” seems like a good idea when applied to ISIS or pedophiles. But it gives those who censor some room to decide what users can say, publish, and indirectly, express or think. These companies are now exercising this power and doing so in concert. The protection of the herd confirms and diffuses criticism. Two weeks ago, Apple ostracized Alex Jones (I have never read anything he published), and the other internet content providers soon followed. Alex Jones may be a good example of someone who should be called to task. But censorship is a rough-edged tool. Was he advocating violence or acting like a provocateur to gain followers? Is he simply offering kooky interpretations of events to sell podcasts and coffee cups? And how far is it between Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh, or … other outspoken Conservatives? If censorship had existed in 1989, would Rush Limbaugh have developed such large, wide, and loyal following? Censorship weeds out nonconformity.
And what about those like Bernie Sanders who might threaten the election of a more electable or “chosen” progressive candidate by sapping away votes or enthusiasm from a rightful heir? Should such voices be included under the ban of hate speech for giving speeches to rowdy crowds that might shout, “Throw her in Jail!” about an opponent? Crowds can scream awful things. If Bernie’s presence and ideas lead to such vehemence by supporters, should access to his ideas be restricted?
Now for those who are from Missouri, it was revealed just a few days ago that Google is actively creating a censored search engine that will comply with China’s requirements for “accurate” information. Google, the “Don’t Be Evil” company, is willing to help the Chinese regime be, well, evil. The list of human rights abuses against citizens in China is too numerous to mention — so the Chinese government makes sure they are not mentioned on the internet in China. The situation in China is far worse than Iran, simply because so much happens in darkness and there are so many points of contention inside the disparate Chinese nations, regions, ethnicities, and faiths that make up the Middle Kingdom.
It was reported that Google management even told lies or misrepresented their involvement in the software development project to create a censored search engine for China. They hid this from their “Co-Founder” Serge Brin who is a strong advocate of freedom of expression. And, they lied to their employees – you know, the smartest people on earth. Well, well, well. Now we see how the best intentions oft go awry. The Google fiasco is clearly worse than the incompetence of Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to bring people together — provided they are the right people saying the right things. Zuckerberg has shown himself at times to be an unappealing, arrogant, and venal clown.
Here is how the great Google, Apple, Facebook, or Twitter formula is playing out: Create the most powerful connectors or locators of people or information the world has ever seen, turn it into a money machine by forcefeeding advertising or selling data, and add a dose of censorship to protect the franchise or advance its stakeholders’ interests. Of course some stakeholders hold a more important stake than others and therefore get more say about the network. China with its immense market is one such stakeholder. There is no telling what highly moral people will do for market share. And sooner or later, someone might see a way to tamper with the software to “Don’t do Evil” by helping evil be evil.
When massive internet companies get into the business of determining what is ‘hate speech’ and are willing to apply censorship or limit distribution, who will decide what is the hate speech to be censured? Silicon Valley, Facebook, liberal software engineers, the users, the Environmental Defense Council, pathetic Russian hackers, a new bureau in Washington, or the Chinese Communist Party? Pair these idea exchanges with the trove of data these companies have on their users’ (or can easily acquire) about their searches, purchases, travel, and lifestyle activity, and … presto. Monetize goes nuclear.
Thoughts may not need to be controlled, they might simply be “directed” with a gentle nudge, an occassionaly “check,” and some selective information feeding to make sure users Don’t Be Evil.