Facebook banned Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, and other “controversial” personalities from its platforms on Thursday.
This move and similar actions by big tech contradicts its deep love for net neutrality.
“Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be free and open for everyone,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in 2017.
“The Internet has been a level playing field and I don’t think we would be here today and have a strong, free and open Internet without net neutrality,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in 2015.
“The @FCC’s vote to gut #NetNeutrality rules is a body blow to innovation and free expression. We will continue our fight to defend the open Internet and reverse this misguided decision,” the Twitter Public Policy account tweeted in 2017.
The hypocrisy is glaring when reviewing the many cases where Facebook, Google, and Twitter blocked or banned users based solely on their political views. These platforms promise a free and open internet, yet fail to deliver one with their own services.
A panel hosted by the Hoover Institution in Washington, D.C., last week highlighted big tech’s net neutrality conundrum. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a strong critic of tech malfeasance, delivered the keynote address.
The panel offered salient perspectives on big tech’s neutrality problem. One important theme was how tech giants effectively act as monopolies and can’t be trusted to regulate themselves.
“If you allow the market to sort itself out—when the market is a functional monopoly—you empower the monopolists,” panel host and Hoover Institution fellow Jeremy Carl said.
Hoover Institution scholar Adam White argued big tech’s arguments for net neutrality could easily justify regulations against themselves.
White said tech giants claim if there was no net neutrality, it “would hurt the market, stifle innovation, and allow the monopolists to extract rents.” He countered that big tech’s business practices do those very same things. Yet, we have no regulatory policies in place to correct those issues.
Former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel Dan Huff contended that the problems net neutrality tries to prevent are far more minor than the platform discrimination practiced by Facebook and others. Net neutrality is said to be needed to prevent tiered services that may allow some people to access faster internet. Huff said it’s worse for a restaurant to suffer from artificially distorted search results than it is for them to have competing restaurants with faster internet.
“You need to be most worried about not getting noticed—not the question ‘I’ve gotten noticed but how quickly is [the internet] being delivered?’” Huff said.
He emphasized how internet nondiscrimination advocates should hold net neutrality’s supporters “feet to the fire” on this topic: “Listen, however much you care about this, the greater issue is the one of the platforms.”
Carl gave another example of why big tech’s discrimination is a major concern. He recalled a gay friend explaining why platform blocking is worse than a Christian bakery refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. “If Masterpiece Cakeshop won’t bake me a cake for my wedding, I have lots of other places I can go. But if Amazon bans my book or if Twitter deplatforms me, my ability to earn a livelihood is impacted fundamentally. Yet the first is protected and the second isn’t,” Carl recalled his friend saying.
The event showed that there is a growing bipartisan consensus that the status quo is unsustainable. U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) was also supposed to speak, but couldn’t make it due to scheduling conflicts. Hawley and Sinema’s shared interest in the subject shows that internet non-discrimination is an idea Republicans and Democrats can support.
Facebook, Google, and other tech giants operate more like monopolies than the internet providers regulated by net neutrality. More than two-thirds of Americans receive their news from social media. Ninety-three percent of the search engine market is dominated by Google. These corporate giants used their power to throttle the competition. Mozilla has accused Google of intentionally making YouTube videos crash and run slow on Firefox, a competitor to Google’s Chrome browser. Facebook’s Instagram has blocked links to competitors like Snapchat.
Internet nondiscrimination is not just about protecting free speech. It’s also about upholding free-market principles where competition is encouraged and monopolies are broken up. Perhaps it’s time for Congress to make big tech live up to its own principles.
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