You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to realize that Big Tech companies have been slowly tightening the digital noose around conservative and libertarian speech for years. Online radio host Alex Jones’ permanent suspension from Twitter on September 8, 2018 heralded to some on the Left a “new era of big tech responsibility,” as the Guardian phrased it. Others saw the move for what it really was—authoritarian censorship that ultimately has culminated in the suspension of the sitting president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, from Facebook and Twitter last week.
Far from remaining content merely to exclude opposing political forces from their own platforms, Big Tech is also rapidly moving to annihilate any competitors that would dare host conservative voices. Google and Apple have each banned the social media app Parler from their application stores, effectively barring 99 percent of smartphone users from easily utilizing the application on their devices.
Amazon Web Services, a global cloud-computing juggernaut that provides hosting services for Parler, went even further, announcing the termination of Parler’s hosting services on January 9, meaning the app, which is now offline as a result of this, will remain so without a new host.
If Big Tech can ban President Trump and stifle competition without a second thought, how can everyday Americans fight back? More importantly, why should the common citizen care?
We live in a world of digital totalitarians who impose online restrictions to quell dissent, punish adversaries, and ultimately consolidate power. In the United Kingdom, citizens are arrested for Facebook posts deemed offensive. In Russia, journalists who oppose the government are killed. In Iran, journalists who encourage protests are executed.
Under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Chinese citizens must contend with the “Great Firewall,” the most sophisticated censorship system in the world, which blocks thousands of websites such as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Netflix over fears related to human rights, western democracy, and freedom of expression. Chinese citizens who access these websites do so under penalty of detention, interrogation, or even death.
Ironically, while Twitter has no issues silencing President Trump, the leaders of brutal regimes utilize the platform freely, such as Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran and state-affiliated Chinese media. Khamenei is free to tweet, “#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen,” and Twitter only recently cracked down on China’s boasting about its genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, stating that reeducation camps made Uyghur women “confident and independent,” rather than merely “baby-making machines.”
Of course, Big Tech has shown a willingness to directly collaborate with these nefarious actors in the past. In August 2018, Google reportedly planned a censored version of its search engine in China, dubbed “Project Dragonfly,” which would block searches related to free speech and human rights. The failed search engine would have linked searches to users’ phone numbers, allowing Chinese authorities to persecute political dissidents with ease.
In light of Big Tech’s actions over the past week, I suspect that efforts such as Project Dragonfly are no longer the outlier, but are the blueprint for the internet’s future in the United States. Therefore, it is imperative that every American do his or her part to break Big Tech’s hold on our society at large.
Fighting back means embracing a small level of inconvenience in your life. Economist Milton Friedman once said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The principle holds true in our fight against Big Tech. Chances are that if a digital product, such as Google’s Gmail service, is free, then you are the product. Services like these sell your information or individual profiles of demographics and interests. More importantly, these services empower companies that are intent on regulating your speech, making them flush with capital and able to exert even more control over our national discourse.
Simply put, Americans should divest themselves from all products, services, and applications that give Big Tech power over our daily lives.
This does not mean we must become digital Luddites. In fact, many alternative applications and devices don’t require selling your soul, or your data, for the price of navigating today’s online world.
Delete all mainstream social media platforms from all of your devices, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram in favor of alternative social media such as Parler and Gab, which are accessible via browser. Ditch Gmail in favor of more secure options such as ProtonMail, which is based in Switzerland with some of the best privacy laws in the world.
Forget censorious Reddit and head over to the vibrant, free-speech community, TheDonald.win, which blossomed from the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald that was banned in June. Expel Google Chrome, which tech experts call “spy software,” from your devices in favor of privacy browsers such as DuckDuckGo or Brave.
Make a pledge to stay off YouTube as much as possible—instead of looking up that tutorial, ask your neighbor how to change a tire. In lieu of Google Maps or Waze, which are both owned by Google, use OpenStreetMap or, better yet, buy a physical, dedicated GPS device. Trash your physical devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Nest, and Ring Doorbell. Don’t let Alexa, which never stops listening to you, stay in your home one day longer. Replace Google Drive with low-cost cloud services like Linode or purchase a physical cloud server and hard drives of your own.
Cancel your Amazon Prime shipping and video services tonight and make a New Year’s resolution to buy local as much as possible. Download and backup your Google data, then delete it entirely. If you want the would-be authoritarians of Big Tech to pay, you must not contribute to feeding the behemoth.
Change is difficult and our digital lives are no exception to the rule. Don’t worry, if you make the leap of faith, the freedom you now enjoy will offset any burden imposed by online upheaval. Once you’ve emancipated yourself from the yoke of Big Tech, help your fellow Americans to do the same.