Since President Trump’s call for boycotts against Georgia-based products and companies, the mainstream media have been deploying a new narrative: Conservatives are hypocrites because they themselves are now engaging in “cancel culture.” The comparison, however, is incongruent and deceitful.
“Former President Donald Trump said ‘cancel culture’ has run amok, so Republicans better start making their own cancelations,” one pundit mockingly observes at Slate. “[T]he point Trump makes: Democrats are cancel-culture types who call for boycotts to punish companies who step out of line—so punish Coke for stepping out of line,” another opines at the Washington Post.
Boycotts are not the same thing as the Left’s corporatist-driven cancel culture. The former is an age-old pressure tactic that asks individual citizens to make market-based decisions about purchasing a good or service. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for nearly 13 months after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. César Chávez’s Delano grape strike launched an international boycott that led to the creation of the United Farm Workers. These were grassroots movements that proved vital to checking once-unchecked power.
Cancellation is a potent turfgrass scheme used by large corporations and governments to destroy livelihoods by cutting off individuals or small groups—usually without recourse—from the handful of platforms needed to communicate and engage in commerce in the 21st century.
While cancellation annihilates human agency—primarily through the brute imperious force of Big Tech and the cartel tactics of deplatforming, demonetizing, and canceling in what amounts to modern age social exiling—boycotts, on the other hand, provide underdogs with leverage in asymmetrical situations.
Big Tech, of course, has chosen to attack certain individuals and institutions precisely because they are popular and have large followings, and, therefore, pose a threat to the Left’s orthodoxy. And they are smart about it, picking apart fringe actors first. But the full-scale weaponization of technology has now itself created a market distortion, and an immense one at that. That is because its target is at least half the country.
By dominating the flow of information, Big Tech is destroying the flourishing marketplace of ideas and replacing it with a Potemkin inventory that suits its own agenda. It does this in quiet ways, like shadow algorithms, as well as in flagrant ways, like outright bans on particular content.
All of this together is an existential threat to American innovation. Because of its absolute power and ideological dogmatism, it presents new enterprises with two significant and distinct barriers to market entry. The first, monopolistic power, is the traditional and obvious one. The second is less so. Now start-up ventures must also intimately tack to progressivism’s ever-changing creed or risk getting blown up on the launchpad.
This state of affairs is unsustainable as a status quo for a large, diverse nation like our own. Either our society will fracture, or, we can hope, American grit and daring will triumph and unite us around the core freedoms enshrined in our founding documents. And while alternative apps and platforms are helpful—as the situation with Parler starkly revealed—they too are vulnerable to cancellation because ultimately they rely upon Big Tech.
The path forward then is to establish a parallel yet superior infrastructure—an independent backbone for the internet—and to bring onboard the modern pioneers and explorers.
We need a “second internet,” with apps and high-availability cloud hosting, that does not kowtow to woke politics. This infrastructure must be rooted in timeless and universal principles, especially freedom of expression. On a practical level, it also needs to be fully interoperable with the rest of the internet—and welcome users from all parts of the political spectrum who engage in the legal sharing of information.
The Left is preventing us from using our own minds to employ critical reasoning, form unfettered opinions, and make independent judgments. If we don’t begin to build, entrepreneurialism will soon grind to a halt, and Big Tech will march on to become the hegemon that usurps the most cherished features of our democracy.