There has been legitimate concern about how much power to give big tech companies and what constitutes acceptable free speech.
Google acknowledged hiding content in search results from some Australian news sites in what it calls a test -- a “search algorithm tweak” that affects a small percentage of users by burying links to certain news sites.
While some interpret the act as a response to the Australian Government’s attempt to make the company pay for original news content that appears as links and snippets in search results, the move appears to be more complicated and concerning based on recent events, as some “conservative sites” are being banned in the United States.
Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in an interview last week told Reuters Editor in Chief Steve Adler that when the company believes someone has posted harmful content to YouTube, its technology has the ability to raise some content and suppress other content that has been uploaded to its platform when it violates policies.
In December, Timnit Gebru, known as an artificial intelligence scholar for cofounding the group Black in AI and for helping to “improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology,” revealed via a tweet that she was fired for unknown reasons, but there has been much talk about the ability to suppress one view over another.
The ability of Google and YouTube to raise or bury links to certain news articles may have nothing to do with politics, but it sets an uneasy precedent during a time of conflict between liberals and conservatives.
Other events occurring in the United States such as the insurgence at the U.S. Capitol have set off a firestorm that caused Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter to either shut out or shut down from their platform certain sites like Parler, or individuals such as President Trump.
All these companies are private, which brings into question whether or not they fall under the guidelines of free speech at all.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, last week responded to the closure of Trump's account after the riots at the Capitol building with an explanation.
“While there are clear and obvious exceptions, I feel a ban is a failure of ours ultimately to promote healthy conversation,” Dorsey wrote. “And a time for us to reflect on our operations and the environment around us.”
Twitter and Facebook posts have been spewing hate messages for the past four years. This is nothing new. Their recent act is a last-ditch effort to make a change.
There are other ways to incite violence. Have you ever listened to some of the words in a variety of rap or hip-hop songs or watched movies with violent or morbid themes?
In 2013, one media outlet reported that a Parker County 17-year-old wrote in a confession that the horror movie remake of "Halloween" gave him the idea to kill his mother and sister. In 2017, Newsweek ran an article where movies inspired eight real-life crimes. Should Hollywood take responsibility for these murders?
Confronting Dorsey, some took to Twitter to ask why other people and groups were not banned during the summer riots, especially when Democrats did not denounce the violence in Portland and Seattle, putting dozens of small businesses and hundreds of people at risk.
Tunku Varadarajan, an Indian writer and journalist and former editor of Newsweek Global and Newsweek International, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal that ran Friday. He interviewed Richard Epstein, a professor at the New York University Law School, and the foremost libertarian legal scholar in the common-law world.
Epstein calls out the question of media control and emphasizes that he has frequently been critical of President Trump, calling on him to resign in February 2017.
Even so, he has been “struck by the 'one-sided' nature of the debate over Mr. Trump’s ban from social media. The word "monopoly" is missing from the conversation. It focuses almost solely on the First Amendment and how it "applies only to Congress and to the states and doesn’t apply to private parties."
Epstein goes on to examine Dorsey’s thread on Twitter, in which he explains his thoughts on how the ban on Trump is "a rare combination of hubris and ignorance, proof of how dangerous it is to have a committed partisan as an ostensible umpire." He particularly found "questionable" the statement that argues "if folks do not agree with our rules and enforcement, they can simply go to another Internet service."
If these companies are found to be monopolies, according to Epstein, the rule is that "no private monopoly has the right to turn away customers." It must take them all on "fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory" terms.
Epstein also said that ultimately the market will rebel. "Those berating Twitter and Facebook for their abuse of 'monopoly power' will lead the market to rebel, as happened when entrepreneurs responded to railroad monopolies by developing spur lines and other alternatives," Varadarajan wrote.