In the past, “heretical” books were blacklisted, today opinions are put on the digital “stake”. What can be said is decided by a cartel of a few IT companies in cooperation with powerful politicians and radical representatives of so-called “civil society”. The big loser is freedom.
Technology corporations have more de facto power than entire governments. Those who cannot be found on Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube and Co. practically do not exist. These platforms are vital for companies and bloggers in particular. But also for private individuals, social media are an essential point of contact for exchanging experiences and opinions. This is, however, becoming increasingly censored.
Control of everyday life
The possibilities of repression are many. Google influences the search results and disadvantages pages with unwelcome opinions. In 2018 internal documents became public which prove targeted bad ranking. In the briefing titled “The Good Censor”, the online giant admits that Google and other big names in the industry have long been monitoring the majority of online conversations. The tradition of free speech, according to the paper, is “outdated”.
Many people don’t realize how far control goes. Recently, the International Monetary Fund suggested that people’s creditworthiness should also be judged by their Internet search behavior. A potential homeowner could quickly lose dream because he googled the “wrong” things. The cooperation between the banks and the tech giants is intensive: Since last summer, Amazon has been distributing loans from the bank ING to selected sellers. Even when life is fully networked, the richest gamblers have the best cards: Today the coffee machine suddenly stops working because your Amazon account noticed a dissident opinion, tomorrow it could be your furnace. As a result, many could forego freedom of expression on the Internet in favour of obedience: punish one, educate hundreds.
Blocking accounts online can also be tough: even heads of state like Trump can be digitally silenced overnight. Quite a few activists and free media suffered similar fates. They came to permissive platforms, but remained due to a lack of alternatives. Permissive companies can, however, sharpen their “house rules” – and do so. Since mid-2019, YouTube banned 25,000 accounts for “hate speech” – an accusation that does not appear in any legal system. Courts have recognized their opinion-forming character. Some users have their bans rescinded. But the legal process is slow, expensive and does not guard against later censorship. Alternatives to the monopolists are rare and threaten to become niche offers and echo chambers. Those who stream on Bitchute reach a fraction of the users – and hardly any random visitors.
The companies are at the same time slaves and conveyors of the zeitgeist. To stand up for deviants is hardly worthwhile economically as advertising partners could jump ship. Politicians are also using laws against “online hatred” and “misinformation” against critics. For fear of high fines, the operators prefer to delete too much rather than keep too much. Powerful foundations are involved in assessing what should be deleted. An example of this is provided by the “fact checkers” from Correctiv, which are largely financed by the Soros network, or the Amadeu Antonio Foundation led by the former Stasi informant Anetta Kahane. It becomes a “chicken-and-egg problem”: Critical voices occur less often – conversely, there is increasing pressure to exclude them. Advertising partners believe that the remaining views reflect the spectrum of opinions and link campaigns and conditions to it. In the end, political opinions critical of the government on the topics of corona and immigrants disappear.
Leveraging market power
The Twitter alternative “Parler”, used by US conservatives, experienced how quickly unpleasant competition can be eliminated. Google and Apple recently removed them from their app portals, and Amazon canceled web hosting. The operators did not find a suitable alternative with sufficient server capacity. It went offline; the dictates of the IT oligarchs seem final and binding. A similar dynamic can be found with messenger services. “Signal” ultimately relies on Google services to circumvent censorship. There is little interest in breaking the market power of “Big Tech”: the view is that the development of such platforms is inexpensive, therefore governments see – completely unrealistically – no barriers to market entry.
Telegram stands firm?
Telegram founder Pawel Durow, who is known as the “Russian Mark Zuckerberg”, showed that resistance to the zeitgeist is also possible as an IT guru. It can assert itself in its hybrid function as a secure news app and information portal. The resistance to the corona measures relies heavily on the app for networking. It was only in June 2020 that the Russian media regulator gave up its attempts to block the program for all Russians. Before that, Durow had stood firm and refused to hand over security keys. This creates hope. But the greatest pressure from western authorities and the technology cartel is still overwhelming. Whether it will withstand the people largely remains in the stars.