More than one in five U.S. adults has a Twitter account, but one doesn’t have to be active on social media to know that the company went on a suspending spree after the election, canceling more than 70,000 users the company considered to be undesirables, including former President Donald Trump, who’s been banned for life.
It’s unclear if accounts were suspended by artificial intelligence bots or breathing Twitter employees following personal agendas. Since customer service at the tech giant operates like a hybrid of the department of motor vehicles and a Russian phone company, we might never know.
Twitter is not a lone prohibitionist. Last month, Apple, Amazon, and Google effectively shut down Parler, an alternative social media service preferred by the right. Apple and Google removed the Parler app from their online stores and Amazon Web Services severed its ties with the company, leaving the website unreachable. The wounded social media platform dropped offline on Jan. 11 but returned after more than a month of struggles, changes, and barbs from the left.
Those companies excused their decision to destroy Parler by claiming it didn’t do enough to police its posts, but we know this was a misdirection. Twitter has been filled with violent and hateful messages that go unchecked, as has Facebook. The FBI has even been using Twitter and Facebook to identify people who were at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots.
The more likely reason Parler was dumped was due to its customer base being predominantly conservative. Apple, Google, and Amazon likely “settled all family business” much like Michael Corleone did in “The Godfather.”
Is that an unfair characterization? Six days after Parler went dark, former CEO John Matze and his family went into “hiding after receiving death threats,” according to Reuters.
Facebook booted Trump while he was still president. Snapchat, YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit also cut him off. Companies outside of social media are compiling blacklists. ABC’s political director Rick Klein called for a “cleansing movement” of Trump’s supporters — which, counting nothing but voters, numbers about 75 million.
It’s clear that we’re only in the early days of an attempted political purge.
Why is all this important? After all, aren’t these private enterprises simply exercising their rights within a free market and open society?
Yes, but they also wield tremendous influence. We know that politics are downstream from culture and as long as Twitter, Google, Apple, and others can cancel individuals with whom they disagree without significant backlash, government censorship can’t be far behind.
Lawmakers and regulators will of course justify their crackdown, declaring it’s the “will of the people.” Europe has already “seized” the moment “to bang the drum for regulation,” and one House member, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has called for reining “in our media environment,” referring to the news outlets that haven’t fallen in line.
In this ongoing battle, Trump is a stand-in for many of us as the head of the snake the left is determined to cut off. As the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher has noted, the mob’s goal is to “marginalize and suppress right-of-center discourse and people” – and, it must be said, businesses.
We are approaching, if we’re not already there, an era in which a small business that posts a campaign sign for the “wrong” candidate or party, writes an “unacceptable” social media comment, hires a “deplorable,” or employs someone who made a mild remark 20 years ago that’s unacceptable today, will be so vilified it will be forced to close.
The remedy for muzzled speech is more speech. But those are rather empty words if companies shut down the channels that distribute information on a scale never before seen. Imagine if private shops had refused to sell or rent a printing press to revolutionary Thomas Paine, whose published works persuasively argued for independence.
The liberty-minded among us, though, would prefer to avoid resorting to legislation, regulation, and litigation. What, then, can be done?
Innovation and competition can create alternatives to the current lineup of available platforms, channels, apps, and outlets. This, of course, takes investment and time. But in an economic system in which the consumer is king, customers have the power to swiftly change the way companies do business by making their preferences known.
Like the economy, the world of social media, big tech, and business, in general, is not a fixed pie. It is constantly expanding and there is plenty of room for new players. If consumers demand them, and the government allows the market to freely operate, they will emerge. The danger is remaining passive and thinking that what happened to Trump “can’t happen to me,” because it can.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.