When Twitter permanently suspended then-President Donald Trump’s account on Jan. 8, one truth became evident: Big Tech has monopolistic power over the public forum in America.
The ensuing crackdown on thousands of accounts following Trump’s removal saw non-establishment thinkers and groups, both conservative and progressive, removed from the main platforms of communication.
Anyone outside of the “elite class” running media, is censored, said Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Public Address Ethan Stoneman.
“The media has always been in the hands of the elite,” Stoneman said. “No one seems to be happy with the current technological dispensation.”
Ideas outside the establishment consensus face the threat of censorship by the few media companies controlling the public forum — but this is not new, Stoneman said. History has shown monopolies form with every new technological development in media.
“This is the norm in the history of media history and technologies — there has always been a priestly class,” Stoneman said. “When a new technology comes onto the scene in a more emergent phase, things start to get commercialized.You’re going to see the concentration, and then a conglomeration of these different media industries.”
Precedent shows monopolization happens and then, a longing for a “Wild West” free-for-all, which can never be a permanent state, according to Stoneman, who refers to our current era as “technological modernity” as opposed to post-modernity.
“In terms of who has access — this one person one voice — that’s just not going to be the case,” Stoneman said. “That’s never been the norm.”
What remains different about Big Tech from past monopolies, however, is the threat to free speech and the precedent being set, which could soon extend into sectors outside communication.
Even Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recognizes the threat, tweeting earlier this month that “A lot of people are going to be super unhappy with West Coast high tech as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”
Big Tech has followed the historical path of enacting censorship, starting with “going after the most noxious possible people,” according to Assistant Professor and Research Fellow David Azerrad.
“Starting with, you know, the white supremacists,” he said. “And then you’re like ‘Well, OK, what if they’ve been removed?’”
This precedent slowly, but deliberately, widens its scope until Big Tech’s agenda is obvious.
“They came after the president of the United States of America,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about imposing an orthodoxy and silencing dissent.”
This desire to silence is going to extend outside of social media sites into nearly any industry, Azerrad argues.
“It goes beyond communication because once the precedent is set, you can be denied access to certain services,” he said. “Then what about banking? Why should racists be allowed to have bank accounts or credit cards, or to fly, or to rent cars?”
Stoneman pointed out that there is no protection of the right to digital services.
“There’s no right to being able to access or use online payment systems,” he said. “If you run afoul of the technocratic elite, they can make it impossible for you to digitally transfer money. They can just choke you off.”
These blatant attacks by Big Tech on free speech and digital communication have been a long time coming, and Republicans have failed to reign in corporations such as Twitter, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.
“The right doesn’t have much of an agenda. This has been a huge blind spot,” Azerrad said. “The right fails to acknowledge any form of corporate wrongdoing because they assume that markets will take care of it.”
The common rebuttal by right-wing talking heads is “start your own Google,” which Azerrad calls “silly and not helpful,” especially in light of Amazon Web Services taking Parler, a conservative alternative to Twitter, off its internet servers.
“There is such fear on the right of getting the government involved in anything that it’s gotten to the point where it’s almost become an axiom that the private sector can do no wrong,” Azerrad said. “At least begin with a calm and lucid assessment of the situation and not downplay the threat that this poses.”
Republicans, Azerrad argues, should devote more time to the issue, if it’s not already too late.
“De-regulating African hair braiding seems to be more of a priority on the right than dealing with Big Tech,” he said.