In a recent opinion piece for The Hill, Donald Trump Jr. drew attention to the growing problem of Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives. Listing problems like shadow bans on Twitter and Facebook, pulled ads for Republican candidates and the demonetization of videos on YouTube, he wrote: “Our right to freely engage in public discourse through speech is under sustained attack, necessitating a vigorous defense against the major social media and internet platforms.”
He points to how Facebook has tailored its algorithm to single out the style and syntax often used by conservatives – looking out for terms like “SJW” (social justice worker) and “mainstream media” – and using that to de-boost those users’ content.
Consider what happened to controversial talk show host Alex Jones, who was booted off all social media platforms last August at once after the various platforms ganged up against him. Conservative activist Laura Loomer had already been banned from Twitter and PayPal when she discovered that Chase Bank had also banned her and she was blocked from accessing her bank account using their app.
She’s not the only one; half a dozen other conservatives say that Chase Bank’s online banking platform has given them the boot, including Trump-supporting Army combat veteran Joe Biggs. Mastercard and Discover, meanwhile, blacklisted the conservative Islam critic Robert Spencer while Mastercard and Visa cut off service to David Horowitz. Financial blacklisting is on the rise, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation warning via Breitbart News last summer that payment processors and banks were turning into “de facto internet censors.”
It’s easy to see where this is headed. Deplatforming and censorship is almost like being executed – perhaps not in a literal sense but in terms of being essentially “de-personed.” This isn’t just a problem that the Alex Joneses of the world, whose livelihoods arguably depend on reaching a wide enough audience, have to worry about – every single one of us stands to lose -- and lose big -- if we find ourselves on the wrong side of Big Tech.
Facebook has already admitted that it ranks users on a trustworthiness scale. While we don’t know everything this reputation score is used for, we do know that the scores are used to decide whether the posts a user flags as false should be reviewed by fact checkers or ignored. Facebook has access to a significant amount of very personal data about more than 2 billion people, and it’s just a matter of time before this ranking system is eyed by other companies and perhaps even the government.
Apple, meanwhile, is quietly monitoring your calls and emails to create a “trust score” if you use an iPhone, although you’d only know that if you were able to read between the lines in the fine print of a recent iOS update. The ratings are supposed to help prevent fraud, they say, although it’s unclear how monitoring people’s communications is going to do that.
What these U.S. tech giants are doing isn’t that different from the social credit scoring system that is used in China. The Chinese state monitors its population’s behavior and then rates them in a mandatory scheme that they can’t opt out of, with those who get low scores being punished in demeaning ways and essentially prevented from living their daily lives. Some of the acts that could earn you a low score include posting 'fake news' online, posting on social media, spending money on frivolous purchases, buying too many books or video games, and driving badly.
What are those with low social credit scores banned from doing in China? They’re not allowed to buy tickets for domestic flights or take the faster trains in the country. Their kids can’t get into good schools, and they can’t buy property. Some telecommunications companies even assign them a special ring tone so those around them will know they are in the company of a “discredited” individual.
Donald Trump Jr. is right: All of this is headed in a very scary direction. China’s system might seem outrageous to us, but the truth is that we’re already on our way there. It’s time for something to be done about the power over free speech these tech monopolies have before they take away everything from those they don’t agree with.
Sources for this article include: