Facebook and Twitter both blocked U.S. President Donald Trump’s accounts over the weekend, and offered detailed explanations why. On Thursday, Facebook said it had blocked Trump’s accounts “indefinitely” and for at least two weeks, until the presidential transition is completed. And later on Friday, Twitter said that it has permanently suspended Trump’s account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.
One can disagree with them, but both companies clearly exercised the kind of judgment that every editor and reporter regularly exercises.
But Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube have been claiming for almost a decade that they exercise no judgment over content and have no obligation to do so, that they are just “technology companies” and don’t want to be “judges” who will decide what’s true and what isn’t.
Editors and reporters routinely have to make judgement calls about what’s true and what isn’t, and it’s not always clear and straightforward.
But for the monopolistic digital platforms, it’s very simple: They have been lying brazenly for years. And Mark Zuckerberg,
Facebook’s CEO, is a serial liar who has deceived and misled users, regulators and legislators over and over again.
Facebook, Google and Twitter aren’t technology companies but media companies.
And they’re not just any media companies: The first two are the largest media companies in human history.
One hundred percent of their revenue comes from advertisements displayed alongside their content.
The only difference between them and most media companies is that legislators allowed them to develop a business model in which they don’t have to invest a single cent in producing this content. Other people and organizations do the work for them.
Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter pass judgment about the content they display to their users. But their judgment is that whatever maximizes advertising revenues will get priority, irrespective of quality, credibility or potential for harm.
Moreover, they built their algorithms on the basis of thorough, in-depth, malicious study of their users as a group and as individuals.
They map their users’ every weakness and bias and present each one with content that will sell to him or her.
It turns out that lies, provocations, extremism, hatred and anger work wonderfully. Researchers in both life sciences and social sciences have shown that the impact of these companies’ apps on our brains is no different from that of drugs or alcohol.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News incited, disseminated lies and conspiracy theories and trafficked in racism long before Facebook and YouTube became major media outlets. It owns a lot of shares in the Republican Party’s corruption and descent into madness over the last two decades.
But the reach and influence of Facebook, Google and their subsidiaries are of a completely different order of magnitude.
They reach every corner of the globe. They are found on most smartphones worldwide. And they drip their poison and conspiracy theories with an efficiency only algorithms programmed by tens of thousands of engineers on the basis of trillions of data points could achieve.
Until three years ago, very few people were warning about the massive damage caused by these companies.
Politicians, academics and journalists were all captured by the myth of the geeks from Silicon Valley who just wanted to connect us, move us forward and help us.
But over the last two years, a significant sobering up has occurred in much of the world. These companies aren’t just antisocial, monopolistic and destructive; they constitute a clear and present danger to democracy.
Information scientists, researchers and executives within these companies who saw everything from the inside noticed long ago that governments, politicians and commercial companies were using social media to spread lies, intimidation and propaganda. Some proposed concrete solutions to these problems. But they were silenced and suppressed by managements that were focused on entrenching their monopolistic status and placating presidents, prime ministers and rulers in most of the countries where they operated.
Facebook’s decision to temporarily block Trump’s account this week, like Twitter’s decision to block it possibly forever and Apple’s decision to block Parler, a right-wing social networking app, didn’t stem from an attack of conscience or breast-beating.
All three companies simply saw what any junior political analyst could see – Trump collapsing, support for him in the Republic Party crumbling and the Democrats poised to take control later this month of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. The king of Twitter and Facebook is dead or dying; long live the new king.
Trump isn’t the first leader to take power with help from the digital monopolies, but he’s the first who managed to use them to change the rules of the game and the norms of politics. His ability to broadcast directly to the eyes, ears and brains of his tens of millions of fans, without going through any filter that would check his facts and put his statements into context, brought us with dizzying speed into the age of fake news, junk news and political madness.
It doesn’t matter what’s right and what isn’t, what’s true and what’s only a quarter true. The public is flooded with an infinite quantity of information and provocations that make it harder and harder to agree on basic facts in order to form a perception of reality.
Trump didn’t create the digital monsters; they became monopolies that nobody wanted to take on under his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was enthralled by them and lived with them in complete symbiosis. The Obama administration continued the tradition of America’s previous three decades in refusing to rein in the behemoths’ enormous economic and political power.
The Bush and Clinton administrations served Wall Street, and the Obama administration served Silicon Valley.
The lack of regulation over Wall Street led to the worst financial crisis since 1929. The lack of regulation over Silicon Valley led to the worst democratic crisis since World War II.
In another two weeks, Joe Biden will enter the White House. With control over both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he has enormous power to shape economic policy. He also has an unprecedented tailwind from his voters, given the last four years and the economic crises of 2009 and 2020.
The problem is that Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, is an integral part of the Democratic Party’s plutocratic wing – a wing that has controlled it for the last 30 or 40 years.
The digital monopolies are deeply invested in and entrenched in the Democratic Party, with hundreds of lobbyists and thousands of relatives, advisers and members. Google and Facebook are the Democratic Party, and vice versa.
It was actually the Trump administration, during its final months in office, that launched a series of lawsuits and investigations against Google and Facebook that should have come long ago.
If the Democrats don’t take resolute action to break up and rein in the digital giants, if they don’t follow in the footsteps of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who struck at the political power of giant corporations as part of his New Deal, then they will greatly increase the risk – to themselves, America, democracy, liberalism and of course America’s protégé in the Middle East as well – of Trumpism returning in 2024 in a far stronger and more sophisticated version than Trump’s lunacy.
Original: Guy Rolnik – HAARETZ