Salvador Dalí The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus 1959
And just like that, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg belatedly found they had fallen on their own swords, as these were already sticking out of their backs. Let’s see it as poetic justice. They thought they had the power- after all, they’re just private companies!- to restrict Donald Trump’s access to their organizations, and then ban him altogether, only to find that they themselves will now be restricted and perhaps even banned as a result.
They figured since most of the world doesn’t like Trump, it would applaud the moves as much as the US Democratic party does. But most of the world doesn’t. What it sees, what its leaders see, is a threat to everyone else’s freedom of speech, not just Trump’s. Those countries and their leaders have been suspicious of the might of US tech companies for longer, and they will now look elsewhere for social media functionality. It’s no accident that Facebook alone lost some $47 billion in market cap since the Trump ban.
This does not come from Trump supporters. Angela Merkel, not a Trump fun at all, summarizes the worries: “Her spokesman said Monday the German leader found it “problematic” that corporate managers could deny someone access under rules not defined by law.” That’s it right there, the heart of the matter: “law”. Twitter and Facebook act as judge, jury and henchman, and that is not legal, not even for private companies.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook of all places (love the irony): “Algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not.” “There can be no consent to censorship.” Poland is drafting legislation which would make it illegal for social media companies to remove posts that did not break Polish law. “Removing lawful content would directly violate the law, and this will have to be respected by the platforms that operate in Poland.”
While Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said: “Yes, social media should not be used to incite violence and all that, but this cannot be used as a pretext to suspend freedom of expression.” “How can a company act as if it was all powerful, omnipotent, as a sort of Spanish Inquisition on what is expressed?” AMLO is actively seeking a coalation of countries in the world to counter social media’s recent policies.
It’s quite something that Dorsey and Zuckerberg were/are blind to this. That they were apparently thinking in “American terms” only when banning Trump, and given political sentiments thought they could get away with it, but did not see the broader international implications. Their shareholders will not appreciate that blind spot. The US is not their only market.
The first things that will happen now is that the EU will look at measures to curtail social media’s freedoms in its territory. This is not an obvious matter, many of its countries – see Poland’s example- will claim they have their own laws and standards, and they often do, but, if only for internal EU political reasons, that won’t stick.
Social media are important platforms in politics these days. In EU elections, national parties form coalitions with each other, and these then form bigger coalitions (blocs). A candidate for the European Parliament could potentially be banned in one country, while one from another country, but belonging to the same party or bloc, would not. That can’t be, it’s too messy even by EU standards, so legislation will have to be pan-EU.
The funniest thing that might come of this is Facebook and Twitter re-opening Trump’s accounts to appease Merkel et al, but it’s too late. There are plenty EU companies more than eager to fill the void that Silicon Valley would leave behind (or they can order Chinese). And Jack and Mark will not win the world’s trust back in time, they stepped over the line.
Replacing Facebook won’t happen overnight. But if access to it is cut in large parts of the world, it could happen faster than you think. As for Twitter and WhatsApp, oh well, dime a dozen. They can kill Parler, but already large numbers of people are switching over to Signal and Telegram. Can’t kill ’em all, @jack.
Talking of which, did you see the Project Veritas video secretly made by a Twitter employee? This is exactly why Twitter will be restricted and banned. @jack threatening to give many other people the same treatment as Trump is a scary sight for many people across the world, politicians or citizens. You know who’s next? You are next.
Over 1,000,000 views in less than 2 hours!
— Project Veritas (@Project_Veritas) January 15, 2021
Plenty politicians want to ban people from all manner of things, but they want to be the ones doing the banning, not @jack. But as Merkel observes, banning someone with no basis whatsoever in law is not what anyone should want. In the end, refusing someone access to social media turns into the same thing as refusing them access to a computer. Or, maybe an even better example, to a phone. Things like that happen very rarely, and never to a President of the United States. Ma Bell, Baby Bells, AT&T, maybe that’s the future of Facebook and Twitter. If they’re lucky.
And while we’re at it, we haven’t even mentioned Google yet. Let’s turn them into baby-Googles too. Because the biggest threat that Silicon Valley poses is not that they ban Trump and actively tried to influence a US presidential election (remember Zuckerberg’s $500 million election fund)?
No, the biggest threat is their algorithms used to spy on you and me to “optimize” us as
victims clients for their advertizers. That’s why this is not just about Facebook and Twitter, but certainly also about Google. These are virtual monopolies we’re talking about. And while you’re at it, add Apple and Amazon. It’s their ties to intelligence services that make these companies the most threatening. In the US, this is too far advanced to stop now. But in Europe, there may still be a chance.
This is a big fight when it comes to liberty and personal space. And if you don’t fight it now, you’ve already lost. Pay attention please.
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