Big Tech

Learn more about the important role that big tech companies have on our livesBy Published On:
cover icon for Big Tech
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Introduction

Big Tech censorship concerns the unregulated ability of big tech companies to suppress free speech. With companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon filtering numerous bits of data per second, their criteria for filtration is an essential topic of discussion. Recently, the subjugation of political figures like Donald Trump and Muhammadu Buhari has had people questioning the validity of tech companies' reasoning and precedence behind media suppression. Moreover, both sides of the political spectrum agree that big tech is becoming too powerful but disagree on how to proceed. Therefore, regulation of big tech companies should remain a pressing conversation for the sake of valuable, ideologically diverse conversations. Below, Republican and Democratic views on Big Tech, such as antitrust laws, will be discussed.

Republican

Republicans, on the whole, do not support big tech censorship as they feel conservative voices are silenced on media platforms more than others; they believe that social media censorship is a major cause for concern, considering social media coverage played a vital role in past and future elections. Additionally, it's held that all speech must be allowed if we genuinely want to be a country that values free speech. Republicans campaign that if citizens permit the government, privatized companies, or whoever it may be to moderate any speech, it's grounds for them to relinquish more rights, creating a steep and slippery slope.

To retain minimally moderated platforms for discussion, Republicans advocate for legislation that keeps big tech neutral. Republicans want to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives social media platforms immunity when removing content — citing the difference between a platform and a publisher. They also plan to involve the Federal Trade Commission, so "users [have] a means of recourse when they have been wrongly censored for their views," Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker says. Some of the parameters Republicans want Big Tech to abide by include not discriminating against users for any reason, especially political orientation, and complete transparency when a company issues a ban. Republicans often cite the ban of Parler as evidence of Big Tech's unwarranted power and discrimination. In response to the alleged censorship during the presidential race, the "free-thinking" app Parler was utilized as a platform by Republicans. However, after the events of January 6th, Apple, Google, and Amazon removed Parler from their app-stores for failing to "get their moderation together," CEO of Apple Tim Cook said. Republicans pointed out the double standard when apps Twitter and Facebook were used just as much, if not more, than Parler to advertise the capital riot. Republicans say the bias of social media apps is blatant and hope that stricter regulation will make them more user-friendly.

Democrat

Democrats are also in opposition to big tech censorship, but their points of contention surround them becoming monopolies and the resulting loss of businesses, jobs, etc. Politicians and economists agree that big tech has too much influence over the U.S. economy. Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline reinforced this notion saying, "they are in a unique position to pick winners and losers, destroy small businesses, raise prices on consumers and put folks out of work." As a result, Democrats have proposed antitrust bills restricting their ability to buy out novel competitors and to increase the liberty of big tech regulators.

Concerning free speech, Democrats are in complete opposition to Republicans. Instead of social media sites limiting conservative views, Democrats argue it's quite the opposite. Citing a recent study from NYU, they say there is no evidence to support conservative posts are removed more frequently. If anything, Democrats say, Republicans are more heard on social media than other voices, being some of the most popular content on numerous apps.

Strictly speaking on user regulation, Democrats support moderating content that may be "hateful" or potentially misleading because of its implications on preventing productive conversations. Furthermore, hate speech is conducive to hate crime and an overall culture of unwarranted malevolence, Democrats say. As a result, they approve of Big Tech labeling and removing "hateful" posts. However, they highlight the scary nature of Big Tech's absolute power over what Americans can and can't see. On the other hand, Republicans say a term like hate speech is too subjective to be upheld in a court and, therefore would be both futile and devastating if sworn into law.

Discussion Questions

  • Should social media companies be able to regulate user posts?
    • If so, what should be removed?
      • Violence, Pornography, Misinformation, Hate Speech?
      • Do we want to engage online without any moderation, or what level of moderation should we tolerate? Should beheadings by terror groups be allowed? Where do we draw the line?
    • Do we currently have a problem with the way companies like Twitter and Facebook regulate their platform?
  • How should big tech monopolization be regulated?
    • Should big tech companies not be allowed to buy out competitors, or would that stifle innovation given that acquisitions are one of the main ways that VCs make a profit from their investment?
    • Should big tech companies be broken up by an antitrust agency?

Sources

Kang, Cecilia. "Lawmakers, Taking Aim at Big TECH, PUSH Sweeping Overhaul of Antitrust." The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 June 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/06/11/technology/big-tech-antitrust-bills.html.

Wicker, U.S. Senator Roger. "Wicker Offers Solution to Big Tech Censorship." Wicker Offers Solution to Big Tech Censorship - Weekly Report - U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, 21 June 2021, www.wicker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2021/6/wicker-offers-solution-to-big-tech-censorship.

Baer, Bill, and Caitlin Chin. “Addressing Big Tech's Power over Speech.” Brookings, Brookings, 1 June 2021, www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2021/06/01/addressing-big-techs-power-over-speech/.

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