When tech companies take measures to crush the very dialogue they once needed to grow — reaching a point where they have amassed the widest censorship reach in human history — it’s time to sit down and have a serious conversation about Silicon Valley.
Professor Noam Chomsky, linguist and co-founder of cognitive science, has long claimed that America is a nation run by corporations. That assertion was well supported nearly a century ago by the rise of America’s elite class — its first millionaires who, soon after amassing their fortunes, turned to investing in elections to help shape favorable policies.
While corporations and their elites have long-shaped public policy by funding one candidate over another, the questions for our generation are:
Yet, we — as a society — have become reliant on social tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for our “free speech” needs. We have become reliant on Google to authenticate and rank the relevancy of that speech. But the fact remains there is no obligation for these companies to uphold the same standards of free speech that we are guaranteed by our government.
Silicon Valley has come to develop its own standard for “free” speech, one that is subjective and heavy-handed. It has become a reality in which views it dislikes are either censored or “shadow banned” (where a user’s post is blocked from appearing in other people’s news feeds).
Take the most recent Silicon Valley scandal concerning a leaked Google memo, The Good Censor. It’s an 85-page admission that Google and other tech platforms now “control the majority of online conversations” and have pivoted away from free speech and “towards censorship” of those whose opinions they disapprove of (largely political conservatives).
This follows a previously leaked Google memo identifying the social media giant as an ideological echo chamber.
After only days in the news cycle, The Good Censor story only yielded about 540 Twitter mentions, which is impossible given the fact that Twitter has 336-million users worldwide, with 68-million users in the United States alone.
The Google memo was leaked to the conservative news outlet Breitbart, which broke the story. You can decide for yourself whether it was a coincidence that this was shadow-banned.
Meanwhile, post after post promoting misogynistic and extremist rhetoric of Islam’s religious right continue to be promoted. For example, while Twitter shut down right-wing fringe journalist Alex Jones, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Twitter page is not only standing tall, it’s verified.
The Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist operation with chapters across the world, including well-nested front organizations in the United States with agents openly spewing the same hate and propaganda you would find in the caves of Kandahar.
And it’s not just Twitter. Facebook does the same thing. Take another example. Pages that support and promote female genital mutilation (FGM) are left standing while pages belonging to critics of this horrific practice are often silenced.
To be fair, there are a couple of (less sinister) reasons why this is happening (reasons that are also part of the problem):
Unless billions are invested into multiple counter platforms to break Silicon Valley’s monopoly on regulating and policing speech, the truth is the only real power we have is to break our dependency on technology and return to real-time, real-life connections.
Ultimately, the power is ours.
In some Utopian fantasy, Muslim reformers like myself (and other alternative voices) would have the opportunity to sit down with Silicon Valley tech giants and have an honest conversation with them to help them understand a reality they won’t ever be able to assess through artificial and social intelligence alone.
Until that time comes, I invite you to walk away from social media with me and return to building real relationships with individuals, rather than feeding the beast that technology has become with more of the life-blood it needs to continue to grow and crush opposition voices: our data.
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