How to rein in Big Tech and why we can’t afford not to

by WorldTribune Staff, March 4, 2021

“Big Tech has become the most powerful election-influencing machine in American history. It is not an exaggeration to say that if the technologies of Silicon Valley are allowed to develop to their fullest extent, without any oversight or checks and balances, then we will never have another free and fair election.”

The above is from a Nov. 8, 2020 speech by journalist Allum Bokhari at Hillsdale College.

In 2018, Bokhari obtained and published “The Google Tape,” a recording of Google’s top executives reacting to the 2016 Trump election and declaring their intention to make the American populist movement a “blip” in history.

Bokhari, a Breitbart News correspondent, is also the author of “#Deleted: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal the Election”, which was published in September of 2020.

When the Silicon Valley overlords permanently banned President Donald Trump from their platforms, the U.S. political/media class remained silent.

But political leaders and independent journalists around the world slammed the American tech giants, which they pointed out have accumulated far too much power.

“None like the idea that a pack of American hipsters in Silicon Valley can, at any moment, cut off their digital lines of communication,” Bokhari noted in an analysis from the January 2021 edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis.

“When the Web was created in the 1990s, the goal was that everyone who wanted a voice could have one,” Bokhari noted. “All a person had to do to access the global marketplace of ideas was to go online and set up a website. Once created, the website belonged to that person. Especially if the person owned his own server, no one could deplatform him. That was by design, because the Web, when it was invented, was competing with other types of online services that were not so free and open.”

In his memorable speech at the National Press Club on June 2, 1998, Matt Drudge noted:

“An amazing story: I used to walk these streets as an aimless teen, young adult; walk by ABC News over on DeSales, daydream; stare up at the Washington Post newsroom over on 15th Street; look up longingly, knowing I’d never get in — didn’t go to the right schools, never enjoyed any school, as a matter of fact, didn’t come from a well-known family — nor was I even remotely connected to a public — a powerful publishing dynasty.

“I was walking the streets of Washington — the streets I grew up in — last night. Found myself in front of the Washington Post building again, looking up, this time not longingly. This time I laughed.

“Let the future begin.”

Related: Matt Drudge’s speech at the National Press Club 20 summers ago: ‘Let the future begin’

At the time of Drudge’s speech, “the Web was different,” Bokhari noted. “No one owned it, owned the information on it, or could kick anyone off. That was the idea, at least, before the Web was captured by a handful of corporations.”

Today, Bokhari continued, “Big Tech doesn’t just mean control over online information. It means control over news. It means control over commerce. It means control over politics. And how are the corporate tech giants using their control? Judging by the three biggest moves they have made since I wrote my book — the censoring of the New York Post in October when it published its blockbuster stories on Biden family corruption, the censorship and eventual banning from the Web of President Trump, and the coordinated takedown of the upstart social media site Parler — it is obvious that Big Tech’s priority today is to support the political Left and the Washington establishment.”

Big Tech’s power, Bokhari noted, “goes beyond the manipulation of political behavior. As one of my Facebook sources told me in an interview for my book: ‘We have thousands of people on the platform who have gone from far right to center in the past year, so we can build a model from those people and try to make everyone else on the right follow the same path.’ Let that sink in. They don’t just want to control information or even voting behavior — they want to manipulate people’s worldview.”

Even more troubling, Bokharhi wrote, “are the invisible things these companies do. Consider ‘quality ratings.’ Every Big Tech platform has some version of this, though some of them use different names. The quality rating is what determines what appears at the top of your search results, or your Twitter or Facebook feed, etc. It’s a numerical value based on what Big Tech’s algorithms determine in terms of ‘quality.’ In the past, this score was determined by criteria that were somewhat objective: if a website or post contained viruses, malware, spam, or copyrighted material, that would negatively impact its quality score. If a video or post was gaining in popularity, the quality score would increase. Fair enough.

“Over the past several years, however — and one can trace the beginning of the change to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 — Big Tech has introduced all sorts of new criteria into the mix that determines quality scores. Today, the algorithms on Google and Facebook have been trained to detect ‘hate speech,’ ‘misinformation,’ and ‘authoritative’ (as opposed to ‘non-authoritative’) sources. Algorithms analyze a user’s network, so that whatever users follow on social media—e.g., “non-authoritative” news outlets—affects the user’s quality score. Algorithms also detect the use of language frowned on by Big Tech — e.g., ‘illegal immigrant’ (bad) in place of ‘undocumented immigrant’ (good) — and adjust quality scores accordingly. And so on.”

Bokhari continued: “This is not to say that you are informed of this or that you can look up your quality score. All of this happens invisibly. It is Silicon Valley’s version of the social credit system overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. As in China, if you defy the values of the ruling elite or challenge narratives that the elite labels ‘authoritative,’ your score will be reduced and your voice suppressed. And it will happen silently, without your knowledge.”

If they are allowed to develop unchecked and unregulated, the Big Tech goliaths “will eventually have the power not only to suppress existing political movements, but to anticipate and prevent the emergence of new ones,” Bokhari wrote. “This would mean the end of democracy as we know it, because it would place us forever under the thumb of an unaccountable oligarchy.”

But there is good news, Bokhari noted:

“There is a way to rein in the tyrannical tech giants. And the way is simple: take away their power to filter information and filter data on our behalf.
All of Big Tech’s power comes from their content filters — the filters on ‘hate speech,’ the filters on ‘misinformation,’ the filters that distinguish ‘authoritative’ from ‘non-authoritative’ sources, etc. Right now these filters are switched on by default. We as individuals can’t turn them off. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The most important demand we can make of lawmakers and regulators is that Big Tech be forbidden from activating these filters without our knowledge and consent. They should be prohibited from doing this — and even from nudging us to turn on a filter — under penalty of losing their Section 230 immunity as publishers of third party content. This policy should be strictly enforced, and it should extend even to seemingly non-political filters like relevance and popularity. Anything less opens the door to manipulation.

“Our ultimate goal should be a marketplace in which third party companies would be free to design filters that could be plugged into services like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube. In other words, we would have two separate categories of companies: those that host content and those that create filters to sort through that content. In a marketplace like that, users would have the maximum level of choice in determining their online experiences. At the same time, Big Tech would lose its power to manipulate our thoughts and behavior and to ban legal content — which is just a more extreme form of filtering — from the Web.”

The World Wide Web, Bokhari concluded, “was meant to liberate us. It is now doing the opposite. Big Tech is increasingly in control. The most pressing question today is: how are we going to take control back?”

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