The search engine Google and its Silicon Valley neighbors, the social media networks, pledged to bring a new era of free speech and easily accessible information to the world. Individuals could easily share, spread, and converse over any topic their heart desired in the free and open internet. I remember sitting in a social studies classroom back in high school as my teacher put images of Democracy Square in Egypt during the beginning of the Arab Spring on the projector. She gushed over the fact that people could use Facebook and Twitter to share and amplify their voices, and use the internet to learn and connect in ways that certain parts of the world could never dream of. The dream, however, has shown us things are more of a nightmare.
Though millions of Americans on both sides of the partisan aisle showed open hostility towards warrantless surveillance and bulk metadata collection, the tech giants have been given a pass to a large degree.
American progressives excuse much of the cronyism occurring between the government and the tech giants because these Google and social media executives are “one of them”—lovers of environmentalism and other progressive causes; because they pay the progressive indulgences by appeasing easy issues that give them a pass from the left. Many conservatives and free-market libertarians are afraid to discuss the tech giants because they claim they are private entities, despite the fact that they work hand-in-hand with the federal government on many projects in the shadows. While Facebook and Google are not technically a monopoly, they still hold more social capital than any potential competing platform, such as the blockchain-based social network, Minds, and the center-right Twitter alternative, Gab, which means that de-platformed and censored individuals might as well be dead to the world if they are banned or lose their accounts.
While conversation regarding the power and influence of the tech giants is just barely getting off the ground in the United States, in other parts of the world they are a clear and hostile actor towards free people. China, one of the most totalitarian and populous nations in the world, is the frontline for the war over the internet and free thought. In October of 2018, Newsbusters reported Google was “forging ahead with the controversial Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine made in cooperation with the communist Chinese government.” In the United States, only two people have tried to point out the authoritarian deal which would make Google a de facto agent of the Chinese government in their effort to comb the internet for dissidents—Democrat Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and conspiracy theorist provocateur Alex Jones, who was de-platformed from all major social media sites last August. While Jones had been discussing the cooperation between the tech giants and the Chinese for over a year on his radio program, many ignored it until reports from inside of Google became public, citing a rift in the board of directors over whether to proceed with Project Dragonfly.
In an interview with CNBC, Sen. Warner remarked that “China’s cyber and censorship infrastructure is the envy of authoritarian regimes around the world. China is now exporting both its technology and its cyber-sovereignty doctrine to countries like Venezuela, Ethiopia, and Pakistan.” According to The Intercept, who reported the full report of Project Dragonfly in August, this would censor content and access to information in greater ways than the Chinese have been able to accomplish before. With Google’s help, they will virtually have full control over their nation’s access to information and a greater insight into their people’s lives, which they will then use to enhance their nation’s Orwellian Social Credit Score.
Google isn’t alone, Facebook began reporting data from Chinese users to the government as far back as last June. The tools and groups who were once paraded as champions of human progress are now tools of authoritarians.
While government intervention is not the solution to dealing with the tech giants, understanding what they are doing and then finding new alternatives to their services and then supporting those platforms is. The only way to show Google and Facebook that they are held accountable by the people is for users to stop using their services, and show that they will not continue to support corporations that aid and abet the oppression of free thinking people.
We have to hold tech giants accountable before they begin to hold us down for the benefit of totalitarians and despots.