Parler, free speech, hypocrisy, collusion and anti-trust

I want to address two things here: Big Tech deplatforming the Parler social network and also deplatforming conservative users including President Donald Trump.

Regarding Parler, we need to make something very clear: Parler has always banned threats of violence and incitement to violence. The excuse for de-platforming Parler is that the social media platform has not effectively moderated objectionable content, but no social media site of any size can screen for everything. There is a ton of objectionable and outright criminal content on Facebook. In fact, Facebook’s content moderators have been psychologically traumatized by the horrific content they screen as part of their jobs. (See here and here and here.) The same thing happens at Twitter and YouTube.

By the “standard” used to remove Parler from the iOS and Android stores, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter should also be removed – meaning that Google should ban its own video-sharing service from its smartphone operating system. But it is not about violent content, and everyone knows it. This is about silencing conservative speech. Parler became politically radioactive to Big Tech after pro-Trump cultists stormed the capital building, and they used that horrible event as an excuse to shut down Parler.

There is no question that Big Tech engaged in collusion to silence Parler. Collusion does not have to be behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms: It can be out in the open, as it was here. The three Big Tech firms all decided to silence Parler at the same time. That is not a coincidence. Collusion and anti-competitive practices are illegal under various laws, including the Sherman Anti-Trust act. Whether these actions violate the law is worthy of an investigation. If Joe Biden’s Justice Department does not do anything to address this behavior, then Republican state attorneys general must act.

Removing Parler from the app stores is not a big deal. People can install “web apps” on their phones and tablets and use the website instead of an app, or they can visit the sites on a desktop computer. The much bigger concern is Amazon breaking its contract with Parler over alleged “terms of service” violations. What we need is stronger protections in contract law to prevent such things from happening. If a site is showing a good-faith effort to moderate user-generated content and remove objectionable posts, then website hosting providers should not be permitted to cancel hosting.

In one move, Amazon not only silenced the Parler accounts of evil men like Lin Wood who were calling for the murder of the Vice President, but also millions of people who never violated a single line of Amazon’s terms of service. This was not killing a spider with a sledge hammer: This was killing a spider with a Daisy Cutter bomb. It was an absurdly disproportionate response. When web hosting companies can shut down an entire social network based on the rants of a few bad actors regardless of a platform’s content moderation policy, that raises serious concerns about the state of free speech.

On to the next topic: Banning Donald Trump and others on the Right. That is a much less serious issue and a less serious threat to free speech. It is certainly bad, but that is not the end of liberty. Twitter immediately started losing users and alternatives started growing as people outraged at the censorship closed their accounts. You might even see a return of the “blogosphere” that confounded the mainstream media in the early 2000’s. I was posting my opinions online before I ever joined Facebook or Twitter.

We can and should call out the dishonesty and hypocrisy of Big Tech. The fact that Iran’s murderous ruler Ayatollah Khamenei maintained a Twitter account after Trump was banned shows just how partisan that action was. Not only was banning Trump hypocritical, it was dishonest. Trump never explicitly called for violence. In fact, Trump explicitly told people to go home, obey the law and respect the police. He did it in a mealy-mouthed and effeminate way, but he did tell people not to be violent.

Twitter has been especially hypocritical. Twitter promised to be “the free speech wing of the free speech party” and abandoned that stand after it became politically unpopular. In essence, Twitter pulled a bait and switch on its users: Grow a user base with a promise of open discussion and then clamping down when it gained over two hundred million users. That broken promise makes it difficult to trust them now.

Still, it is not good for us to retreat into echo chambers. Having bad ideas reinforced by people who share those bad ideas does not help anything and only encourages more partisanship and division. We need to have our ideas challenged, and to consider that we might be wrong. Because we all are wrong, from time to time. I have learned as much from Leftists over the years as I have from conservatives. It is good to consider opposing arguments and how we can make our own case stronger. You never know: You might even find some common ground that you would not have thought was possible.