Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Censorship by corporations is shutting down debate and obliterating parts of the historical record.
The Global Warming Policy Forum has just published my paper, Big Bad Tech: When censorship goes corporate. It can be downloaded here and includes a fun cast of characters: A librarian, an oracle, and a vampire. A race car driver and a feminist pioneer in the sciences. A nun, a bishop, and a dove.
The Internet now bears no resemblance to that early ideal of being open to all and controlled by none. YouTube channels, Twitter accounts, and Facebook groups are routinely vapourized. The list of opinions that violate Big Tech Terms of Service and Community Standards grows ever longer. Here are four important ideas from my paper:
Big Tech companies aren’t merely big. They’re 800-pound gorillas. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline ranks 97th on the Forbes list of the world’s largest firms. Apple ranks 6th, Amazon 10th, Google 13th, and Facebook 33rd.
We all understand that television stations have immense influence. So here’s some perspective: Google earns more advertising revenue than all US television and radio stations combined. It’s the most visited website on the Internet. YouTube, owned by Google, is the second most visited.
Big Tech victimizes smaller online businesses. Other firms report that working with Big Tech is a torment. They accuse these companies of stealing intellectual property, stacking the deck in their own favour, changing the rules at whim, and issuing endless take-it-or-leave it demands.
The world created by Big Tech isn’t pretty. People live on a knife’s edge, aware that their livelihoods can be terminated at any moment by multiple 800-pound gorillas.
Big Tech is erasing history. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are now the public square. Hundreds of thousands of people join Facebook groups to discuss events such as last year’s US election. Records of what ordinary people said and thought at specific historical moments are priceless. Archives and libraries go to great trouble to preserve them. This makes Big Tech the custodian of important cultural and historical records.
When Facebook deletes an election discussion group, when YouTube zaps entire video channels, they aren’t merely shutting down debate, they’re vapourizing parts of our collective heritage. As private companies, Big Tech may have the right to refuse to continue hosting particular content. But they have no moral right to obliterate that content, to wipe it off the face of the planet as though it never existed. This profoundly distorts the historical record.
We need a registry, an online archive, where copies of deleted content is preserved. If YouTube decides a video violates its policies, fine. But YouTube must be required to transfer a copy of that video elsewhere before removing it from its own servers. Historians, journalists, and the public still need to be able to access it.
Big Tech is punitive and spiteful. In civilized societies, rules protect smaller players from entities that aren’t even close to being 800-pound gorillas. When landlords evict someone, they must follow rules. Society doesn’t say: They’re private businesses, therefore it’s OK for them to behave as arbitrarily as they wish. When employers fire someone, they must provide adequate notice. Society doesn’t say: It’s a private business and there are other jobs, so bosses can be as capricious as they choose.
My report talks about LifeSite News, published by an anti-abortion group. Whether I personally agree with their worldview is beside the point. These people have a right to be heard. But after 10 years on YouTube, their channel has now been obliterated. For talking about a nun and a bishop.
YouTube has also slaughtered theDove, a Christian, non-profit media outlet that had uploaded 15,000 videos. Those videos are lost forever. YouTube refused their request to download copies after the fact. Please note: a physical landlord cannot lawfully deny a religious organization the opportunity to recover its worldly possessions.
We can depart of our own accord, in a dignified manner. Or we can wait to be cancelled by these malignant corporations.
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