Updated: Aug 15, 2019
A serious problem has developed that is beginning to directly threaten free speech in the United States. Before the era of the internet and social media, we considered government the greatest potential threat to free speech in the public square. That is no longer the case. The public square used to be a physical place to which people would travel to gather, communicate, and conduct business. Now it is the internet because of its utility, accessibility, and popularity, particularly Google and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They are owned and controlled by private companies with little to no government protection of individual free speech, which is the foundation of a free society.
In theory, there should be no problem with a private company creating the rules by which those who utilize its facilities conduct themselves. As Americans, we believe in private ownership and control of private business. However, as these websites have become so large and critical to commerce, they have become public space. Anything posted on one of these websites is public communication unless special settings or features are used to make communication private. However, even private communication is monitored and controlled by the owners of these sites.
Tech companies have created websites or “land” that we connect to or “visit” through the internet. They control that land and the people on it the way a government would control a country. In essence, they have created countries that operate within countries, or even beyond country. The problem is that these tech company “governments” have usurped U.S. governmental authority within the U.S. in what is tantamount to a massive workaround. They are exploiting the technicality that they are privately owned and have been given special privileges due to their initial founding as mere platforms.
As they have transitioned from simple platforms into discriminating publishers, they have prevented the exercise of free speech in the public square. Their manipulation has risen to the level of illegality under U.S. law. At its heart, the U.S. is a nationwide private contract, known as the Constitution, between and among all U.S. citizens, who we enter into the contract through citizenship. This contract enumerates and implies basic rights and freedoms that create the framework for our nation. Without rights and freedoms, such as free speech, we would be just like any other nation, subject to the whims of autocratic rulers or totalitarian regimes that sometimes allow their people freedom and sometimes do not. Those rights and freedoms are why we have been so successful and are the envy of the world.
We have reached a point where tech companies are functioning outside of our contract and have taken control of a significant portion of all U.S. communication and commerce. Purposely or not, in effect, they have actually taken control of a significant portion of U.S. governing authority.
Beyond that, it has now become clear that these companies have been using their websites for political purposes as well as mechanisms to harvest and sell their users’ personal information. They knew full well that their users did not understand the reality of what was happening.
To further complicate matters, there has been a breakdown of journalistic integrity among many top news sources. Much of our news is just propaganda filtered through and legitimized, or delegitimized, by search engines and social media sites operating as arms of political parties. This perfect storm of manipulation and control is unheard of in America outside of a class on 20th-century dictatorships or George Orwell’s 1984.
The disturbing truth is that these tech companies have usurped the power of the U.S. government, on U.S. soil, governing U.S. citizens. They are oppressive, tyrannical, dictators that we have all come to rely on to communicate and conduct business. We have helped them do this, and I feel the shame of my own complicity. I saw it happening and did nothing but weakly complain.
"We are their only commodity"
We are their only commodity. We made them what they are today, and if we leave, they have nothing. The immediate problem is that it is difficult to leave because we rely on them and because we are addicted to the stroking of our egos and actual or potential notoriety.
As a result, we are forced to conform with phony “community” standards. These standards are merely a method of silencing viewpoints that do not align with the one allowable viewpoint that we must all adopt or be removed from mainstream society through shadowbanning, demonetization, or deplatforming. If we do not comply, our only alternative is to give up and leave.
These companies have clearly articulated their intention to continue down this path of control. Our only real alternatives are substantial government regulation that they may or may not be able to navigate around, or to leave and re-form the public square elsewhere.