After the election of Donald Trump, I wrote a piece for the Libertarian Institute called “Avoiding the Abject Misery of Internet Political Dialogue”. It was my response to the increasingly uncivil discourse that I was seeing on social media, among friends and acquaintances. I even began explicitly following many people I know that I disagreed with profoundly on a wide variety of topics, in order to keep myself out of the echo chamber of opinion which I believe many including myself had settled into.
My hope was that I could help to follow my own advice and make the discourse more civil. Since then, I’ve definitely contributed to the problem, but I’ve also seen a total decline in political discourse of all types. I don’t have to detail it to you, you can see it for yourselves on your various feeds, but many of the problems I talked about in the original article still stand.
Now we see Big Tech beginning to censor more and more voices on their platforms for even silly things. Alex Jones was banned basically from the entire internet (don’t think they’re not going to go after whatever host he uses, and if he is self hosted, they’ll go after the ISP that provides the bandwidth, and probably the domain registrar for his domain as well). I’m no Jones fan, I have stayed away from him because his style and substance aren’t of my liking.
What Big Tech is doing now reinforces the divisions in our society, and forces the creation of the vast echo chambers and separate worlds that I talked about in the original piece.
Users will increasingly only use services that subscribe to their own political bent. There are many examples of this in regular, walking around life already (Chic-fil-A), but this fracturing is going to increase.
Do you really want to look up the voter card of the hot dog stand guy before you buy his food? Is this really what people want out of their lives?
“Looks good, but are you a Democrat?”
Fortunately, so many people are disconnected from the political debates that they’ll continue to use Big Tech, but likely and increasingly they’ll only be exposed to one side of the political spectrum. This type of voluntary, crony capitalist forced political correctness reeks of the kind of public private partnership that the PRISM metadata program first brought to light under Edward Snowden, and the 4th amendment of the metadata program is now the 1st amendment of the establishment’s internet censorship initiative.
“Your participation in the Good Speech Program is entirely voluntary.”
Imagine for a moment if PayPal under Peter Thiel had begun to purge all users it found to have purchased Marx’s Das Kapital, or had purchased a Che Guevera t-shirt or poster. This is increasingly possible, and likely. We see now political opponents being silenced for simply being unpleasant, or mean, to each other online. It’s almost as if the lists are drawn up, and the censors are there waiting for that report to kick anyone they disagree with off their platforms.
What will the online social media space look like in ten years? It’s impossible to say, but I’ll venture a guess. I think it will look more like the government wants it to look like, and the dissidents will once again be forced to search for other, smaller outlets to spread their opinions. Where once publishers pushed controversial opinion off of their editorial pages, now we have Facebook and Twitter pushing controversial users off of their platform.
The promise of an open internet is rapidly escaping us, and devolving into the same kind of news space that old media created for us, and the internet once sought to tear down.