Equally world-changing as Gutenberg’s printing press, social media and the unprecedented development of Big Tech threatens the United States’ last remaining vestiges of political integrity. The nation and possibly the world could be nearing a point of no return. A point where the vast majority of the nation’s news and online communications are dictated by a minuscule demographic comprised of some of the most wealthy, powerful people on the planet.
The term Big Tech most commonly refers to Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, the largest, most financially dominant companies in the nation’s information technology industry. Extending well beyond U.S. borders, Big Tech’s dominance and influence is nothing short of global.
Harvard graduate, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today and current senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, Dr. Robert Epstein delivered a powerful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019. As one might deduce from his credentials, Epstein is not a Republican or Conservative, but gave remarks on why Google “presents a serious threat to democracy and human autonomy.”
Epstein had been collecting data and studying techniques used by Google, such as search engine manipulation. His peer-reviewed, verified work shows that on Election Day in 2018, Google’s “Go-Vote” reminder, which was displayed on its home page, gave one political party between 800,000 and 4.6 million more votes than it gave the other party. Epstein’s work also found that Google has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25% of the national elections worldwide since 2015 and that the company’s “autocomplete” search suggestions can turn a 50/50 split among undecided voters, into a 90/10 split without people’s awareness.
Commenting on Russian involvement in U.S. elections, specifically in the 2016 presidential election, Epstein stated, “these effects are nothing like Russian-placed ads or fake news stories. Russian interference, although troubling and unacceptable, does not, in my opinion, shift many votes. Ads and news stories are competitive and visible, like billboards. The kinds of ephemeral effects I am studying, however, are invisible and non-competitive. They are controlled entirely by Big Tech companies, and there is no way to counteract them.”
This is especially concerning after looking into the financial ties between Clinton’s 2016 campaign and Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. According to an explosive article from Wired Magazine, Schmidt funded two companies — Civis Analytics and the Groundwork — both of which were working alongside the Clinton campaign. Pairing this with Epstein’s data, Google is clearly shown using its amassed wealth and influence to manipulate its own algorithms and configure features to support Democratic candidates.
Social media’s most promising benefits have arguably paled in comparison to the technology’s many hazards. One of the most notable points of concern is the extent of Twitter and Facebook’s influence and undetermined role in U.S. politics. Aside from the growing list of adverse effects on user mental health, a global communications platform reliant on user rhetoric and driven by user emotion has not only made facts secondary, it has also spawned a dangerous resurgence of identity politics.
Twitter has become a legitimate threat to free speech and political discourse. After appearing before Congress alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and other Big Tech industry heads, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has been receiving a great deal of criticism. Many believe that the platform’s political bias is continuously shown as anti-Conservative. Republicans are not wrong for making such an inference, considering the recent censoring of the New York Post’s article on Hunter Biden, which alleges corrupt ties to Ukraine. It should be noted that many consider the source of the article’s findings as credible, and a legitimate organization of the free press failed to fulfill its necessary duty during an election season. Likewise, the New York Times article on Trump’s tax returns violated the same policy as the New York Post supposedly did, yet it was able to be shared and still remains accessible on Twitter.
Aside from Twitter censoring the New York Post’s article, Twitter has been accused of banning or shadow banning Conservative voices which include elected officials Rep. Devin Nunes, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Rep. Jim Jordan. Twitter and Facebook have both shown they can suppress speech. There are certainly situations in which a post should be deleted or an account banned, but the current ongoings appear fairly one-sided. For example, the platform has failed to ban posts inciting violence from radical leftists in Antifa and those carrying out misinformation, such as the Lincoln Project’s posts about election interference. Both of these examples are direct violations of the social network’s policy.
If Big Tech built policies operating on traditional Texas Conservatism as opposed to the industry’s current Silicon Valley platform approach, that would be equally as problematic. This situation would likely result in suppression of free speech, likely those of oppositional viewpoints. Much like a well-functioning government or society, homogeneity across the board inevitably suppresses freedom and can gradually transform any organized body into a regime.
One thing is certain, in times of division across the nation, the last thing needed is more gasoline poured on an already growing fire.
The problem is, most people engaged with politics at any capacity seem to be pouring more and more, as they voice their outrage, stay within the confines of their political echo chamber and widen the nation’s divide further and further, tweet by tweet. The worst part about it, Twitter and Facebook profit from the good and the bad.