The aftermath of insurrection
By Mark Hurst • January 14, 2021
Now comes the aftermath of January 6. After years of enabling, amplifying, and profiting from hateful and deceptive content, Big Tech companies are "shocked, shocked!" at the armed coup attempt, which was the direct result of their business models. As I mentioned last week, venture capitalist Chris Sacca said it best: Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have blood on their hands. But that hasn't stopped Big Tech leadership from continuing their grift.
In particular, Sheryl Sandberg deserves an award for chutzpah, as she publicly denied that Facebook was used to organize the insurrection - a lie that was roundly condemned (1, 2, 3) and clearly disproven in Washington Post and NYT articles. But to be fair to Sandberg, she and Zuckerberg have faced no consequences, so why should she change her behavior?
I'd nominate Apple CEO Tim Cook for an honorable mention, as he told CBS that "people should be held accountable" for the insurrection. Such a general word, "people" - it doesn't say anything too specific, like "the CEO of Apple is also complicit." Cook, after all, is happy to accept Google's annual payment of $10 billion or so to occupy the default search engine slot on Apple devices. This, too, is blood money, as Google profits heavily from YouTube's hate-amplifying algorithm.
But now there's a new crisis, around deplatforming and censorship. This was precipitated by two events:
1. Facebook and Twitter deactivated the criminal-in-chief's main account (though he's still active on both platforms), and
2. The Parler app, which billed itself as a conservative alternative to Twitter, was totally shut down by a ban from Apple's app store, Google's app store, and Amazon's web hosting service.
The crisis can be expressed in a question: What sort of precedent are we setting, if the CEOs of five companies - Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter - can silence a public figure, or an entire slice of the electorate, with a click?
I have an answer, which I'll get to, but first - as I did above - I feel obligated to allow our feudal lords to speak first.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, posted a thread with his deep thoughts, which were also covered by a short Wall Street Journal article. The decision to ban the criminal-in-chief's account was due to "an extraordinary and untenable circumstance," Dorsey writes - not specifying, of course, that it was a circumstance explicitly and intentionally built by his own profit engine. Twitter had enabled, promoted, and profited from this account for years - but Dorsey took no responsibility for that, except to write that "we need to look at how our service might incentivize distraction and harm." (Might??)
As for the dangers of censorship, Dorsey did have an answer. And here Dorsey deserves an award alongside Sheryl Sandberg and Tim Cook. Dorsey, in response to claims that he has too much power, wrote that "we need more transparency in our moderation operations." And that, in an award-winning segue, is why "I have so much passion for #Bitcoin."
The man who helped bring about Jan 6. Is now. Trying to sell us on Bitcoin.
(Sorry, I'm just staring at the wall here for a moment.)
Actually it was more annoying than that, because he actually put an emoji next to the stupid hashtag. I have to paste in a screenshot to show you what it looked like:
Ladies and gentlemen, Silicon Valley's best and brightest.
OK, now that we've seen - whatever that was - I'll go ahead and share my own thoughts on the takedown of "that" account, and the Parler app.
First, it's absolutely the case that Big Tech leaders have too much power. These takedowns were decided behind closed doors, in the executive suites of monopoly platforms where American citizens have no voice, and no leverage, and as such they're perfect examples of the seriously dangerous concentration of power in Silicon Valley. And the takedowns set a terrible precedent. As venture capitalist Albert Wenger posted this week:
What is the worst that can happen? I believe there is a high likelihood that we are witnessing the visible emergence of the government-IT infrastructure complex. Government will be even less inclined to try and generate competition in this space. It is so much more convenient to have just a few large entities that an executive agency can influence behind the scenes rather than having to bother with the rule of law.
If you were cheering the takedowns of "that account" and Parler, be careful. Next time, Big Tech leaders may decide to take down someone you do agree with. (And that account might be yours.)
Having said that, in a kind of "stopped clocks are right twice a day" situation, I thought the takedowns were necessary, in the moments after an armed insurrection. I give Big Tech leaders no credit, no applause, no points whatsoever for making the decisions: I think they were acting solely in the interest of "growth at any cost," as always - what's more, the insurrection was caused directly by Big Tech, as I explained last week. (And I've called for the criminal-in-chief's account to be deleted for years, given his repeated threats of violence and other terms of service violations.) But in that singular moment, after a threat to lawmakers' lives, and the murder of a police officer defending the lawmakers, it was the right and necessary decision to shut down any further organizing of domestic terrorism.
It's a gamble, though, and those who are crying "censorship" have a point. This sort of takedown - Big Tech instantly snuffing out anything it finds threatening - must not be repeated. We must break up Big Tech and destroy their unchecked power to rule our national media. And we need competition, soon, so that every community - liberal, conservative, and centrist - can go online for healthy, lawful, democratic debate.
First, though, I sincerely hope that we'll see consequences, to the full extent of the law, handed to the people who caused January 6. That goes for the terrorists and the Big Tech leaders who profited from them.
Until next time,
- Mark Hurst
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