There is a great debate going on in America about the power of big tech over our lives. One issue is whether they are going too far when they sell personal data collected by the company. Another issue is when they moderate content in a way that is perceived as discriminatory against conservatives. These are important issues and recent events show that these companies’ hands are not clean when it comes to privacy and censorship.
Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook fill a networking and communications need felt by Americans, and because of their success, they have been handsomely rewarded. Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are billionaires many times over. They deserve the great wealth for creating a networking product that people gravitated towards, yet they have failed us recently in the areas of censorship and privacy.
We are many years past the creation of Twitter and Facebook when these companies operated with good intentions. Both of these companies have experienced significant mission creep from being a place for open discussion to something completely different. I use Twitter and Facebook and don’t have any animus towards these two companies, yet it is clear to me that these companies have changed dramatically over the years.
Sadly, these social media giants have been acting like bit tyrants these days by tossing aside privacy protections and promising to become content referees. Privacy is sacrosanct in America and some of these social media companies gather up as much information as they can about users for the sole purpose of selling the data to the highest bidder. That is not wrong per se, but it is wrong to violate existing law.
This past week, Facebook was held by a District Court for the District of Columbia to have violated users’ privacy rights. Eight years ago, the Federal Trade Commission and Facebook settled a claim that Facebook had violated privacy and information sharing law. The Court held that “Facebook did not keep its word, and over the next months and years it violated both the FTC Act and the order in many ways.” Facebook was found to be willfully violating privacy law and the Court used the term “unscrupulous” to describe their use and abuse of private data.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights to recognize all Americans’ right to keep personal information private. When citizens entrust private information to companies like Facebook, they trust that the company will follow privacy law. A company willfully violating the law shows that this company thinks it is above the law. As much as I like Facebook, this decision entered this past week shows that Facebook still has a privacy problem.
Twitter is experiencing a whole different problem. It appears that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may have delusions of grandeur. Dorsey said to Desus & Mero, of Showtime fame, on a livestream that was streamed on YouTube on April 22, 2020, in response to a question about President Trump, “I think you are speaking to Trump and misleading information. That is where I think labelling will come in really handy.” Dorsey is wrong to think that Twitter users trust him to editorialize the Twitter feed of a world leader, because that will lead Twitter to the logical conclusion that they should moderate all political content.
We live in an age where we can use the power of the purse (and wallet) to punish companies when we don’t like what they are doing. I use Parler and Gab, in concert with Twitter, because I don’t like Twitter’s censorship of conservative content. For some, Twitter, Facebook and Google have become unavoidable. One way to make them change is to use economic power to change them and to find alternatives if they refuse to change to fill that void.
The actions of Facebook and statement by the Twitter CEO should send a chill down the spine of conservatives and libertarians, because it shows that these companies are not acting in good faith. They have gone from being companies with the intention of filling a networking and communications void to ones that are playing fast and loose with privacy and free speech.