Recently Twitter announced that it has banned Donald Trump from twitter completely. This ban comes days before Trump will be removed from power and replaced with the president-elect Joe Biden. The ban is controversial because it is one of many conservative figures that have been booted off twitter for spreading ideas that Twitter deemed “dangerous”. The social media giant has taken an active approach in policing its platform after the escalation in fake news and violent incidents that have been spread through social media. Many users have an issue with banning conservative figures because it has been appropriated with censorship and the fact that no other equivalent platforms exist.
The closest replacement to twitter that has popped up after the recent escalation of political events is an app called “Parler”. Parler has been adopted by the conservative communities that have been removed from Twitter and Facebook following the 2020 election; However, Parler reaches a millionth of the amount of users Facebook and Twitter reach which is an issue for cancelled conservatives. There is no equal to the mainstream social media giants, so a ban from the big platforms forces political figures to preach only to a smaller and more dedicated follower base. The limited user reach impacts politics because political messages reaching way fewer people could decide tight elections in the future.
The potential of big tech to silence groups they do not like extends further than just social media though. Recently Apple and Amazon have cut support for the hit conservative app Parler for insufficient moderation of its app. This sets a precedent that big tech can cut off apps or groups from their platforms completely if they do not moderate dangerous ideas enough for the big firms. If Parler falls from favor, another app will most likely take its place and then get cut off within due time and the cycle will continue. The issue with this kind of extreme moderation is that it gives big tech firms a powerful hammer that can strike down anyone they dislike.
The hammer may be striking down more conservative voices right now, but that does not mean in the future the opposite cannot be true. A more extreme democratic party of the future could be put in the same situation as conservatives now if their ideas are deemed “dangerous” by digital moderators. The de-platforming power of big firms like Apple could also play a big role in the future by forcing apps that spread political content to abide by arbitrary rules set by the firm. The rules of platforms easily become a weapon if they are not applied fairly or are hijacked by a specific group of people.
The issue with the current trajectory of social media is that Facebook and Twitter are on course to control almost all relevant online political discourse in the future. This should be scary for everyone as it forces people across the globe to play by a corporation’s rules to remain socially relevant. A social landscape controlled completely by two corporations means that the next president could be partially decided by the social platform’s whims. A future of complete control of social messages by two corporations is a loss for everyone except the corporations who set the rules.
The decisions made my social media giants today may be contentious, but if they control almost all political speech then it will be effectively illegal to publicly contest Twitter or Facebook’s decisions at all. A rise in competition for the big tech or social media giants would be a huge boon because people targeted by corporations will have an alternative instead of having to beg Silicon Valley for their voice back.