Thursday, 21 January 2021

Big Tech should have the power

Should social media companies have the power to determine who can speak and what can be said? Most people argue that they probably shouldn't. In this article, I'd like to give three reasons why they probably should.

  1. While most of the debate centers around whether they should have the power, let's for a moment have a look at how they use that power right now, while they have it. Currently, social media companies are very reluctant to ban or censor any opinion, unless it actually becomes violent or dangerous. For the most part, people are allowed to spread all the falsehoods they desire. Any accusation of "abuse of power" therefore seems unwarranted. If anything, society might be better off if social media companies would use their moderation powers more, rather than less.

  2. The debate also rarely answers the question of what should happen if social media companies don't have the power anymore. There are two alternatives:

    • Firstly, no moderation at all, not even the modest moderation that is currently practised. Anyone can say anything, long live our freedom. This is a bad idea. Freedom is nice, but we still have a speed limit on public roads, because people are not responsible enough to deal with too much freedom there. The same goes for drugs: alcohol is allowed, but hard drugs is forbidden.

    • The other alternative is that there are independent rules for social media. This leads to the inevitable question: who sets the rules? And the answer would be: the authorities. In most democratic countries, the "authorities" are split up in three independent entities:

      • The executive branch (the government)
      • The legislative branch (parliament or congress)
      • The judicial branch (the courts)
      In reality though, two of these aren't independent at all, since the leader of a country (the president or prime minister), usually controls both the executive as well as the legislative branch. Letting the government set the rules for social media would give that leader even more power.

      Separation of power into different branches is what prevents a dictatorship. Imagine a situation where a president or prime minister would control not just the government and the parliament / congress, but set the rules for all social media platforms as well...
  3. When talking about social media companies, we usually use words like "they", or "Big Tech", as if they are a single entity. In reality though, they are completely independent. If Twitter bans a certain user, Facebook doesn't have to follow suit. The same goes for all the other ones. This means that power is separated even more, which, as explained above, is a good thing.

    What this also does, is bring part of the power back to the people! Why? Because they can leave! When WhatsApp changed their Terms and Conditions, lots of users switched to Signal or Telegram. This way, people directly influence their power over the companies that are in control of social media moderation. Voting with your feet can be a lot more powerful than voting at the ballot box.
All in all, I think that the current situation is perfectly fine and doesn't require fundamental change. Thanks for reading and if you have a comment, feel free to leave it below!