What happened last week with Big Tech companies in the United States and the impact that their behavior could have in the future deserves a hiatus amidst the various electoral processes in the region and the scourge of the pandemic.
In its early years – even decades- the Internet was a space where the free market (and especially that of ideas) worked almost in textbook style. Supply and demand were in each Internet user’s preferences, and they decided what content to devote their time to. Social media were, as explained in The Social Dilemma, a Netflix documentary that is essential for these days, a luminous novelty that allowed the reunion of millions of people and the growth of groups with similar ideas. It was a place where debate and controversy permeated, of course, as they do in any space of social interaction. That changed.
As the documentary I mentioned above explains, in the voice of former top executives of Big Tech companies, the search -rightly, of course- to monetize the audiences that the different social networks were summoning led the system to operate under a certainly Orwellian premise: when one is not paying for a product, it is that the product is oneself.
Thus, all the interactions of those of us who participated in the social media became a valuable product that, compiled and analyzed with algorithms, not only began to allow us to be offered what we wanted, but also -and going beyond that- to be conditioned to want things or to take positions that do not necessarily emanate spontaneously. Up to this point, there is only one warning: it is clear that everyone is free to register in the social media of their choice and give up their data in exchange for the benefits offered.
The issue reached a new dimension when Twitter and Facebook, for example, began to warn their users which content was not true. It was then that many raised an eyebrow: it is a private space -that is out of the question- but which court of wise men determines which content is true and which is not? Precisely, the concept of the free market of ideas to which I alluded at the beginning is that ideas are put up for debate and compete with each other to see which ones manage to seduce the greatest number of people because of the solvency of their premises and the logic of their arguments.
Thus, the idea that the Web -or at least in these expressions of it- was a space of true freedom, free of censorship and coercion, began to break down. The issue, however, did not stop escalating until last week when it reached its boiling point: Twitter closed the account of the still-President of the United States.
Whether or not Twitter was right to shut down Mr. Trump’s account is a long discussion that must be approached from different angles. I will choose, at this time, to focus on one of the consequences that Twitter brought: many felt -well or badly- the presence of a “Big Brother” in this supposed free space and migrated to another space: Parler.
Big Tech and ochlocracy
A social media with functions quite similar to those of Twitter, but which was presented to the market as an offer without censorship or warnings placed by “high courts” (made up of who knows who). So many of us, including myself, opened accounts in Parler -I kept my Twitter account, but found it interesting to investigate this new space.
The fact is that my account lasted active for two days. First Google Play -the platform access system of all Android-powered cell phones- withdrew it from its offer. The next day the same thing happened with AppStore (goodbye iOS system and iPhones). Then Amazon, a server provider, mutilated its connection. Parler had died in three days.
All the decisions taken have been within the private spectrum of companies. However, I believe that this succession of events has made a panorama that is already undeniable clear: the owners of Big Tech have lost the hippie mask that Silicon Valley provides them.
Today, they are predatory and mercantilistic entrepreneurs willing to abuse positions of dominance to avoid competition. Today, they are at the antipodes of where they pretend to be understood: as champions of freedom of speech and the free market. The second aspect, and certainly more serious, is that some consider that states should be able to regulate content expressed on social media. That would no longer be just commercial mercantilism, but rather crony capitalism with direct perks of power.
The discussion is far from over, but for now, it is clear that today the web is driven by the mob. What was once an agora of freedom is now ochlocracy.com.