My latest article in City Journal is about Google’s decision to ban Twitter competitor Gab from its app store, citing hate speech. They don’t accuse the company itself of doing or saying anything wrong, but rather banned it for refusing to censor user content.
Google and Apple, with a combined 98 percent market share in mobile-phone operating systems, have banned Gab, an upstart Twitter competitor with a free-speech policy quaintly modeled on the First Amendment itself, from their app stores. Google cited “hate speech” as its reason for exclusion; Gab doesn’t censor. What few people yet understand is that Google and Apple have used their duopoly status to revoke the First Amendment on mobile phones. Because the Internet is now majority mobile, and a growing majority of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, the First Amendment is now effectively dead in the mobile sphere unless policymakers act to rein in the tech giants who serve as corporate gatekeepers to digital speech.
If you think this is just about right-wing content you are deluded. An article from a couple of weeks ago in the World Socialist Web Site claims that a new Google search algorithm change deprioritized their content and tanked the traffic of many popular dissident left sites such as Democracy Now and Counterpunch:
* wsws.org fell by 67 percent
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* socialistworker.org fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
I’ve seen reports of similar declines in Facebook traffic for these sites.
A handful of gigantic Silicon Valley firms hold nearly dictatorial power over our online world. This probably the most important, though hardly the only example of dangerously concentrated corporate power in today’s world.
In fact, it’s so dangerous I believe the European Union should consider creating a Galileo Project for internet infrastructure. Galileo is an EU clone of the GPS system. The EU decided that they could not allow critical navigational infrastructure to be entirely controlled by the US government. So they financed a copy and will be mandating its use in Europe. As it happened, the US government has turned out to be an excellent steward of the critical global internet infrastructure under its control.
Not so Silicon Valley, which controls even more critical infrastructure such as mobile phone OSes. Google was just hit with a multi-billion dollar fine for violations of EU competition regulations. These companies have engaged in dodgy tax schemes, fought against EU privacy laws and initiatives such as the right to be forgotten, etc. They are also in bed with US intelligence agencies.
If the EU wants to avoid having its citizens, firms, and even governments live as digital serfs of Silicon Valley, they should consider creating European infrastructure companies to replace these firms. Technically speaking, it’s not even that hard to do. The private sector could easily do it. China managed to create high quality local replacements for a lot of things, and heavily regulates the rest. But whereas they did to to serve the needs of the Communist cabal that runs the country, Europe can do it to ensure its values (including different views on speech and privacy than in the US) prevail within its borders. The US has no intention of allowing Chinese companies to control its vital Internet infrastructure. Why would the EU want these foreign companies to do so in Europe?