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Big Tech, social media and free speech

By Scott Tibbs, March 30, 2018

The promise of the Internet was that we could break free of the gatekeepers in the legacy media to share perspectives and news stories they suppressed. This was exciting for conservatives. But now Big Tech increasingly serves as a gatekeeper, and conservative voices are in danger of being silenced.

Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, alternative media and the blogosphere were a significant threat to the dominance of the legacy media. The Internet promised an open platform to speak our minds, express opinions that the legacy media would not cover, expose factual errors and bias, distribute important news stories ignored by the legacy media, and democratize the debate like had never been done before.

Social media overtook the blogosphere, and there are reasons for that. The primary reason is ease of use: Anyone can set up an account for free on a site pre-built for them. You do not have to pay for hosting or set up a blog on a free hosting service. All you have to do once you register with the service is add content. Plus, you can see the content you want to see by following or friending other users, and that content is shared quickly via the news feed. It is much easier for a post to "go viral" than ever before.

But what about democratizing debate in the public square? Is it still the promise of the Internet that the average person can reach an audience, bypassing gatekeepers in legacy media? The rise of social media - dominated by YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - threatens to strange the democratizing effects the Internet by placing Big Tech as the gatekeepers of content. It is increasingly apparent that if you say things Big Tech does not like - including a young woman posting a picture of herself in a MAGA hat - you will be silenced.

Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016 was the precursor to censorship of content on social media. The Democratic Party complained about "fake news" and pressured (threatened) social media to "do something" about it. Facebook complied by hiding conservative content with a new algorithm. Since Facebook changed their algorithm, conservative media has seen a steep drop in traffic from Facebook, and Facebook pages run by conservatives have seen a lessened reach.

In addition to hiding conservative content and censoring political speech, Big Tech is increasingly hostile to orthodox Christian doctrine. Christians can expect to see their posts deleted and their accounts suspended. This is especially true on matters of sexual morality, and it is going to get worse.

So what is the answer to Big Tech? Obviously, people who are censored on social media can go back to setting up blogs, but it is difficult to get a decent audience for a blog. The marketing has to be done via the grassroots using tools outside the reach of social media companies.

Big Tech's censorship is the reason platforms like Gab exist. Are there unsavory folks on Gab? Sure there are. But there are unsavory folks on Twitter as well, from "white nationalists" like Richard Spencer to notorious anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan - who still had a blue "verified" mark on his Twitter profile at the time I wrote this blog post. Is Gab the answer? Perhaps. Technology moves so quickly that we do not know what the landscape will look like a year from now.

Whatever we do, conservatives have to be prepared to look for alternative ways to spread our message as Big Tech is increasingly hostile to us.