By Medicine Hat News Opinion on January 21, 2021.
There is no question that social media has become the primary medium for large scale discussion on societal issues. Almost everybody has access to the internet and therefore the ability to voice their opinions into the public sphere with ease. What people say online has influence on decision makers in both government and business, which in turn can affect policy. This sounds like a good thing in theory, where more people can be heard by decision makers. However, this becomes a double-edged sword when a large segment of the population is excluded from contributing to the conversation.
For years, folks on the right have complained about having their voices silenced on social media platforms. They point to Silicon Valley’s moderation policies that are seemingly skewed against conservative ideas. One of the most common responses to these concerns has been that social media companies are private businesses that are free to refuse service (ban/de-platform) to whomever they like. In other words, if you don’t like the services here, you are free to leave and go elsewhere.
Well, that’s exactly what happened with the creation of Parler. Tapping into the feelings that Silicon Valley’s moderation policies were heavy-handed, Parler was founded on the premise of limited moderation and freedom from political censorship. It is also worth mentioning that unlike Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, Parler did not collect user data and use algorithms to bombard them with targeted ads and content.
Parler’s recipe was working out pretty well for them, becoming one of the most downloaded social media apps, placing itself as a rival to the giants of Silicon Valley. However, after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Parler was effectively wiped from existence by Apple, Google and Amazon – who collectively hold a near monopoly on app downloads and web hosting in North America. The reasoning from the “big three” was that Parler was used to organize this protest. While there were indeed posts on Parler related to the planning of the protests, the same types of activities could be found on mainstream platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
The de-platforming of Parler is just another step in the growing history of non-mainstream – and more specifically conservative – ideas being silenced by tech giants. It also signals that tech giants are willing to collaborate with each other in order to stifle new companies that threaten their established business model.
The result of this is a large segment of North American conservatism that has been excluded in the online realm. More specifically, a strain of conservatism that stands in contrast with the in-vogue ideologies of intersectionality and critical race theory. Challenging either of these theories is not inherently hateful or racist. However, that’s the way that it is being framed by the mobs of cancel culture who have long been putting pressure on tech companies to do more about “hate speech.”
Social media can and should be used as a tool which can enhance our democracy. However, it can become a hindrance to democracy when it becomes an echo chamber that is arbitrarily moderated by a handful of Silicon Valley executives. Our society is made up of a wide range of diverse voices and perspectives, until social media reflects that it cannot carry any weight in terms of being a valid form of political engagement.
Cash Moore is a political science student at the University of Alberta. Feedback for his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org