In a demonstration of what right now tops their agenda, Democrats made it their first order of business on Thursday after taking over the US Senate to call for new rules that would further restrict speech and users marked as “radical or violence-inciting.”
In a pyramid scheme-like system of pressure and restriction of freedom of expression – senators, led by Anna Eshoo and Tom Malinowski and backed by dozens of others – are leaning on Twitter, Facebook, and Google/YouTube – while they are expected to lean on their users even more.
The idea was articulated in a letter sent to these companies mere hours after the change of power occurred. The letter goes into the way these tech giants use algorithms and other tools to do business by manipulating feeds and increasing engagement.
These algorithms are often criticized for preventing users from having access to information and locking them into content that Big Tech chooses to let them see.
But this time, the criticism seems to be that these restrictions are not finely-grained and therefore effective enough. And the three companies are each given some pointers as to the direction they should now go with the changes, to make the grip on their users even stronger.
All this is sugar-coated with rhetoric of “anti-radicalization” as the end goal, while the giants are accused of playing a role in the January 6 incidents in Washington – clearly now the handiest of excuses for any questionable initiative ultimately damaging online freedoms.
The letter gives specific tasks and homework to each of the companies: YouTube should do away with the autoplay option and no longer recommend what is deemed to be “conspiratorial content”; Facebook should change its entire system of user engagement based on which they push content into users’ feeds, while if Twitter users want to simply retweet a post when hitting the retweet button – Twitter should prompt them to quote-tweet instead.
The letter says the January 6 event involved terrorists and wrought “horrific damage to our democracy.” The damage to that same democracy dealt by previously unseen levels of online censorship that followed, is not mentioned at all.
Even after they did what was expected, if not demanded of them, Big Tech still has work to do. Now they must “fundamentally rethink algorithmic systems that are at odds with democracy,” as the letter by dozens of Democratic senators put it.
And while we wait for these massive companies to respond, the new Congress has not forgotten about their struggling independent and small competitors like Parler, whom they seem to be determined to completely run into the ground.
Thus Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, wants the FBI to get involved and investigate Parler “and other social media websites like it.”
Maloney, also a Democrat, not only suggested that Paler and others were funded to “condone and create violence,” but also engaged in a display of what observers like Glenn Greenwald are calling “McCarthyite and xenophobic madness.”
That is because in her zeal, the congresswoman thought it was relevant to mention that the wife of Parler CEO John Matze happens to be of Russian descent.
As the Washington Post notes, Maloney is not the only one bringing up Matze’s personal life into the mix – in fact, she seems to be citing the media. And many reports previously picked up on this, raising the issue of Matze’s wife – however, “without documenting improper influence over the company.”
But that didn’t stop Maloney from using terms like “reportedly” in her official request to the FBI to launch a probe, when she said that Matze’s wife “reportedly has ties to the Russian government.”
Parler responded by rejecting the allegation and calling it reprehensible – and the exact opposite of what Biden’s said in his inaugural address when he called on Americans to reject “racism, nativism, fear, demonization.”
Meanwhile, this US startup lists Rebekah Mercer and Dan Bongino among its investors. After Google, Apple, and Amazon banded together to take it offline, Parler had to turn to a Russian hosting company to try to stay up.
Big Tech acted on Democrats’ orders – while these huge social networks were in fact the places where most of the Capitol Hill protesters organized.
But no FBI investigation is being requested against them – although clearly, they are coming under different types of pressure to continue “to perform.”