The Guardian • Issue #1947

Big Tech ups the ante

One of the most powerful social media behemoths, Twitter, has taken bold new strides in demonstrating its ability to censor information in the political sphere, by permanently banning Donald Trump from the platform while he still President of the United States. Facebook soon followed suit, imposing an indefinite suspension on Trump. Internationally, the exile has been strongly opposed by a number of nations. Google and Facebook have also threatened the Australian government if a proposed code for publishing news proceeds. These recent incidents also reignite the question of how to protect independent media from censorship.

Twitter later released a statement referring to the two Tweets from Donald Trump’s account which lead to his suspension. On 8th January, two days after the deadly storming of Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

This was determined by Twitter’s decision makers as “Glorification of Violence” due to “the context of broader events in the country and the ways in which the President’s statements can be mobilised by different audiences, including to incite violence.” While it could be argued the Tweet could cause additional violence, the fact is that its subjective nature could lead to important political commentators being banned under such policies, enforced by unknown and unelected individuals.

It is understandable that many people are enjoying the satisfaction of Twitter “sticking it to Trump,” – and for good reason. Many of his decisions have severely, negatively impacted the lives of those domestically, particularly with COVID19, and abroad, with continued imperialist aggression, including trade disputes, sanctions, attempted coups, and threats of war. However, Tweets about this somehow did not fall under Twitter’s “Glorification of Violence” policy. Those who view Twitter’s move a “violation of free speech” should refer to the many moments when Twitter allowed a Tweet where he actually incited violence, stating: We are prepared to launch fire and fury on North Korea!”

It is clear that Twitter only deems threats of domestic violence ban-worthy, or on a more concerning note, any threat against symbols of US power. This is why Twitter’s move is most unsettling for the working class and other exploited people, who are struggling against continued oppression and violence themselves. Trump was only banned after his Tweet threatened the existing order, therefore the likelihood of stronger censorship of those fighting for justice and democratic rights is higher.

The response from around the world to Twitter and Facebook’s exile of Trump has been significant. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni temporarily banned Facebook and Twitter leading up to the country’s general elections, and Poland is proposing a law that would fine Big Tech companies up to $13 million for actions that violate freedom of speech for Polish users. Most notable reactions were from leaders within the European Union (EU), who were “shocked” to see a private company make such an important decision. Junior Minister for European Union Affairs Clement Beaune stressed “there needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.”

A policy paper for the introduction for a “European Internet” had been in the works more than six months before Trump’s ban, in an attempt to “block off services that condone or support unlawful conduct from third party countries.” In the wake of Trump’s ban, French Minister Bruno Le Maire said the state should be responsible for regulations, rather than the digital oligarchy. He also expanded on how they are “one of the threats” to democracy. This is clear considering Twitter and Facebook’s interests lie with expanding and maintaining US dominance for their own gain and stability.

Back in 2009, Facebook was used by terrorists in China to communicate and incite violence in the province of Xinjiang. As the Chinese government had no ability to curtail this interaction, the decision was made to block the social networking site. It was determined that other giant private American tech companies, Twitter and Google, presented similar concerns for national security, and were blocked not long after. Lu Wei, director of the State Internet Information Office in China explained in 2014 that if foreign Internet companies want to function in China, they should not harm China’s national interest or the consumers’ interests. While Western media condemns the regulation of these companies in China as an attack on free speech and democracy, the reality is that by blocking these foreign companies with foreign interests, and developing their own exceptional social media and search engine applications, it actually protects their sovereignty, hence protecting their democratic rights. If information exchange is controlled by US private companies in China, anti-imperialist forces can be censored, and terrorism and fascism can be advocated.

Now even in Australia, American big tech companies are demonstrating their dominance over our government. Following the US ban on the Chinese video-sharing application Tiktok last year, the Australian government pandered to the US by investigating its threat to national security. However, this move also put Google and Facebook under scrutiny and has led to a parliamentary inquiry. Under a new media code, the Australian federal government suggested that both services must pay news outlets for showing links to their websites and stories. In response, both Google and Facebook threatened the Australian government – Google warned it may by no longer make its search engine available in Australia, and Facebook threatened to remove Australians’ ability to post news content to its platforms. Regardless of the reasons behind the Australian government’s new media code, the response from the American companies clearly shows a complete disrespect and dismissal of Australian law, and that of other countries outside the US.

The eye-opening reality of Trump’s social media ban coupled with the growing audacity of Big Tech conjures up growing concern of access to independent media sources which report on issues affecting the lives of working class citizens. It is unlikely that Australia would be able to develop its own services efficiently and proficiently, therefore, Australia must continue to rely on these American-owned platforms, and be continually forced to submit to their definition of “inappropriate” and “ban-worthy,” while being fed news sources which support the Washington consensus.

For this reason, it is imperative that independent news sources continue supplying hardcopy documents such as physical newspapers and journals and work on developing their outreach skills beyond the confines of the Internet in its current state. Independent media must continue to be fought for to give the oppressed and exploited a voice, to educate all working class people about the true nature of capitalism and imperialism, and for nations to maintain their sovereignty over US hegemony. The Communist Party of Australia continues to provide a working class newspaper, The Worker’s Weekly Guardian, to provide this voice, and condemns American Big Tech for its non-democratic practices.

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