Parler, a social media platform popular with racists, homophobes and conspiracy theorists, has been cut off by Amazon, Google and Apple, and some believe the firm may be taken offline as a result.
For those fearful that American-modeled extremism could explode into more violence and hatred against minorities, it is an unmitigated success – and far from the attack on free speech Parler’s advocates believe.
But if that is true, then so must another fact: that the ability of three companies to decide which startups survive and which don’t is a downward trajectory for the open Web Tim Berners-Lee invoked in 1989. The power of the so-called GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) to dictate what appears on our screens, when viewed through an America-centric lens, might today seem a good thing.
Yet in Myanmar, Bolivia, the Philippines or Egypt, where social media platforms have helped hunt and kill political dissenters, swing elections or facilitate outright genocide—opinions may be different.
Big Tech firms rarely provide a megaphone for the oppressed but rather a stranglehold on power for the already-powerful. Preventing QAnon conspiracists from discussing assaults on the Washington Capitol will do little for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
For an open, equitable Internet—one both fair and profitable for startups and newcomers—the incoming US administration must look more carefully at hate speech, democracy and antitrust in tech. The Trump White House made a lot of noise but did little to break up the GAFA giants. Joe Biden’s team should make it a priority of his rule.
Otherwise, Parler will be just one, small hit on the whack-a-mole of social media in the modern age.