Perhaps nothing has clarified social media’s narrative control more than the 2020 election. With President Donald Trump repeatedly flagged, Facebook and Twitter infamously labeling the Hunter Biden laptop bombshell as fake news, then later admitting they had no evidence to back up that position, and platforms working overtime to “fact-check” any discussion of voter fraud pre- and post-election day, it is perhaps no surprise that large numbers of people are migrating to freer pastures.
Social Media Migration
Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook may still dominate, but real or perceived political bias is sending netizens to other platforms, with the exodus accelerating amid the post-election chaos. Is the internet going to see a whole new set of sites capitalizing on the “free speech” niche?
Parler, Rumble, MeWe – these are some of the names now gaining familiarity and audiences. Among those questioning the reign of Twitter is Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, who had a tweet flagged when she quoted a headline questioning vote results – although Twitter could not find any violation of its rules in her post. “The success of Parler is partly because people understand that they’re getting censored,” she said to Parler CEO John Matze during an interview, asking whether the established social media platforms had gone too far.
“Once you start content curation and you start fact-checking, you’re introducing bias and I don’t think that there’s any perfect group without bias, so in terms of being a platform for transparency and free speech, they’ve gone way too far,” Matze replied. “And in this election, we need more transparency.” He added:
“I call our bulletin board a ‘town square’ for information, and right now a town square where people can talk and get things out and be transparent without fact-checkers, without editorial bullies trying to tell you what to think.”
Hosting around 100,000 total users in early 2019, the site has reportedly gained more than four million sign-ups since Nov. 6, 2020 – a major spike after the election. Parler isn’t the only platform seeing a mass influx of seemingly disillusioned netizens. MeWe, a Facebook-like app – calling itself “The Social Network Built on Trust, Control and Love” with “No Ads. No Spyware. No BS.” – has also seen sudden growth, with more than 200,000 new members in the weeks after election day. “People have drawn the line and will no longer tolerate the rampant targeting, manipulation, and censorship of other sites,” MeWe CEO Mark Weinstein told Engadget. Twitter alternative Gab and YouTube competitor Rumble also have seen increased action, and then there is FreeSpeech4All, a Facebook-type site specifically geared to, well, it’s all in the name. Founder Ken Moody told Liberty Nation the site’s “mission is to have a robust social media platform that is based on the foundation of free speech so that everyone feels welcome to participate where they can post news, pictures, articles, events, and even job postings without censorship.” He added, “FreeSpeech4All.com is a conservative social network where you can share your point of view with like minded people. This community is what you make of it, by who you invite and what you share.”
That’s not to say these platforms are pure Wild West free-for-alls – each one has its own rules against pornography, materials that promote violence, and so on. Parler, in particular, was accused of hypocrisy after banning left-wing activists who had signed up merely to argue about politics, since the platform “will not allow you to spam other people trying to speak, with unrelated comments like ‘F— you’ in every comment,” according to Matze. The site also reserves the right to remove users “at any time and for any reason or no reason” and it should be noted that while MeWe is focused on privacy, that does not appear to be the case with Parler, which claims the right to use, license, and monetize any material posted on the site.
Will this mass digital movement (a) actually promote free speech, (b) lose its momentum, or (c) result in the creation of two politically polarized social-media ghettoes, each despising the other?
Revolving Doors and a Charm Offensive
The links between big business and Washington, D.C., are hardly breaking news, and it appears that a prospective Biden administration would be no different, already welcoming Silicon Valley personnel into its “transition team” – including at least a dozen names from companies including Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Dell, Alphabet, Apple, and, of course, Facebook.
According to Politico, that is causing some division in the Biden team, between those entrenched Swampites used to such crony practices versus the idealistic progressives who detest the tech behemoths for their big-business status and allegedly failing to remove “misinformation” and “hate speech.”
After it was rumored that Biden was thinking of hiring ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, The Revolving Door Project and a host of progressive groups wrote an open letter protesting an appointment that “risks alienating voters who want to see the economic power of Google and other major corporations reined in.”
Jeff Zients, an investor who joined and left the board of Facebook after working in the Obama administration, is now a co-chair of Biden’s transition team. David Segal of the left-wing group Demand Progress was not too happy, telling Politico, “In general, and moreover in a populist moment, there’s no legitimate reason for Biden to elevate somebody as entrenched in the finance industry as Zients.”
Jessica Hertz, former associate general counsel at Facebook, also joined Team Biden recently – as well as three other onetime Facebook executives.
While the revolving door may be open between Silicon Valley and the White House, some leading Democrats despise the power of the Big Tech elites and have long called for action against them. The Financial Times reports that, apparently to deal with these potential challenges, Facebook is planning a number of measures, including boosting such Democrat talking points as the Paris Climate Accord and encouraging users to take a coronavirus vaccine.
Former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was hired as Facebook’s head of global affairs soon after being kicked out of Parliament in a crushing defeat. Now, it is reported that the long-time chum of former Vice President Biden will be a major player in a new “charm offensive” planned by Facebook to woo a Biden White House.
One anonymous senior Facebook employee told the Financial Times: “A lot of the Democrats simply hate Facebook right now. We know Nick Clegg is not going to save us from that, but at least he will help us get a hearing.”
Meanwhile, an anonymous senior Democratic strategist confirmed to Politico that Clegg would not do the trick. “We basically think they’re [Facebook] an immoral company. There are thousands and thousands of people in their 20s and 30s and 40s who will be incensed to find [Democrats] … taking a soft touch to Facebook because Nick Clegg and Joe Biden go way back.”
Oh well, it was worth a try.
By this stage, it’s well known that the Democratic Party is struggling to gel its establishment and progressive wings. A potential Biden presidency would become the ultimate battleground, and tech is just one of many flanks.
That’s all for this week from Tech Tyranny. Check back next week to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.