As Big Tech Gets Richer, We Get Smaller and More Vulnerable
For much of the past century, America, contra much of the rest of the world, has effectively resisted the blanket despotisms of communism and fascism. Though our administrative state was borne out of these conflicts, the country remained largely free. This noble dedication to freedom still underpins our national ethos; a democratic spiritedness that, despite the inebriating and stultifying effects of late-stage liberalism, has kept outright tyranny at bay.
Alas, where America’s intractable democratic spirit has safeguarded her against explicit totalitarianism, the monopolization of big tech has incubated a quiet and particularly insidious form of tyranny. Specifically, this is the tyranny of tech companies—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon. The realization of these businesses’ dominance of our private lives is near complete, so ubiquitous in our collective consciousness that we hardly bat an eye when they take even more terrain.
The problem of big tech’s universality is complex and multifaceted. On the surface level are blatant signs of malfeasance through the “deplatforming,” “shadowbanning,” and other types of censorship of unwoke political opinions in the public square. In other words, those not in perfect compliance with the always changing morality set by our liberal corporate overlords can be silenced at will.
These cases are readily known: Alex Jones being deplatformed from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify; Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro being subjected to a concerted campaign by left-wing activists to bully advertisers into cutting ties with their shows; YouTube demonetizing the accounts of influential conservative podcasters; third-party crowdfunding sites like Patreon establishing restrictive rules for speech in lockstep with progressive intersectionality and political correctness.
And beyond the myriad cases of overt censorship are the numerous examples of corporate virtue signaling, which have translated into punitive measures as rhetorical shaming has escalated into economic and political sanctioning. The latter forces conformity by punishing the masses for being too slow to adapt to the absurdity of progressive dogma.
Take the recent case of the letter signed by more than 180 CEOs expressing moral umbrage over a bevy of new pro-life laws in states like Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Missouri. The missive, which featured big-tech heavyweights like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, stated plainly that such legislation is “against our values” and “bad for business.”
Meanwhile, Google’s CEO said in a recent interview that “as a company,” they are determining themselves what constitutes “hate speech.” In other words, they are creating a hollow echo chamber of servile conformism bent on protecting delicate social justice sensibilities.
If the market fundamentalists who obstinately cling to the conservative mantle need any further proof of the great fallacy that advanced-stage liberal capitalism can naturally sort out the noble from the ignoble, consider the case of a genderqueer person interviewing a woke big-tech capitalist overlord on the language normal people are not permitted to use in their private correspondences. If that doesn’t scream decadence, then our society has slipped into a reality-defying stupor.
Another example: Project Veritas recently interviewed a former Facebook insider who divulged the clandestine tactics his company uses to root out conservative opinions. According to this whistleblower, Facebook would inconspicuously “deboost” (as in censor) conservative live-streamed videos, which would instantly limit the content’s reach and impact.
The insider said, “I first noticed it with an account…[and] I remember once I started looking at it, I also saw it on Mike Cernovich’s page, saw it on Steven Crowder’s page, as well as the Daily Caller’s page.” It is no surprise that these dirty tricks are used exclusively on right-leaning content.
Back in May, entertainment giants Disney, Netflix, and WarnerMedia issued a joint ultimatum that threatened to sever all business ties with the state of Georgia for proposing a “heartbeat bill” that would effectively make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat could be detected. A recent article for The Wall Street Journal, titled “The Biggest Ways People Waste Money,” listed “children” alongside such contemporary “commodities” as “new cars,” “spacious homes,” and “morning coffee,” as things Americans are wasting their money on.
Though likely unintentional, the starkest look into the liberal mindset came from defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Abrams actually admitted on national television that pro-life laws were “abominable” because they were “bad for business.” If there was still any question as to whether liberals value our happiness over our potential to consume Chinese-imported junk, look no further than Abrams’ revealing comment. True human flourishing is obviously not a priority in liberal corporate boardrooms.
In a recent essay for the American Mind called “The Moral Basis of Identity Politics,” Thomas West explained why liberal elites flex their moral authority in denouncing our society’s perceived social ills, all the while doubling down on their historic levels of wealth. This, he says, is the only inequality that truly matters: economic inequality of a magnitude so obscene that rich and poor are separated by a wealth gap literally unmatched in world history.
Per Rawlsian political theory, says West, “an unequal distribution of resources is permitted if it is to the advantage of the least favored.” He expands on this point:
Rawls’s crucial proviso explains the current alliance of the high and low against the middle. I refer to the fact that the political coalition that now governs America consists of the union of those groups designated least advantaged (single mothers and other single women, minorities, gays) with the wealthiest and most highly educated classes. Rawls explains why America’s elites fully deserve their superior income, status, and honors. Highly paid journalists and professors at prestige universities, government officials, and heads of foundations and their corporate sponsors deserve the unequal wealth, privileges, and honors they enjoy—provided that they promote liberal social programs. The post-1960s approach therefore requires redistribution of income and prestige from the more advantaged not only to those who are deemed to be oppressed, but also to those at the top who promote social justice.
In short, our liberal ruling class is entitled to their vast fortunes because they are better than you. By this perspective, they make the meanest of 19th-century robber barons seem like angels.
In the past, the Carnegies and Vanderbilts would, in the custom of noblesse oblige, pour a substantial lot of their accumulated wealth back into their country. They did this for two reasons: they understood that a nation cannot exist without being ordered toward a higher common good (which historically had been based on Protestant morality); and they genuinely cared, to some degree at least, for their fellow countrymen.
By contrast, today’s capitalists lecture the philistine masses on the dangers of climate change while globetrotting on private jumbo jets, their carbon footprints a hundredfold the size of those of the environmentally unwoke. Instead of building public libraries, they invest in Chinese sweatshops to produce cheaper products.
In a related context, Tucker Carlson said, “You can’t have a country with like 27 billionaires who hate America.” Amen! You can’t also have a functioning democracy with a ruling class that believes borders are racist, their countrymen stupid, and merely increasing the bottom line is all to which America aspires. Small wonder so many youngsters are turning into socialists.
All said, the politics and economics of big tech pose formidable, possibly even insurmountable, challenges to our republic. Nevertheless, the gravest threat of all is the monopolization of the data that big tech acquires on every one of its customers every minute of the day.
The Washington Postreported recently on the exorbitant amount of data that iPhones collect and exchange each night, even when they’re completely powered down:
And your iPhone doesn’t only feed data trackers while you sleep. In a single week, I encountered over 5,400 trackers, mostly in apps, not including the incessant Yelp traffic. According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That’s half of an entire basic wireless service plan from AT&T.
This data storage and tracking compounds the dangers of other modern technologies like Alexa, which has been known to eavesdrop on conversations and maintain copies of everything it “hears.” The threats posed by “smart” appliances, which include not only conventional items like smartphones and computers but now televisions, refrigerators, and even lightbulbs, raises a serious question: are we not already living in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, our behavior constantly scrutinized as though we’re bugs under a microscope? If our big tech overlords can’t even trust their own industry’s purported commitment to privacy, why on earth should we?
We should be asking ourselves why companies need this much personal data to “sell targeted ads.” Moreover, why are we so willing to blithely surrender our privacy to complete strangers? As a society, we are perpetuating a momentous lie if we continue telling ourselves that these products make our lives better. In truth, they promote antisocial behavior; their impersonal interfaces erode genuine conversation and healthy relationships.
We have even been duped into sending our own DNA to massive databases, to be used for God knows what purpose. Any other people in history would have aggressively fought back against this unseemly volume of personal encroachment. Yet we welcome it, and with open arms.
This unprecedented media landscape that we historical latecomers inhabit is genuinely without precedent. While it is indeed the case that modern technologies have created new channels to explore long forgotten political ideas—Trump in 2016, the burgeoning populist movements across Europe—the bigger reality is that the old, enervated order is nonetheless preferable to our present-day one. This is because our times are defined by near-universal obeisance to powers beyond our control and comprehension. What good, ultimately, is fertile soil for the possible recovery of lost truths if it is confined to an inescapable and irreversible digital hell?
Paul Ingrassia is a co-host of the Right on Point podcast. To listen to his podcast, click here.