Google and Company Block and Censor, the ISPs, Not So Much

by Mike Wendy on August 22, 2017

Isn’t it odd that the very companies which championed “free speech” via Net Neutrality – you know, Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Silicon Valley oligarchs – are now knee deep in expunging their properties (and users) of speech they don’t approve of in light of recent events in Charlottesville, etc?

This on top of last year’s fake news hysteria, which had the Valley working to curate “better” news choices for users; efforts to end online “hate” and bullying; and establishment of Orwellian “trust and safety councils,” among other work, from some of the aforementioned companies to prune “undesirable voices” (many of whom were conservatives) from their virtual real estate.

Their actions say they own the issue, and they’re working in overdrive to make their brand better, safer, or something.

For whom?

For their shareholders. Not free speech.

I’m alright with this, however. That is their wont, legal and otherwise.

But, they can keep their free speech preaching, especially as it pertains to Net Neutrality – a law they wrote with President Obama and his FCC designed to stop the “evil” ISPs from…

…blocking free speech.

Google et al are now using a piece of the law – the ’96 Telecom Act’s Section 230 – to extricate the “hateful” weeds from their platforms, blocking speech that doesn’t suit their brand image. The weird thing here is that ISPs, too, can avail themselves of that same piece of the law to block harassing or otherwise objectionable speech if they want to…

…but have chosen not to. All speech may traffic across their networks, unlike those of “free speech” Silicon Valley.

Anyway, this latest Silicon Valley hypocrisy seems to be the straw breaking the camel’s back. There are growing calls by some in the tech community, even right-leaning libertarians, that perhaps companies like Google, Facebook and others have too much power to regulate our speech, commerce and privacy, and thus must somehow be brought to heal.

People are seeing the lie that Net Neutrality always was – which is that the law was only ever crafted to protect and subsidize Silicon Valley billionaires, and nothing more.

Consequently, I believe it’s just a matter of time before policymakers feel that the kitchen is too hot and work to punish / regulate the Valley oligarchs.

Net Neutrality was premised in large measure on preventing the ISPs from blocking content…Turns out it’s the edge companies like Google doing it instead.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for this. But, how long did Silicon Valley think it could hoodwink Americans into thinking their “don’t be evil” ethos was the real deal? It ain’t (especially in regard to conservatives). The gig is up for the real censors and exploiters.

To this end, here’s my quick prediction:

I think Google, Facebook and others in Silicon Valley will want to inoculate themselves from this ongoing mess. And the vehicle they will choose is a legislative version of Net Neutrality – one which at a minimum “clarifies” the FCC’s expansive powers to police the “open Internet”; and allows reasonable business practices like paid priority and use of end-user data, subject to clear FTC jurisdiction, applied equally across the entire Internet ecosystem.

Reports have it that they’re already sitting down to discuss Net Neutrality with a broad cross-section of policymakers, “public interest” groups and industry reps. The events of the past couple of weeks – not to mention Europe’s increasing glare at some of the Valley’s behemoths – will hasten the search for a grand, comprehensive, “pro-consumer” compromise.

Do we need regulatory / legislative Net Neutrality? No. I hate the idea. However, if the current agency ping-pong game can be stopped and with it the (in-apt, FDR-era) Title II Net Neutrality concept legislatively narrowed in a significant way, then that would deserve some serious consideration by all.

The pressure on Silicon Valley is only mounting for it to prove it isn’t evil. Working with others in the ecosystem to end the Net Neutrality game would go a long way toward showing that.

Preaching free speech and then allowing it – even the “undesirable” voices – over their networks wouldn’t be such a bad thing, either.

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