Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most powerful of them all? BigTech
The year 2020 will forever be etched into the minds of all those who have lived through it but 2021 has been nothing less, particularly for the United States of America. We all sort of know what happened, ol’ Trump lost the election but won’t give it away, and on January 6th when American Senators assembled to certify Joe Biden’s victory Trump supporters invaded Capitol Hill to have their way.
Naturally, it turned out to be a very busy day for meme-makers across the world. US democracy became a laughing stock for the world.
Leaders all across America and the world criticized the violence, some even pointed their fingers directly at Trump, although most took a diplomatic stand and avoided naming him in their responses.
The US Congress voted to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump after Vice-President Mike Pence refused to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, not so surprisingly, some Republicans too voted in favour of the impeachment. If these proceedings go through, Trump would become the first President in US history to be impeached twice.
The point of the article though is not to discuss the impeachment but what followed the incident. BigTech i.e, the largest tech companies in the world (Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc.) decided to ban Donald Trump from their platforms on the charges of inciting violence which meant Trump could no longer use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. So in a moment Donald Trump, the President of the United States, supposedly the most powerful man on earth was no longer on social media, he had been kicked out!
Now, what Trump did was certainly wrong, maybe even a crime but was it ok for the BigTech to come together and oust him from all their platforms? He has also been banned from Spotify, Shopify, and even Discord! thankfully Trump doesn’t have an online test around the corner! The same group even banned an app called Parler, which is seen as an alternative to Twitter popular among Trump supporters.
This move from the BigTech is being seen as a glimpse of what has been long discussed about the unaccounted and unimaginable power that the owners of these companies have, they can at any moment ban anyone from their platforms which in today’s times is like sentencing someone to a jail term and as of this moment there is nothing that can effectively stop them from doing that, this is something that’s scary. At this point we are merely counting on the owners of these firms to remain good-natured and not misuse their powers, we shouldn’t forget the time tested saying that we’ve all heard, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
What could be a way out?
Regulation seems to be a fair answer to this question, the way the SEBI(Securities and Exchanges Board of India) and RBI regulate the Finance sector in India and there are similar institutions in all major countries, a board of some sort could regulate social media, the companies can carry on business as usual but decisions like who gets banned, for what actions, for how long, would be in the board’s purview, thus, taking away the unaccounted power out of the hands of these firms and creating a system of checks and balance.
It is essential for there to be a system of checks and balance for every institution that has significant powers otherwise there is always a fear of misuse, for governments there are elections, the fate of the ruling party is ultimately in the hands of the people, we need a similar setup for the BigTech and thus having a regulatory authority may prove to be a viable option. Although understandably, establishing an unbiased body under the government’s shadow would itself be a challenge and there would always be a risk of things titling in the government’s favor but that I’d say that is still better than absolute control in the hands of private individuals not accountable to anyone, we elect our governments, an election is a fairly robust mechanism to keep governments in check, there is no such thing when it comes to the BigTech companies.
It’d be interesting to see how the world leaders and establishments react to this move, we could be seeing even more anti-trust proceedings against these companies.
It's time we start taking social media seriously and recognize its power and the powers of the people who have an influence over them.
Follow me Abhishek Jha for more such content.