With the recent revelations that “Google allowed “Nazism” to be associated with the California Republican Party in searches, to YouTube removing purely mechanical gun content, to the news that Facebook allowed far greater access to private data than anyone realized, it’s time to have a conversation about what these social and tech giants really are.
We should acknowledge social media has had a positive effect over the years in breaking the monopoly on information flow. The traditional gatekeepers can no longer stop conversations they don’t approve because social media platforms have been an extraordinary means for people and groups to connect and communicate locally, regionally, and internationally. They’ve allowed upstarts, outsiders, and disrupters like Donald Trump, or movements like Brexit, to break through and actually win.
For almost 20 years, the federal communications and competitive regulatory environment that was in place allowed companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google (and their many competitors that either no longer exist or that have been subsumed into the victorious behemoths) to operate more freely and with fewer regulatory impediments compared to other traditional communications companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. For example, Facebook, Google and Amazon had far looser federal policies to adhere to related to the kind of personal data they could collect about their customers, how long they could store that data, and what they could sell or share with other entities. The “traditional” communications companies had to adhere to much more stringent rules.