Facebook, Google and Twitter have enjoyed market dominance for more than a decade. And their increasing tendency towards censorship has lost them some users.
Although censorship isn’t welcome, it has given social media a chance to reinvent itself out of near-monopolistic dominance.
Ironically, the first loser in the info wars was Alex Jones. Accounts for his Infowars program were de-platformed from Apple, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube within 12 hours on Aug. 6, 2018. Pinterest, LinkedIn, MailChimp and Twitter later followed.
Reportedly, hate speech and not conspiracy theory was why the Donald Trump supporter was yanked two months before the U.S. midterm elections. By Aug. 7, the Infowars app surged, and Facebook stock tumbled, lowering Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth by US$19 billion.
University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson called the ban “a catastrophe” for big tech in an online appearance on Louder With Crowder.
“They’re going to be in the business of arbitrarily determining what should and shouldn’t be presented for public viewing and they’ll never run out of decisions to make. … I didn’t say they couldn’t do it. I said it’s a bad idea,” Peterson said.
“And it’s a warning sign with regards to these media conglomerates that are attempting to produce large-scale public discourse because now they’ve taken the role of censor onto themselves. So all the people who are watching [Jones] who are conspiracy-minded and somewhat paranoid are going to think, well, Jones must be onto something because, otherwise, these big conglomerates wouldn’t have clamped down on him. …
Liberals must stop their attack on social media free speech by Michael Taube
“Once you start with censorship, how are you going to put proper boundaries around it and decide who’s acceptable?”
Predictably, the censorship net spread wider.
When Jones was de=platformed, Natural News saw its Facebook traffic fall so precipitously that experts at Harvard University suspected Facebook was using its algorithms to suppress the site. By June 10, 2019, Facebook formally de-platformed Mike Adams’s Natural News, which had almost three million followers. The reported reason was that Adams’s page violated Facebook’s spam policy by using misleading or inaccurate information to collect likes, followers or shares. It had already been banned by Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google News and Apple.
Adams responded by setting up his own platform called Brighteon.com, to which other users also post videos. Alexa ranks it 9,977 highest in global internet engagement, trailing Infowars, which takes 2,212th worldwide. By comparison, CBC.ca ranks 1,315, NationalPost.com 14,679, CTV.ca 27,616 and GlobalTV.com 63,265.
In the presidential election year of 2020, social media giants moved aggressively again, this time aiming at channels with occasional to frequent content about QAnon. Q was a series of posts purportedly from a small team in the Trump administration with top-secret clearance.
Q was derided in the mainstream press, including the BBC, which wrote: “QAnon is a wide-ranging unfounded conspiracy theory that President Trump is battling a clandestine ‘deep state’ network of political, business, media and entertainment elites, often involving satanic plots and child trafficking.”
Twitter banned QAnon tweets on July 22 that year, purging 7,000 accounts and making other moves that affected another 140,000. Facebook followed on Oct. 6, restricting 1,950 groups and over 10,000 Instagram accounts. Finally, YouTube followed on Oct. 15. Canadians Polly St. George and Mishel McCumber were among 15 plaintiffs with a combined subscribership of 4.5 million who sued Google over the purge.
Viewers got a second chance as the channels continued on other platforms that valued free speech. Prominent among these are the video hosting sites Rumble.com (ranked 922) and Bitchute.com, which Alexa ranks at 1,254. Meanwhile, those disgruntled with Facebook took to MeWe.com (ranked 1,530) and Gab.com (ranked 1,573). Surprisingly, MySpace.com continues, ranked at 1,619.
After the 2020 U.S. election, the social media giants reached even further. When Donald Trump told people to “Go home in peace” after the Jan. 6 invasion at the Capitol, Facebook refused to carry the video. Then, on Jan. 8, Trump was permanently banned from Twitter even though he was still the sitting president. The company later said it wouldn’t allow him to tweet even if he runs again.
Parler.com was ready to fill the void until big tech pulled a fast one. Amazon kicked Parler off its servers on Jan. 10, and Parler couldn’t find a way back online until Feb. 15. Alexa ranks it at 1,620. Trump intends to start his own social media site in the coming months, but his supporter, Mike Lindell of MyPillow fame, will beat him to the punch.
Alexa ranks YouTube second behind Google, with Facebook seventh and Twitter at 41. Those numbers are enviably high, but the cracks have begun to show. Last December, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States and 46 states sued Facebook for illegal monopolization. Google is also facing three separate government-launched anti-trust lawsuits in the U.S. A new era with new social media players has dawned.
Lee Harding is a research associate for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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