Andy Yen, CEO of ProtonMail, discusses the current state of the Internet and the reasons why we should all be wary of the growing practice of deplatforming by a few powerful, unregulated companies.
Once thought of as an untameable jungle of free speech, the internet is now a walled garden, increasingly monitored and controlled by a handful of unregulated monopolies. The gatekeepers to the walled garden, companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, serve as the judge, jury, and executioner for the internet.
While taking up the cause of reducing the spread of “misinformation” or “incitements to violence” may sound like a noble one, the idea that a few corporations should be the sole arbiters of what constitutes misinformation or incitements to violence is not. Few (Americans, at least) would disagree that government regulation of the flow of information and who is allowed to say what would be a bad thing (hence the reason we have the First Amendment). The idea of that power residing in the hands of and actively being wielded by a few powerful corporations—corporations run by people who the general public has no say in determining—should be even more chilling.
Regardless of your politics, all instances of deplatforming should be deeply disturbing, even when it might seem justified, like in the case of Parler and Trump. The problem is not that Trump (or any other individual) was deplatformed but that deplatforming is possible in the first place. It is a deep societal problem that the public town squares of the 21st century, which are essential for civil discourse, are entirely controlled by a small number of unelected tech oligarchs.
We cannot have true public discourse in the modern world when the few powerful entities controlling our town square are silencing voices, however wrong or destructive you or I or anyone may believe those voices to be. Nor can we ever build a complete and accurate understanding of current events in the world when those same entities restrict the sharing of news publications, however wrong or destructive you or I or anyone may believe those publications to be.
If we want to live in a free and democratic, representative society, we must enact regulation that holds these corporations accountable to all of us.
While some people take pause at the mention of regulation, it is much preferable to the current system. Democracies are made up of elected representatives and are therefore accountable to the people. Without strong regulation, the tech oligarchs are accountable to no one, and they will only shape the internet to their own benefit.