Over the past decade, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley have transitioned from a mindset of attempting to make government censorship impossible to a mindset of attempting to make government censorship unnecessary. People with views that oppose the progressive liberal narrative have increasingly found their posts removed and accounts suspended on the social media platforms created by these companies. Domain registrars, web hosting companies, and payment processors have joined in this effort to de-platform those who are not part of the progressive movement, such as conservatives, libertarians, reactionaries, and the alt-right, especially the latter two. At first, there were just a few relatively marginal people being removed from social media, having their crowdfunding campaigns taken down, and being chased off of web hosting. But these behaviors have become more common, as has the denial of service by payment processors.

There are several proposals for how to respond to these developments, and the debates concerning them highlight differences in political theory and strategy between the aforementioned groups under attack by the outer arms of the Cathedral. Let us consider each option in order to construct a holistic approach to freeing the Internet from censorious technology giants.

Policy Inaction and Reliance on Alt-Tech

The view articulated by mainstream libertarians and free-market conservatives is that the technology giants are success stories of capitalism, having brought about wondrous advances in commerce and communication. They tend to view these technology companies as private businesses whose owners should be able to set their terms of service as they see fit and choose with whom they will associate or not associate. Indeed, many view ostracism as a nearly universal positive, working to reward preferred behavior while punishing dispreferred behavior. If technology companies behave improperly, they believe that the market will punish them by elevating alternatives to prominence as customers flee to other providers. This leads them to favor inaction at the policy level while championing alt-tech as the solution.

This stance is best understood as inability to deal with the context of the situation, naivete by those who have yet to face the wrath of the establishment, or malice by those who are part of the establishment. The truth is that the dominant companies in social media, website hosting, domain registration, and payment processing have such large market shares that it is difficult for competitors to enter the market. Those who try face many hurdles in trying to start a site and remain online. The established companies can and do use their positions to engage in anti-competitive business practices, such as keeping competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user bases they need in order to become successful platforms. This was less of a problem in the early days of social media when turnover of the most popular sites was higher, but the near-monopolies of the largest companies are no longer as vulnerable. In a free market, censorious behavior from the largest technology companies would be of little concern, but the market is not free because it has been effectively cornered.

Although ostracism on the basis of behavior is nothing new, the crowdsourcing power of the Internet has transformed it into a political weapon that can be used to ruin people unjustly. Moreover, it is capable of dividing an entire society along ideological lines. When reasoned discourse is shut down and unpopular viewpoints are suppressed by howling irrational cyber-mobs, those who are de-platformed are likely to have their internal victim narratives confirmed, radicalizing them further. This may even motivate extremists who would otherwise spew hateful rhetoric but take no further action to go ahead with plans to commit acts of terrorism. It also may serve as a precursor to a novel type of civil war, one which arises when the heated rhetoric that is naturally produced as a byproduct of democracy escalates into political violence and there is no peaceful outlet to reduce tensions before they consume the entire society.

It is clear that doing nothing is not a reasonable strategy, and that alt-tech is necessary but not sufficient, so let us consider our real options.

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References:

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