Facebook is a menace to grassroots political organizing—and to free and fair elections generally. The social media giant this week announced it would ban “misinformation” about the upcoming midterm elections. According to a Reuters story about the new policy, “Facebook Inc. will ban false information about voting requirements and fact-check fake reports of violence or long lines at polling stations ahead of next month’s U.S. midterm elections, . . . the latest effort to reduce voter manipulation on its service.”
But not to worry: “The world’s largest online social network, with 1.5 billion daily users, has stopped short of banning all false or misleading posts, something that Facebook has shied away from as it would likely increase its expenses and leave it open to charges of censorship.”
In an article published last month titled, “How Facebook Policy Hinders Political Speech,” Ruth Papazian explained in excruciating detail just how difficult it has become to place political ads on Facebook. What this monopolistic communications behemoth has done to the abilities of grassroots groups to spread their messages far and wide cannot be understated.
Facebook selectively has disabled the most effective means of grassroots organizing ever devised. The timing of the move, a few months before one of the most pivotal midterm elections in American history, denies every small neighborhood group and individual activist the capacity to quickly tailor the content of their ads to local voters.
With growing assertiveness, an assortment of mega-corporations that, for all practical purposes, control virtually all online communications in America, some of them the largest companies on earth, are making a concerted effort to influence the 2018 elections. And their ambitions reach far beyond this November.
These corporations have left-leaning employees and left-leaning top management. They wield an ability not only to suppress viewpoints with which they don’t agree and promote viewpoints with which they do agree, but they can also use search results and proprietary search content to shape behaviors and values dramatically.
To present an embarrassingly obvious example of how Big Tech is rewriting history, take a look at the result that comes up on Google if you search under the term “American Inventors.” You will see portrait images of fifty individuals who are, according to Google, the top inventors in American history. There are 21 black men, 11 black women, and 18 white men. Curiously, no white women are included on the list.
This blatant distortion of historical reality matters more than might readily be apparent. First, it is part of a pervasive pattern whereby the left-wingers who control high-tech companies are rewriting history. But it is more pernicious in its consequences than just that. How will a 10-year-old African-American view his role in society, if he believes that two out of three of the most significant American inventions came from the minds of brilliant African Americans but that these contributions deliberately have been neglected? Won’t that be evidence to support the leftist assertion that racism, and only racism, account for lack of prominent mention for blacks in American history?
If this were an isolated example, it would not matter. But it is emblematic of how Big Tech is controlling not only who can communicate and what we can see, but how we view ourselves, our society, and our origins.
The Biggest Companies in the World
When we say “Big Tech,” that’s no exaggeration. The table below presents the financial power of some of the primary players controlling how we learn and communicate.
The data on this table makes obvious that behind the monopolies or near monopolies these companies wield in data search, social networks, videos, online retail including books, movies, and music, smartphones, and web browsers, there is almost unimaginable financial power. These seven companies together are sitting on $385 billion in cash. Think about this. The smallest of the seven, Twitter, has nearly $4 billion sitting in its checking account.
The pieces are in place for these companies, if not literally to take over the world, then at least to play a crucial role, if not the crucial role, in shaping what kind of world we leave to the next generation. For all practical purposes, they have monopolistic control over how we learn and communicate. And they have more discretionary cash than any other private interest, anywhere. The tools of influence they wield are only beginning to be developed.
To explore the dystopian potential of these dawning technologies, you don’t have to rely on conservative analysts. Arguments aplenty can be found in the liberal media; you would think they’d connect the dots and recognize what could happen if and when Big Tech is no longer controlled by liberals.
Writing for The Atlantic, Yuval Noah Harari suggests “perhaps in the 21st century, populist revolts will be staged not against an economic elite that exploits people but against an economic elite that does not need them anymore.” He suggests that the AI revolution may transfer the relative efficiency of a nation’s political economy from one currently favoring democracies to one favoring dictatorships. He argues that the power of massively connected networks, incorporated into everything we use and present everywhere we go, controlled by powerful AI systems, flips the equation, explaining that “the main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the 20th century—the desire to concentrate all information and power in one place—may become their decisive advantage in the 21st century.”
Elaborating on this point in his recent article published by The Guardian, “The Myth of Freedom,” Harari describes human beings as “hackable.” He writes, “propaganda and manipulation are nothing new. But whereas in the past they worked like carpet bombing, now they are becoming precision-guided munitions. When Hitler gave a speech on the radio, he aimed at the lowest common denominator, because he couldn’t tailor his message to the unique weaknesses of individual brains. Now it has become possible to do exactly that.”
Think about it. Your Fitbit, always connected, monitors how you react as you click on various links online. This means that not only your clicks but your simultaneous physical reaction to what you are seeing are monitored and compiled. Eventually, the machines know you better than you know yourself. Your brain has been hacked. Dr. Pavlov, meet Brave New World.
Even the hyper-liberal New Yorker has alluded to how technology enables totalitarian regimes, in the closing paragraphs of a September 2018 article, “What Termites Can Teach Us.” Writer Amia Srinivasan refers to the “RoboBee,” “a mechanical bee, smaller than a paper clip, that can take off, fly, and land.” She cites a paper published by the Center for a New American Security, “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm,” which holds up the RoboBee as evidence of the possibility of 3-D-printed, less-than-a-dollar-apiece drones that, in vast quantities, “could ‘flood’ civilian and combat areas as ‘smart clouds.’”
Patriots, you may or may not have reason to be paranoid, but in any case, don’t rely on your AR-15s to preserve your liberty. Start a hacker collective. The “smart cloud” is coming. You can’t shoot down a swarm of bees. Then again, you may not care.
Big Tech Is Redrawing International Maps
Consider the map feature on Google. The planet’s nations and cities include bitterly disputed borders and place names. But even physical features require subjective decisions. Shall higher altitudes be depicted in summer or winter? A summer image might feed the imagination of anyone inclined to believe the “planet has a fever.”
Call up Google’s “satellite view” of the vast savannas of Africa or the steppes of Asia—are they summer brown or spring green? A vastly differing impression is created. And how green is the green? Are the watered areas of earth verdant and lustrous with life, or tepidly broaching a bit of tentative foliage wilting on a warming world? What about snowpacks and glaciers? What view? Winter or summer?
When it comes to political geography, Google is an international actor with enormous influence. It’s a tough job, drawing borders on a map when everyone on earth uses your map.
According to Google, the city of Srinagar is no longer part of Indian Kashmir. Instead, it’s in a region with dotted borders indicating uncertain sovereignty. Similarly, the entire northeastern portion of Kashmir is lopped off, with dotted lines again, indicating that this area may actually be part of China. A province in the extreme northeast of India, Arunachal Pradesh, now has a dotted line drawn through its middle, questioning whether the northern half of that province belongs to India or to China. Ditto for the eastern border of Tajikistan, where Google’s dotted line asserts that nobody knows where Tajikistan ends and China begins. But among Google’s mapmakers, who decides? Where’s Tibet? Why no dotted line to delineate that occupied land?
While Google ignores Tibetan claims to nationhood, they recognize every indigenous tribe in North America. Observe the United States. When the lower 48 fills about half your screen, you’ll see the names of each state. Zoom in one notch. Suddenly the Navajo, Blackfeet, Crow, Yakima, Cheyenne and dozens of other tribes all have nations—reservations with borders and place names written in faint but capitalized fonts larger than those used for names of major cities. Same thing for Canada and South America.
Even if Google’s mapmakers didn’t have an agenda, millions of people would disagree with their choices. But billions more would accept the lines they draw, solid and dotted alike, as truth. The manner in which Google arbitrates international borders constitutes real power. Google controls 92 percent of the global mapping and GIS market. The company also controls more than 90 percent of the global internet searchmarket, and through YouTube, it controls 79 percent of multimedia websites and video portals worldwide. And Google has more than $100 billion in its checking account.
Big Tech Is Reprogramming Americans En Masse
That the founders and the employees of big tech companies are overwhelmingly Democrats should by now be beyond serious debate. And evidence mounts that these biases inform how they write their algorithms. There’s nothing objective about an algorithm—it may process every query with complete impartiality, but built into the logic and lookup tables are the preferences and priorities of a human being.
One widely reported study claims that biased search results can influence elections in close races. The study, authored in 2015 by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson and published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, reached four conclusions regarding search engines and search engine manipulation: First, they identify a positive feedback loop, whereby when search rankings affect voter preferences, those voters then search on terms that are, for example, favorable towards a particular candidate. This results in those favorable search results receiving more clicks which in-turn causes them to be ranked higher still, generating more views and clicks, and so on.
Second, search engine manipulation is very hard to detect, leading those influenced by it to believe they have formed their new opinions voluntarily.
Third, unlike explicit campaigning, where candidates have equal access to conventional means of voter outreach, search engine manipulation occurs at the discretion of the company that owns the search engine, leaving out-of-favor candidates with no means to counter its effects.
Fourth, conventional means of voter outreach continue to lose effectiveness relative to the impact of online resources such as search engines.
The elephant in the room here is Google, and even if that company isn’t directing its programmers to introduce liberal bias into their search results, the culture within Google suggests their programmers would be doing it anyway.
After all, this is the company that fired James Damore for circulating an internal memo that committed the heresy of arguing that disparities in group achievement might be due to something other than racism and sexism. This is the company where, in a leaked email, their former head of “multicultural marketing” described efforts she led on behalf of the company to increase Latino turnout in the 2016 election and bemoaned the fact that not enough of them voted for Democrats. This is the company where 90 percent of reported political donations by executives and employees went to Democrats in the period between 2004 and 2016; over $15 million.
And it isn’t just Google, of course. Twitter “shadowbans.” Facebook suppresses conservative commentators. YouTube restricts conservative videos. Apple bans “controversial” programs from its App Store. Can Amazon and other eBook purveyors even rewrite classic literature? Well, why not? The tactics these companies employ are difficult to detect and nearly impossible to counter.
Increasingly, this handful of mega-corporations have the power to rewrite history, to determine who is permitted to have a public voice, and to decide what is a fact and what is not a fact. And it extends to nearly every facet of life, not just election manipulation, but the foundations of Western Civilization; culture, race, gender, patriarchy, nationalism, patriotism, meritocracy, underachievement, even the reasons for climate change.
As Big Tech arbitrates the premises of reality, facts, according to their own beliefs and biases, a complicit media follows suit. For example, the BBC recently updated their guidelines for future reporting on climate change issues. Suddenly certain conclusions are no longer heard. But facts are based on data. And data can often be analyzed and interpreted, with integrity, to yield diametrically opposed conclusions. “Facts” are often opinions. This skepticism used to be the lifeblood of both science and journalism, but skepticism is only selectively encouraged anymore. Big Tech is narrowing that range when it ought to be expanding it.
Pessimists frequently refer to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 as representative of where we’re headed. But more likely we are being herded into a future more reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That novel, written in 1931, is astonishingly prescient. In his forward to the 1946 edition of Brave New World, Huxley writes: “There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianism should resemble the old. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”
Stare into the glass. The mesmerizing blue light. Click. Click again. Let the dopamine flow.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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