Parler & Big Tech’s Control of Speech

There’s usually no monetary cost to post your thoughts online, but there’s definitely a price to pay. Being that more and more digital spaces are becoming the favored ground for public discourse, how much control should private interests have in deciding who’s on or offline?

Parler fell victim to its inability to moderate/remove content found offensive, not necessarily by its users, but by its service provider, Amazon Web Services. Last month, Amazon terminated Parler’s contract effectively pushing them offline. Parler’s return last week is a victory. I would prefer a business fail because it couldn’t make a mark in the market, rather than the gatekeepers threw them out.

Many people cheered when Trump was silenced online by numerous social media sites, some of the bans were pre-emptive, as the former president hadn’t broken any rules within the terms of service. This raises an important question: should we co-sign the ability of a handful of individuals to silence someone online? Google Chrome has approximately 64% of browser market share. If Google decides the content of your website is problematic or, better yet, you are problematic, without any interference, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (who retain controlling interest in Google and parent company, Alphabet) can teleport you to obscurity.

The people running spaces we think of as public (perhaps because they are “free”) are few, homogenous, and not serving the public interest. Alex Jones, Donald Trump, and others removal from Twitter had nothing to do with what people wanted or safety. It came down to the bottom line: they were bad for business. Turns out, Trump was right on this one. Lack of regulation has never served this country well. In order to clean the playing field, the government is going to have to help create boundaries because hoping that internet companies will draw lines when it affects their money is wishful thinking.

We need better. There are serious side effects to social media use, especially among pre-teens and teens. And if the Capitol Riot has taught us nothing, it showed what kind of actions can be galvanized online and on social media.

It’s not enough to encourage people to get off social media. It’s 2021. Capitalism will not let social media die. It’ll kill us before it does that.

If ‘Only’ We Could Do That With Judaism

The recent attack on the offices of the French satirical paper, Charlie Hebdo, has ignited conversations about free speech and inspired a variety of publications to take a stand and reprint some of the offending images. In light of the current events, I wanted to revisit the stir Nicki Minaj caused when her lyric video for ‘Only,’ off her latest album the Pinkprint, dropped. What followed was a firestorm of criticism for imagery that evoked the Third Reich: red flags emblazoned with a stylized black and white Young Money logo, Minaj strolling through lines of rank and file soldiers straight out of a Leni Riefenstahl film. The Anti Defamation League responded by saying that, ‘the abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews…’ Minaj gave what read like a rote apology, but the director Jeff Osborne was beautifully defiant in the face of the wagging fingers: ‘First, I’m not apologizing for my work… nor will I dodge the immediate question. The flags, armbands, and gas mask (and perhaps my use of symmetry?) are all representative of Nazism. But a majority of the recognizable models/symbols are American…What’s also American is the 1st Amendment, which I’ve unexpectedly succeeded in showing how we willfully squeeze ourselves out of that right every day.’ Right to free speech is often the first justification for the protection of offensive language/imagery, but only a few months prior, it wasn’t enough. Osborne’s comments perfectly align with supporters of the French journalists and cartoonists. If drawing an image of the Prophet Mohammed is fair game, so should the use of Nazi imagery.