I remember sitting in Government class in secondary school, listening to my teacher outline the different forms of power. He spoke about physical power, financial power, political power, and such. Ironically, one thing he neglected to mention is the most powerful form of power that exists in today’s world – the power of Big Tech. Particularly, the power of the social media giants.
P.S. This article was inspired by Trump’s banishment from certain social media platforms. What a time to be alive!
Following the riots at the Capitol building in the United States, President Donald Trump was suspended permanently from several social media platforms. This ignited a discourse all over the internet on the morality of it all, the impact on free speech, and whether or not Mr. President deserved the ban.
Excluding the fact that the conversation was entertaining to follow, I have no opinion about it and I am not here to debate the morality of the action. I will leave that to the Twitter warriors.
Right about now, you should be wondering how Mr. President’s banishment correlates with the power of Big Tech. At first glance, it doesn’t. But when you look deeper, it gets a bit scary.
Every social media platform that exists in the United States of America is under the authority of the Government. Until power is handed over to President-elect Joe Biden, Donald Trump remains the face of said government, and yet he was banned. To properly explain the unseen impact of this, I will walk you through some of the supernatural privileges of Big Tech.
Social media has become a trillion-dollar industry and it keeps rising. We spend as much as 80% of our day staring at a screen. This means for that period, we are under the direction of an algorithm. Everything we see, read, and watch on our screens is being controlled and streamlined by a set of numbers and instructions sent from a software engineer in a cushy office building somewhere in Silicon Valley.
These companies control what we see. Indirectly, they control how we think, and as a man thinketh…
If the executives of one of such companies wish to shed light on a particular ideology, all they have to do is tweak the algorithm and influence the information that can get to you. The same goes for if they wish to do the opposite.
These companies impact the thoughts of the public and it subsequently gives them power over the actions of the public.
It literally takes the concept of social media influencers to a whole new level!
Another angle to perceive the dominance of Big Tech from is the area of the economy and market. Facebook has a reputation for acquiring companies that have the potential to threaten its position in the market. They have been accused of this but they continue to maintain that they are not trying to monopolize the market. The legitimacy of that statement is up to the lawmakers to debate.
In reality, the monetary capacity of these companies is already so staggering that if you throw in their ability to influence demand, their capabilities reach a titan level. It is within the power of these companies to optimize the visibility of their products over that of their products’ competition because after all, the marketing and sales are carried out on their platforms. Platforms like Amazon, and Google are very good examples of this.
These tech companies have money, power, and influence on levels never seen before. There is an indirect, and probably unintentional, message that has been sent through Trump’s banishment. The message is that Big Tech has the ability to undermine the most powerful man in the world and by extension, the government he represents. The implication of that on the common man is horrifying to think about.
In the year 2020, we witnessed not one, but two major movements that thrived on the visibility provided by social media – the Black Lives Matter movement and the End SARS protests.
Both movements were responses to oppression and police brutality, and the most lethal weapon of the oppressed was not, in fact, unity but social media. Take that away and the movements would have been crippled.
To further drive it home, imagine if the tech giants were not on our side. Both movements incited riots directly or indirectly. If Jack had decided to heed the narrative told by the Nigerian government and pursue a course of action that was opposite to his support on Twitter, #EndSARS would have been snuffed out like a burnt-out cigarette. Imagine the carnage that would have been wrought if we were “censored” at such a time.
Nothing was stopping Big Tech from taking the same steps they took with Trump and restricting some of the most vital personalities of these movements. Nothing, save for perceived morality and the will of the public. This in itself, is just as scary as it is encouraging. What happens when the will of the majority infringes on the rights of the minority?
“… and I’m a Christian. Our ideas have never been popular and it is very possible that the day they decide that Christians are so and so, they would ban a significant amount of us, and our leaders from social media.” – Heritage (Nigerian Undergraduate)
Hmm. It really makes one think.
I imagine that you expect this to be the moment I proffer a solution. Well, I’m sorry to put it this way, but we are ****[censored].
You might say that the government has the ability to check these giants but these companies also have the ability to deeply influence the public, and who does the government serve?
You might also say that we should instead offer our support to young start-ups and tech companies but if we are being practical, the appeal of these social media platforms is in their homogeneity – everybody in one place.
Even if we all switch platforms, the eventuality remains. We will find ourselves staring down another giant who would have amassed the same level of power and maybe even more because this one would have the added advantage of being our hope in desperation.
Evolution is inevitable. Tech is its apparatus and that makes these titans inevitable.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears, humanity would come to realize that fortune favors the rich and powerful. So does the law.
I truly believe that we have only two options available to us as regular people:
One. Be powerful enough to have a say.
Nothing is ever as it seems. You can not afford to be ignorant in these times. Power is power but knowledge inoculates you against its scorching grip.
And when it comes to tech, ignorance is not bliss, it is demise.