The Big Tech monopoly and censorship on social media

Deputy Director of the Master's Degree in Economics and Political Science at ESEADE.

Recently in this space we talked about monopolies in capitalism and the risk that they embody.

My position, I review it, is that if a monopoly is created in a free market, it is because the company or companies that comprise it (oligopoly in that case) have provided the best customer service.

If it is the state regulations that create the monopoly (as in the case of the taxi license), then my position is in favor of removing those legal entry barriers to compete in the market. In general, when the left argues that capitalism leads to monopolies and that this is a problem, it is not very clear what the problem is that they identify.

They merely say that monopolies conspire against the general welfare, but not the way in which they do it. However, we have recently witnessed the decision of several large technology companies (“Big Tech”), such as Twitter, Google and Amazon, to remove Donald Trump from his ecosystem. Twitter permanently suspended the account of the US president. In addition, Apple, Google and Amazon removed the ability to download the application “Parler”, a social network analogous to Twitter where there is no “censorship.”

This led several to denounce the enormous power that Big Tech have over the information and opinions that can be accessed and to compare these companies with dictatorships or thought police.

I analyze two questions below:

1) Given that Big Tech widely dominate the communication market globally, does this prove that in capitalism there is a trend towards monopoly, as stated by Roxana Kreimer a few days ago?

2) Is it correct to compare the behavior of the Big Tech against Trump with that of a dictatorship or that of the police?

Capitalism, monopoly and China When capitalism is criticized, one usually looks at a situation that many find undesirable in the system and then conclude that said system “fails” or does not meet expectations.

However, these analyzes of comparing against existing alternatives are forgotten. Thus, for example, when Roxana Kreimer spoke of the tendencies of economic liberalism towards monopoly, she avoided saying that in communist countries the monopoly is total, so the situation should seem much worse to her.

In this case: which model is more prone to monopoly? The same question can be asked here: if we admit that Twitter, Facebook and Google are companies with such market power that they constitute an oligopoly in the new media sector, does this not prove that the tendency to monopoly exists in capitalism?

The answer is, not necessarily. In fact, we can compare this ecosystem with what happens in China, which has an alternative economic system. An article from the BBC explains that in China you cannot use WhatsApp, Twitter, or Google (the latter being blocked directly by the government), and that instead of YouTube or Facebook are Youku and QQ. In other words, in non-liberal China there is the same “oligopolistic” configuration of these types of companies, but as a result of state regulation, which not only blocks competition from foreign suppliers, but also supervises all the content that is published, institutionalizing a government censorship against citizens.

In conclusion: the current configuration of Big Tech does not prove that there is a tendency to monopoly in capitalism. China, which is not capitalist, or at least to an incredibly lesser extent than the United States, has a similar market configuration in this sector, but with the aggravation of state restrictions on competition and government monitoring and censorship of the content.

Thought Police Let’s go to the second topic: do Twitter, Facebook, and Google make up a thought police or a dictatorship? The comparison is absolutely exaggerated. In China, there is indeed a thought police, and if the regime doesn’t like something you say, then you go to prison. The same happens in Venezuela, and the same happened in countless dictatorships throughout the history of our countries.

The Twitter “thought police”, then, has vastly less damaging consequences for the individual than the actual thought police. In one case, freedom is lost and one goes to live behind bars; in the other, access to a platform to share information, opinions or photos of food is simply lost.

The exaggeration in this regard is worrying, to the extent that if any government authority takes these claims seriously, then it may conclude that these companies should be regulated.

Thus, we will end up dealing no longer with the “Terms of Service” of one or several private companies – with whatever arbitrary it may seem – to go on to deal with the Laws and Regulations of the state, something that any person considered liberal will understand that it is much worse.

Can it be wrong for us that an app, or a group of technology companies do everything possible to remove certain speeches from their platforms? Yeah sure. In fact, trying to remove Trump but leave Nicolás Maduro with impunity speaks of the low moral character of those who have made this decision.

On the other hand, it is also objectionable that they follow this path, since the only thing they will achieve is to feed the discourse of persecution that the Trump administration wants to install to gain legitimacy. Now, given the above, it is also true that Big Tech have the right to do what they want with their platforms and it will be the users who will decide whether or not they want to stay on them.

If Twitter users want to stay there despite the blockade on Trump and the double standard, it will be because they consider that – at least for now – the existing alternatives (such as Parler, for example), do not surpass Twitter in terms of costs and benefits . That is, on Twitter you use a platform with which you ideologically disagree but have more arrival.

In Parler, the positive aspect is that there is no exclusion of the Trump players, but it does not have as many users at the moment. Finally the right to do what they want is derived from the right of property. When Senator Ted Cruz asks Jack Dorsey “who the hell chose him” to admit or remove content from his social network, the answer is very simple: he is nothing less than the creator of Twitter, so he is assisted by the property rights over the platform to make decisions, be they good or bad. Point.

Censorship according to Ayn ​​Rand

Finally, he left a few paragraphs from Ayn Rand on this topic. Interestingly, the Russian-American thinker was criticizing the left. It will be necessary to see if this reasoning does not apply now also to those who – from the right – are inflamed against social networks: For years, collectivists have spread the idea that a private individual’s refusal to finance an adversary constitutes a violation of the adversary’s right to free expression, and an act of “censorship.” They claim that the refusal of a newspaper to use or publish articles by writers whose ideas are diametrically opposed to its policy is “censorship”.

There is “censorship” if businessmen refuse to publish their ads in a magazine that accuses, insults and defames them. There is “censorship” if a television advertiser objects that reprehensible acts are committed in the program he finances, such as the incident that took place when Alger Hiss was invited to impeach former Vice President Nixon. And there are all those who declare that “there is censorship through ratings, advertisers, television networks, affiliated companies that reject programs offered to their areas.”

It is the same people who threaten to revoke the license of any station that does not agree to accept their point of view on programming, and who claim that this is not censorship. Consider the implications of such a trend. The term “censorship” applies only to government action. No private act is censorship. No individual or particular agency can silence a man or suppress a publication: only the government can.

The freedom of expression of private individuals includes the right not to agree with their opponents, not to listen to them and not to finance them. ” (the full text is on pages 142 and following of this link)