By Justin Sanders
Freed of many of the regulations that govern other American industries, internet companies such as Google and Facebook have grown in wealth and power to a degree that boggles the mind. Along the way, they have toyed recklessly with our private data, turned a blind eye to criminal acts such as trafficking and widespread digital theft, and become incubators for misinformation campaigns that threaten the pillars of democracy itself.
Now, having spent years working its way into every aspect of daily human life with little or no accountability, Big Tech is finally on the hot seat. Citizens across the country are demanding that the Silicon Valley platforms take on some responsibility.
Change is in the air and here are 14 reasons why it can’t come soon enough, from a global spectrum of political, cultural, sociological, and even spiritual viewpoints.
1.) Because Big Tech’s Own Investors are Concerned About its Business Practices
“Thanks to the U.S. government’s laissez-faire approach to regulation, the internet platforms were able to pursue business strategies that would not have been allowed in prior decades. No one stopped them from using free products to centralize the internet and then replace its core functions. No one stopped them from siphoning off the profits of content creators. No one stopped them from gathering data on every aspect of every user’s internet life. No one stopped them from amassing market share not seen since the days of Standard Oil. No one stopped them from running massive social and psychological experiments on their users. No one demanded that they police their platforms. It has been a sweet deal.”
– Roger McNamee, Early Facebook Investor
2.) Because Filmmakers Can’t Catch a Break Online
“Piracy has run rampant on the Internet, and creatives have no chance of keeping up with all of it. Google alone receives 900 million takedown notices every year. While they usually get around to taking down the offending link, it rarely helps because a new one appears in its place – it’s endless. Overwhelmed creatives simply run out of steam trying to find all the pirate links – and thanks to the DMCA, that’s not Google’s problem.”
– Cassian Elwes, Producer, Mudbound, The Butler
3.) Because YouTube is the World’s Most Popular Platform for Pirated Music
“Essentially, YouTube is herding music and musicians into its platform, stripping away our identities, and then rebranding our works with the hot iron of its own system… When YouTube denies us the right to avail ourselves of that copyright management information and pushes a business model and technology platform that actually strips it off, then YouTube should no longer be allowed in the safe harbor.”
4.) Because Even Facebook’s Own Stars Have Been Exploited
“I did 1.8 billion views last year. I made no money from Facebook. Not even a dollar… it’s a complete mess. No one trusts Facebook.”
– Ryan Hamilton, internet video star with nearly two million Facebook followers
5.) Because Big Tech Claims No Accountability for Content on its Platforms Yet Profits Wildly Off it
“Google and Facebook are not merely platforms, they are also media companies. They monetize content. However, unlike commercial television broadcasters that invest in the creation of content, Google and Facebook monetize content created by others, without meaningfully investing in its creation or licensing its use. To add insult to injury, these platforms earn significant revenue by facilitating access to illegal pirated content.”
– Free TV Australia, “Submission to Digital Platform Inquiry”
6.) Because Silicon Valley Monopolies Are Not Playing on a Level Playing Field
“Four hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, which means that Google has more video content than any other entity on earth. It also controls the operating system on two billion Android devices… Facebook owns a torrent of content created by its 2.1 billion monthly active users. Through its site and its apps, the company reaches 66 percent of U. S. adults. Facebook plans to spend $1 billion on original content. It’s the world’s most prolific content machine, dominating the majority of phones worldwide. Now ‘what’s on your mind?’”
– Scott Galloway, Professor of Marketing, New York University Stern School of Business
7.) Because Companies Who Control so Much Media Should be Regulated Like Media Companies
“I don’t believe these companies, particularly Google and Facebook, are technology companies, but they are media companies. Though they publicly take a position that they are technology companies, I think that is wrong… Just like other media companies — channels, newspapers, magazines, digital channels — are held legally responsible in many countries for the accuracy of the content they print, propagate or publish, I believe these technology companies have to take the responsibility for their content… Admit it, get on with it and be responsible for the content.”
– Martin Sorrell, Founder, WPP
8.) Because Fake News is Dangerous
“As the situation has escalated over the past six months, journalists working in Myanmar say they have seen waves of Facebook-based misinformation and propaganda aimed at fueling anti-Rohingya fervor, including fabricated reports that families were setting fire to their own homes in an attempt to generate sympathy. More than 600,000 people have been forced from their homes, and thousands have died in the process, in what the UN has called a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’”
– Mathew Ingram, Chief Digital Writer, Columbia Journalism Review
9.) Because Big Tech Has Commandeered our Collective Attention Span
“The tech companies are destroying something precious… They have eroded the integrity of institutions—media, publishing—that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy. Their most precious asset is our most precious asset, our attention, and they have abused it.”
– Franklin Foer, Author, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech
10.) Because Internet Platforms Reflect the Biases of Their Makers
“Algorithms don’t protect us from our biases. Instead, they absorb, amplify and propagate them, while creating the illusion that technology is sheltered from human prejudices.”
– Catherine Shu, Writer, TechCrunch
11.) Because Online Biases Damage Offline Civil Rights
“Make no mistake, this is not simply an advertising problem — this is a civil rights problem made all the more dangerous by social media’s technological advances. Online personalization opens up significant possibilities for discrimination against marginalized communities, including people of color and other members of protected classes. In the offline world, we have thankfully moved past the era of housing advertisements that explicitly stated that people of certain races, religions, or ethnicities could not apply. But with behavioral targeting online, discrimination no longer requires that kind of explicit statement. Instead, a property manager can simply display ads for housing only to white people, or Christians, or those without disabilities.”
– Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program
12.) Because Big Tech is Harming our Children
“Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed.”
– Jean Twenge, Author, iGen
13.) Because Internet Companies Have a Penchant for Confusing Free Speech with Criminality
“How can it be legal to host ads selling children for sex? It shouldn’t be… Backpage deftly managed to shield itself with an outdated internet freedom law that protects web sites from being sued for content posted by a third party… Two internet special interest groups funded by technology companies, The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, swooped in to defend Backpage, actively intervening in several cases and doing so persuasively. That is worth repeating. Via these special interest groups, tech industry giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others [were] financing the defense of Backpage.”
14.) Because Social Media Has Become Our New Religion, Yet it Has No Soul
“Social media suggests that life is some kind of optimization, like you’re supposed to be struggling to get more followers and friends. Zuckerberg even talked about how the new goal of Facebook would be to give everybody a meaningful life, as if something about Facebook is where the meaning of life is … It’s turning into this new religion, and it’s a religion that doesn’t care about you. It’s a religion that’s completely lacking in empathy or any kind of personal acknowledgment.”
– Jaron Lanier, Author, Who Owns the Future?
These voices are a microcosm of the collective outcry directed at the major internet platforms.
They demonstrate how the internet has become as ubiquitous as a utility, pervasive in what feels like every aspect of daily life – from politics to business, education, entertainment, and beyond. It is where we do our banking, access our medical records, and maybe even find love. It is the most powerful communication tool the world has ever known and nearly all of that power lies with a handful of dominant players. They have amassed unimaginable wealth through a business model that has divided us, exploited us, stolen from us, and tricked us.
Because they have insinuated their way into the fabric of daily life, fixing the damage these players have wrought will be a monumental challenge. It starts by treating Silicon Valley like every other industry – by removing long-outdated legal protections that have allowed internet companies to turn a blind eye to their questionable business practices.
In response to the recent onslaught of criticism, certain Big Tech powers have promised to do better, but make no mistake: they will only do so to the extent it helps their bottom line or to the extent we insist they do better.
Every industry resists regulation, claiming it harms the ability to optimize profitability. But regulation exists because our society values things like the health and well-being of our fellow humans more than profitability. When an industry unequivocally shows that it feels otherwise, meaningful change must then come from the outside.