So as it turns out the repercussions of Jan 6th are more widespread than first anticipated. The violent attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol has made many question, how did this happen. While the people who were responsible are being identified, there is blame also being pointed towards institutions in society. Namely, the tech and social media giants out there.
And they are aware of the situation as well. Notably, the race by Google and Apple to pull down the right wing platform Parler. Followed by the move by Amazon to pull it’s hosting of the platform. More interesting is the fact that a judge has agreed with Amazon. This isn’t a fight over free speech, but rather a disagreement between private entities. It is telling to find that in recent months, all the social media platforms have discovered they’ve had the ability all along to police activity on their platforms.
It is also just in time that they have discovered this, as across the world in Australia the government is attempting to impose change on Google themselves. The Australian government wants Google to pay news services for the use of their material on Google’s search engine. This isn’t a straight apples to apples comparison here, but there are similarities. Namely, a large criticism of what happened on Jan 6th, was the proliferation of fake news sites publishing on equal footing as reputable news sources. Many of these sources have argued that they are not being paid when Google shares their material for free. This is of course a very simplistic argument. Some news sites have switched to paywall and subscription services to offset losses. Yet to date no one has found the magic business plan to return mainstream media to it’s heyday.
Now what does this all have to do with each other. Well, I’m interested in the push and pull between Google and the Australian government. The threat to pull out of Australia is one that has been toted time and time again by the tech giants. We here in Canada had the threat of Netflix being dropped, should the CRTC impose it’s will on the content that Netflix was to produce. For years the governments of the world have wrestled with the free reign the big tech companies have had. Whenever, the governments of the world tried to impose rules and regulations on this industry, they have threatened to leave said jurisdiction. The threat of course is that your country will be the only one in the world without access to our services, and therefore your economy and status will diminish. For years, this has worked. And every time the debate has reared it’s head, the governments of the world have essentially backed down.
Until now it seems. The Australian government seem to be willing to play chicken with Google. As well, it appears a number of other countries around the world are taking notice wondering what might happen. January 6th, was a wake up call to many democracies around the world. Not wanting to see violence like we saw in Washington in their own countries, they are looking to prevent such actions from happening by going to the source in their minds. That is social media and big tech. Attitudes and patience have changed. With many people in developed countries wanting decisive action to take place to curb the power of social media. If Australia doesn’t back down, I would expect similar actions to be taken in the European Union as well as here in Canada.
Which brings us full circle to the top of this article. Mainly that big tech is showing that they can in fact police themselves. As was the case with Parler and the removal of Donald Trump from their platforms. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter amongst others, want to demonstrate they can be left to their own devices to police themselves without government interference. Truly let the free market reign online, and let these platforms operate themselves without government intervention. Such a gesture is demonstrative of their intentions. However, it may have come too late. Calls for regulations and restrictions of behaviour on their platforms have been raging for years. The fact that an armed insurrection on the U.S. Capitol building had to happen to demonstrate how severe the problem is, is a turning point.
The actions by big tech, seem to be too little too late in this matter. There is anger and concern in the public over social media’s reluctance to draw a line in the sand in terms of behaviour. With Australia leading the charge to start implementing rules and regulations, we may start seeing the emergence of a new international digital order. Where the first world countries that these tech companies rely on start to constrict and regulate what they can do. The Wild West of big tech may have finally come to an end.