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Salvo 12.10.2021 10 minutes

Building Parallel Tech

Reflection of video conference on computer in eye

Robust alternatives can move Big Tech to the middle.

Controlling information flow and keeping adversaries on defense are key principles in conducting war. We’ve seen peacetime versions of this play out over any number of controversies, especially surrounding vaccine mandates. Before courts had a chance to weigh in, the current administration and its allies in Congress rushed to impose stiff penalties on American workers concerned over the new technology and production methods used in available COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, Big Tech vigorously censored critical voices, adopting increasingly aggressive maneuvers to protect ideas evidently too fragile to withstand honest scrutiny. Online news alternatives have emerged but struggle against the entrenched power of network effect. And now that even web hosting services themselves are taking sides, underlying online architecture alternatives have become necessary to guarantee freedom of speech. All reasonable parties agree—or used to agree—whatever the matter at hand, access to a full range of evidence is critical to making informed decisions. It’s the hallmark of a free society.

Big Tech’s bias is well documented, having culminated in the banning of a sitting President of the United States from major online platforms. But numerous figures of lesser prominence have been summarily silenced, too, for violating terms of service that are vaguely or incomprehensibly worded and enforced with partisan favor. Banks caved to pressure and called in their business over politics. The one-sided crackdown on ideas was on full display. Even moderate foreign heads of state reacted to the ban of Trump by warning of the dangerous precedent it set and its Soviet-style overtones.

The coordinated Big Tech political purge is a First Amendment gut check. The attack sparked heated discussion on appropriate countermeasures. Alternative media, “alt-tech” ingenuity, and entrepreneurship kicked into gear and began developing workarounds to bypass tightly controlled legacy media and enable millions—if not billions—of moderate and right-leaning customers access to suppressed news and the ability to form partnerships locally and world-wide.  

Built-in Bias

News bias isn’t new but Big Tech’s increasingly politicized and surreptitious censorship methods are. Imposing ideologically driven standards on world-wide audiences raises concerns in areas of ethics, social engineering and international law. Poland’s Deputy Minister of Justice noted this type of censorship encroaches on his country’s sovereignty and traditional values. There’s a growing pushback among nations—especially those with first-hand experience under aggressive secular suzerainty—to counter attempts to condition society away from these values.

One might assume that you can rise above the bias by using search engines and news aggregators. However, Google whistleblowers have exposed that search engines themselves have built-in algorithm biases that quash right-leaning news from even appearing in search results. Even cursory comparisons with alternative search engines like Bing, Yahoo, “4conservative,” or “duckduckgo” demonstrate the bias. Network service providers, search engines, payment processing platforms, and social media—all operating behind digital walls and virtually unaccountable to the customer—employ censorship double standards to stamp out perspectives at odds with the received ideology. It’s essentially the online version of cancel culture. 

When giant tech companies reach a level where vast segments of society rely on them, they approach public forum status, similar to a railroad or private telecommunications service. Robust federal law exempts large carriers from monopoly and antitrust regulations on the promise that they must treat all customers neutrally, though Internet giants have been riding a loophole that lets them have it both ways. The gas company, for instance, cannot refuse to hook up a customer whose political views they don’t like. And no judge would tolerate AT&T intentionally dropping the calls of Missouri’s star Big Tech reformer Senator Josh Hawley…would they?

Who’s the Boss?

Americans are tired of unaccountable Silicon Valley overlords stacking the deck through sneaky platform tweaks. They’ve had enough of the cadre of woke moderators restricting dissemination of conservative social media posts “reported on” by triggered leftists lurking in the shadows. They’re done with rigged algorithms burying key news items, orchestrated trending topics, newsfeed squelching, one-sided livestream network throttling, and the sudden inaccessibility of webpages. Verifiable anecdotes abound over the quiet vanishing of popular right-leaning social media posts and the curious disabling of “sharing” certain posts. Facebook, for instance, modifies newsfeed posts containing right-leaning “trigger words” and even “trigger images” quietly scrubbing them, unbeknownst to the user, leaving just certain approved images for others to see. 

The high frequency of right-leaning emails silently redirected to junk folders was discussed in Congress. People have no more patience for the demonetization and de-platforming of legitimate information sources, endless privacy violations, misleading fact-checking, the rank hypocrisy of community standards enforcement, and shadowbanning, which has become a staple of social media shiftiness.

Influence operations within the social media sphere are a real phenomenon, and foreign state actors are not the only culprits. A careful review of internal records and customer complaints would determine Big Tech’s complicity in severe content moderation abuse amplified by fake bot accounts, slanted A.I. programs, and troll farms. These operations rush to establish a dominant narrative on key political topics by overwhelming, bullying, deleting, or kicking out conservatives from public threads. The goal is to manipulate and dominate information flow. The extent and execution of the sinister tactics employed by nontransparent corporations on American citizens rivals those of state-sponsored influence campaigns working to incite regime change.

Given the current state of affairs, some bold forward-leaning companies are working to bring fairness back online. Once these alternative platforms began gathering steam, Big Tech’s long reach quickly became apparent. Twitter’s conservative-leaning competitor, Parler, went dark when its underlying IT architecture, owned by Amazon, pulled the plug. Google (owner of Android operated smartphones and YouTube) and Apple then restricted users’ ability to download the app onto mobile devices. The justification for the purge was viewed by many as blatant selective enforcement of terms of service. The app has since implemented measures to overcome these hurdles, but the possibility of future and even more widespread purges remains. 

Big Tech’s systemic bias must be carefully examined and rooted out. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and possible solutions include legislating algorithmic transparency, as well as audits of customer complaints and records of “community standards” enforcement.  Authentic whistleblowers must be rewarded, and legal and policy maneuvers—such as defamation lawsuits, repealing or reforming Section 230, and implementing antitrust measures—must be pursued. Big Tech has proven it will not reform itself, and will resist efforts to impose reform. Competition is key. Alongside legal, legislative, and policy approaches, we must build a competitive underlying infrastructure on which quality alternative applications and media can rest securely. 

Replatformed

A stalwart underlying ecosystem of online services with their own supporting architecture would protect free speech and pressure Big Tech to reform. Cancelled platforms will continue without interruption, circumventing even attempts to thwart “sideloading”—direct installation from the developer— these alt-apps. Multiple reliable web hosting services such as Epik and RightForge are also critical, in the event one or another caves to pressure. Some social media companies, including Gab, FreeSpace and Donald Trump’s own TRUTH Social are ahead of the curve in creating their own infrastructure or having backups to enable seamless continuity of operations to withstand the next attack wave. The need to build and expand these alternatives is paramount in today’s virtual battlefield. Eventually, separate operating systems, online commerce, and banking options, all safely protected from cancel culture, will become available. This could take the shape of networks entirely separate from or partially integrated with Big Tech products. There’s clearly a large market ready to reward ingenuity and competence.     

Upstarts trafficking illegal material or those that become too insular, censoring even healthy discussion in the opposite direction, will shrivel up while principled alt-tech companies offering secure supporting infrastructure, fair operating services, and reliable products would have staying power and garner well-earned brand recognition. Their success would cause bullied brands to reassess their current stifling climate of unreasonable censorship. The compromised tech cartel would be pushed back into the field of healthy competition. 

Product distribution follows development. While the parallel ecosystem’s new underlying infrastructure develops, partial solutions can be employed by retooling current off the shelf products to include popular alt-tech platforms such as Telegram and Rumble already pre-loaded. Manufacturers should be pressured to have top alt-apps, appropriate to the device, already pre-installed on smart TVs, phones, and computers, giving the customer that “ready to go” experience right out of the box. Companies that stay the course and brave fringe induced boycotts will corner a lucrative market. Currently struggling electronic retailers could even rebrand as edgy free speech suppliers. Products must be readily available – as easy as choosing between a Pepsi or Coke at the local supermarket. 

A parallel tech society is about creating real options while spurring the compromised mainstream to reform. It doesn’t even require rejecting Big Tech entirely. It’s about supporting a steadily growing network of interrelated projects giving citizens back their voice. Big Tech creators brought the world some great conveniences, but they must be pressured not to become tools to quash political opposition.

Just as the Second Amendment wasn’t passed for duck hunting, the First isn’t for the privilege to trade woke banter. Rather, it’s a critical first line of defense against a potentially future unjust government. It’s there precisely to allow dissent and tackle tough topics. It must be vigorously preserved from illiberal interest groups and politicians always angling for a power grab. Reform movements begin with speech, and today’s pamphlets are online. 

It’s time to switch out the defense playbook for the offense and let competition level the playing field. Without widespread cancel-proof alternatives, Big Tech won’t stop flushing hard truths down the memory hole. The future is in a global network of quality platforms with underlying infrastructure refreshingly out of reach from political purges and ideological meddling. 

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