Germany’s Chancellor Merkel is right to call Big Tech’s banning of Trump “problematic”, though Guido is not sure that it can be described accurately as a breach of the “fundamental right to free speech”. The Big Tech platforms are just withdrawing their services, which may seem like an academic distinction in terms of the outcome, it is however important to distinguish between a state enforcing a ban in law and a private enterprise choosing to not provide a service. Germany has strict laws which regulate free speech in ways that we don’t want to import.
Facebook and Twitter saw their share prices fall yesterday as investors worried that regulations were going to hit the firms in the wake of politicians around the globe realising that if it could happen to Trump, it could happen to them. France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire said yesterday that “Digital regulation should not be done by the digital oligarchy itself . . . Regulation of the digital arena is a matter for the sovereign people, governments and the judiciary.” By which he really means politicians like him.
The de-platforming of Trump and the alternative Parler social network, after Amazon pulled the plug on it, reveals where real power lies. The solution is a return to the first principles of the internet. Resilience is surrendered by relying on the main social networks, which are advertiser funded and reliant on giving brands a safe space. Fortunately the architecture of the internet was designed to allow information to flow even if the network was damaged. New social networks that are self-hosted, distributed and decentralised will be developed, they exist already and could soon gain critical mass. Many have just experienced a surge in new users after the Trump ban.
Some of the decentralised services have millions of members, Mastadon‘s codebase allows you to build your own Twitter-like social network, you can either keep it private or open it out to the wider world. We will inevitably now see decentralised and politically polarised networks develop, possibly in the shadows, unregulated. Information wants to be free and the internet enables it. The Big Tech platforms have probably made the big mistake that Mark Zuckerberg has been determined to avoid from the beginning, it could see them go the way of AOL…