Big Tech Giants Shut Down Parler: Are They Silencing Free Speech?

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A combined effort of Google, Apple and Amazon has effectively put the conservative-friendly social media platform Parler out of business. Are they crushing free speech?

Google, Apple and Amazon collaborate to shut down Parler

The fast-rising social media platform Parler, a conservative-friendly alternative to Twitter, was shut down and essentially put out of business by the combined efforts of Google, Apple and Amazon over the weekend.

First, Google and Apple demanded that Parler enforce stricter moderation of content, threatening to remove availability of the apps from their stores if the company did not comply. Both tech giants shortly made good on the threat. Keep in mind, Parler is its own platform; people simply get the app from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.

Next, Amazon also made the same demand for content moderation from Parler or it would remove the website from its Amazon Web services (AWS) hosting platform. Amazon then shut down Parler’s servers, essentially enacting the deathblow to the website.

Worse, Parler could not obtain web hosting from any other large-size companies that would be necessary to handle the amount of web traffic.

For all intents and purposes, these three big tech giants put Parler out of business because they didn’t like what was being said on an independent company’s own website. The question now becomes whether Google, Apple and Amazon are acting like a monopoly and crushing competition.

Rep. Nunes calls for racketeering probe of Apple, Google and Amazon

Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), a ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has called for a racketeering investigation of Apple, Google and Amazon after the Parler ban occurred over the weekend.

Nunes called the move by the three tech giants a “clear violation” of antitrust, civil rights and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, during an interview on Sunday, Fox reported.

“I don’t know where the hell the Department of Justice is at right now or the FBI,” said Nunes. “There should be a racketeering investigation on all the people that coordinated this attack on not only a company, but on all of those like us.

“I have 3 million followers on Parler,” Nunes added. “Tonight I will no longer be able to communicate with those people and they’re Americans.”

NY Post op-ed calls big tech “a cartel”

The editorial board of the New York Post wrote an opinion article titled: “Big Tech’s assault on Parler proves it’s gone full cartel.”

In the article, the editors excoriated Twitter for banning president Trump indefinitely, as well as Apple, Google and Amazon for forcing Parler, an independent company, to shut down. They argue that these big tech giants overstep their bounds and telling an independent company what kind of speech should be allowed on its own platform.

The Post gave an example of a common argument, writing: “A similar argument goes: If you don’t like how Facebook or Twitter enforces its rules, go build your own alternative. Yet Parler did just that, with growing success — and boom, the tech world moves to kill it.”

The Post wrote: “When people complain about the overwhelming share of their markets controlled by Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google, the companies’ defenders insist that they compete in important ways, checking each other’s power. This is looking more like a cabal supporting each other — at the least, uniting to enforce a common political orthodoxy.”

The NY Post also showed in the article the hypocrisy of what Twitter allows while banning others, demonstrating how social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, apply arbitrary rules at best.

Is social media the new town square?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

– Evelyn Beatrice Hall, excerpt from Friends of Voltaire.

Some argue that the idea of the First Amendment was to protect free speech in the town square. In the modern age, social media networks act as the town square. This is even more in effect than ever, given that many people are in coronavirus lockdowns and are restricted from accessing a physical town square.

The only place they have to voice their opinions where they will be heard by others in the community is on social media networks.

Revisiting the First Amendment right to free speech

In simple terms, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of speech, religion and the press. It also protects the right to peaceful protest and to petition the government.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Encyclopedia Britannica writes: “The First Amendment, however, applies only to restrictions imposed by the government, since the First and Fourteenth amendments refer only to government action.”

These rights don’t apply to private entities. A university can expel a student or teacher for what they say. An internet provider can refuse to host certain websites. It is the government who may not restrict mass communication.

There are also a few narrow categories of speech that are not protected from federal government restrictions, including: incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats. As the Supreme Court held in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the government may forbid “incitement.” That is, speech which is “directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action” (for example, a speech to a mob urging it to attack a nearby building). But speech urging action at some unspecified future time may not be forbidden.