Each company named as one of the five Big Tech companies has both innovated and dominated its market. Each seems to specialize in something different, and each far surpasses its competition. In its own way, each provides a unique vehicle for furthering the saturation of Big Media into our daily lives, and we’ve become perpetually more dependent on the services that they offer. For example, since its emergence as an online search engine that quickly became a valuable tool in both homes and businesses, Google has additionally cornered the market in the education system, delivering software, apps, and even hardware to public education as it is quickly moving towards more and more technology-based instruction. During the lockdowns of 2020, any lingering doubt regarding whether Google had taken over mainstream education with its tools and apps quickly vanished when school closures demanded that nearly all schooling be moved to the online realm Google had so “graciously” set into place. Yet, despite its many successes, Google makes most of its money from collecting data on people, which it then uses to direct appropriate advertising to potential consumers.[i] With this in mind, some are concerned about the potential child profiling that could be occurring via these school-directed resources.
Amazon has taken over a vast majority of e-commerce since its origination, but perpetually so since the COVID-19 crisis ensued. With people locked at home and unable to go out for supplies, this market-cornering gargantuan now enjoys revenues brought by people worldwide who have acclimated to getting everything—even groceries—from an online source. However, this giant corporation and others like it have not elevated without a secondary consequence to the convenience they offer: brick-and-mortar stores everywhere have taken a large hit economically, and many have even closed, unable to compete. This is troublesome for our local economies, but could pose a worse threat in the long run. If, for whatever reason, this service was to be interrupted, it could mean worldwide shortages.
Facebook is the world’s leading forum for social media, connecting as many as “2.3 billion monthly active users, as of December 2018.”[ii] While it may seem like an innocent place for people to chat with friends, it also provides a “news feed” that continually inundates the user with preselected headlines, misleadingly portrays memes and headlines as fact, and often removes stories that are “politically incorrect” under the heading of being empirically false (these are two different issues that will be addressed in just a bit). Confusing about Facebook is that its claims of “fact-checking” causes it to appear credible as a news outlet, while in fact it is a social outlet. After all, a user-edited website can never claim that all its content has been vetted. (Note that while Facebook is the largest of social media platforms, the problems discussed are not unique to it, but apply to nearly all other social media forums as well.)
When we study Big Tech and how its innovations fuel our daily lives, new revelations of our dependence on these corporations reveal themselves into perpetuity. We can also see how the need for these resources has increased drastically over the past several years. We must worry when our society’s entire infrastructure and lifestyle are supported by such a short list of corporations.
If the grid upon which Big Tech is built were ever to falter, disastrous effects could be felt worldwide. Should a few malicious or control-hungry individuals decide to use it (or cut it off) as a tool to manipulate the entire population, it could be the most powerful weapon the world has ever known.
The Thought Police
“Hate speech” has become the phrase by which modern-day censorship has driven some to privatization—silencing or withholding their own views because they are perceived as unpopular or unacceptable. Sites that claim to be user-friendly, user-led, or even visitor-edited offer the notion that they are free-speech platforms, but often this is not the case. Even in regions such as the United States, where the First Amendment offers us the privilege of free speech—at least for now—these forums reserve the right to enforce their own codes of conduct. This censorship gives the public the illusion that content seen is a representation of the general consensus, and thus quietly influences some users to perceive their own beliefs as unfounded, untrue, or held by the minority. By seeming to be a “public” forum, it appears that the platform welcomes all positions, but by “fact-checking” or otherwise eliminating select perspectives from user posts, the content is indeed filtered, which alters the understanding of the majority opinion or mindset. This deceptive tactic makes users feel that they are wrong when their opinions don’t align with “popular” belief.
In this way, the public is tricked into embracing the “updated” consensus—one that doesn’t offend social media friends. Those who perceive themselves to be in the minority thinking subscribe to the notion that their ideas must be outdated or archaic, and that they should be more open-minded about accepting the expressions that are allowed to remain on social media—since those are acceptable/approved. This is how selective propaganda is refined and fed to the public by means of Big Tech. The desire to be mainstream, up to date, and even progressive becomes the filter by which an independent mindset and traditional ideas are strained from common thought: It’s a regulatory purging of any ideals deemed “politically incorrect.”
In part, this is the consequence of a world that has accepted postmodernism as its standard. On one hand, absolute truth has become a casualty of everyone’s prerogative to interpret everything according to his or her own convictions rather than accepting truth for what it is. To compound the issue, when a worldview lacks biblical foundation, it is usually filled by the media and surrounding worldly influences that serve as the criteria by which individual perceptions are built. On the other hand, because secular standards are the basis for the predetermined narrative asserted to the public by Big Media, the crowd will embrace and defend it, calling those who take all other stances an enemy.
Then, when those who believe in a cause or have an agenda have resources of mass propaganda through which to report events, the job of programming people into homogenized thinking takes precedence over reporting events or relaying the truth, especially when such resources earn their vast revenues commercially and not by being outlets of credible journalism. As a result, events are truncated or elaborated upon, facts are skewed or selectively reported, and even entire stories are misrepresented, taken out of context, or downplayed—depending on how their telling may impact the psychology of readers/viewers or call them to public response.
Big Brother at the Dinner Table
In the fall of 2020, regions of the UK began to discuss enforcement of laws that prohibit “threatening, abusive, or insulting words,” in defense of “people with protected characteristics, including disability, sexual orientation and age.”[iii] Particularly, in Scotland, the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill seeks to inflict criminal penalty—potentially even prosecution—on those who make statements that violate such criteria. This includes journalism and theatrical settings, and could even extend to homes: “Conversations over the dinner table that incite hatred must be prosecuted under Scotland’s hate crime law, the justice secretary has said.”[iv]
This situation has incited passionate responses on both sides of the issue. As a Bible-believing Christian, I hold that God loves all equally, that we are all made in His image, and that none of us should speak ill of or demean others—regardless of their lifestyle, ethnicity, or any other reason. The matter of speaking kindly of others is not where my concern falls. What I find alarming is the eerie comparison to the Orwellian Oceania’s poor Mrs. Parsons, whose playfully bloodthirsty children were so enamored with the Thought Police that they emulated these authorities in their childhood games. Mrs. Parsons’ skittish demeanor is perpetually agitated by their continual running around with toy guns and shouting at passersby, accusing them of being “traitors,” “spies,” or “Thought-criminals,” and even begging their mother to take them to see public executions by hanging.[v] These children are, as the book insinuates, a product of societal conditioning that occurs around them during their formative years.
But, here is another disturbing thought. Perhaps you’re unaware that, in January of 2021, new US House rules moved to prohibit such gender-oriented terms as “father, mother, son, [and] daughter” from the federal code. Such regulations will update language to include only gender-inclusive terminology, omitting what is offensive to some. In fact, “the rules include ‘sweeping ethics reforms, increases accountability for the American people, and makes this House of Representatives the most inclusive in history.’”[vi] For some who wish to cite a gender that isn’t covered by masculine or feminine pronouns, it’s becoming increasingly popular for additional language to be added. For example, some embrace the newly utilized, gender-neutral pronoun “ze” rather than “he” or “she.” Setting aside my own convictions regarding the matter of gender and viewing it from a strictly legal standpoint, the inclusion of this term is different from the banning of older language that specifies male or female. It’s one thing to say that there are some who wish to be called “ze”—and entirely another to say that “he” and “she” are now outlawed words. If this is increasingly enforced, by disallowing traditional references, everyone could find themselves a “ze.” In attempting not to offend some, the gender identification of others could be forcibly reclassified.
In considering the mandates in Scotland and the revolution of verbiage in the House, the broad potential impact of such updates is something I find disturbing. What happens when we are required, even in our homes, to make sure that our very language complies with conformities not only chosen by other people for their own lifestyles, but that are imposed on us—regardless of whether we agree with the philosophy or morality surrounding them? For example, removing the words “mother” and “father” from the federal code is only a start. Where does it go from there? Do these words become prohibited on the street? Current legislation in the UK could be the beginning of a new trend. What about people who still believe in and wish to use gender identity that involves words such as “mother,” “father,” “aunt,” and “uncle”? Do we risk these terms being prohibited on the streets, in public places, or even our homes? What will happen to those who choose to use such language, only to have an offended guest—or worse, their own child!—report them to the authorities? Is there a day in our future when our own conditioned children will run around our homes accusing us of being criminals if, before dinner, we pray to our Heavenly Father?! This is only one of the many ways that censorship could lead to a breakdown of fundamental civil rights—and even the freedom—of citizens around the world. The potential is both baffling and formidable.
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Social Media’s Impact on Reporting
These days, much of the public is tired of feeling as though they’ve been manipulated by the press, never knowing whom to believe, what is true, and whose agenda is fueling the narrative reported to society. In fact, recent years have shown a decline in confidence in the press’ investigative reporting, which fell gradually from 72 percent in 1972 to 18 percent in 2016.[vii] Why did this deterioration of trust in our media occur? According to an article in The Guardian, it is because news outlets are now “focused on maximizing profits, catering to what is popular or sensational rather than what citizens need to know…[transforming] journalists from investigators and analysts offering serious news to ‘content providers’ competing for attention.”[viii] If this is the case, then the press has evolved to become a disservice to society, and acceptance of reporting has, again, become a “buyer beware” market.
However, it would be wrong to state that the world is now completely devoid of journalists who strive to provide honest and factual assessments of events occurring around the world. There are still individuals who perceive this as their life’s mission, but they work in the minority, against the elements outlined thus far in this chapter. And, their contenders are large corporations that have seemingly limitless resources in comparison to them. And, there is a self-defeating element to be found in a public that turns to unreliable sources like memes and social media for their news. After all, it is a bit oxy-moronic to state that the public’s confidence in reporter accuracy has declined when the same folks have practiced diminished diligence in sourcing the information they trust in the first place. For example, recent studies have shown that memes have played a large (and ever-increasing!) role in presidential elections. Yet, they’re not a credible source of news. The meme mentality of our culture can be seen as reflecting our most important decisions. Take, for example, the fact that, in campaigning for the 2008 presidential election, the major television news outlets averaged 220 minutes covering candidates’ stances on issues pertinent to the election, which declined to 114 by 2012 and plummeted to 32 in 2016.[ix] The fact that these were able to get by with such increasingly minimal coverage speaks to the fact that our society has become a “quick-snap-decision,” meme-fueled mindset. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the US population now reportedly keeps up with headlines via social media outlets,[x] which we’ve already stated can never claim their content is thoroughly vetted. There’s simply no way around the fact that these outlets are a faulty place to perceive news. Anyone can create and post memes, which are often later recalled as though they were actual headlines. Memes, however, can be hoaxes, jokes, lies, or even created for comedy, but once viral, they’re often perceived as truth.
As has been mentioned, another issue with such platforms being considered news sources is that they have no obligation to truth in reporting or removing bias. About their “fact-checking” claims, we must wonder who these “fact-checkers” are and what their criteria is. When information deleted from public forums is removed because the information is deemed offensive, but is subsequently reported as untrue, the platform has misused its power. Also, when “politically correct” data appears to render an honest representation of the common consensus, but does not, it ostracizes those whose political, philosophical, or personal views don’t align with the “whitewashed” version of political correctness displayed by those who are allowed to remain. But worse, the censorship imposed on users is done so under language that attaches hostility or violence to the material removed, as though an unappealing opinion equates to public threat. And, it’s often that enforcement of varying policies is disproportionate.
For example, one public forum’s guidelines state a prohibition against nudity, sexually explicit content, hate speech, threats, or attacks on a particular group of people (which can be connected via race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identification, disease or disability, to name just a few). So, if someone holds a value that contradicts those of another group, the mere fact that he or she disagrees means that counterparts can report the verbiage as hate speech, which then flags a user as having made “violent or dehumanizing speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”[xi] The problem is that ambiguity surrounds such terminology. A statement that one doesn’t agree with another’s lifestyle can be made constructively and isn’t equivalent to hostility or a desire for violence. (This is aside from the fact that, despite rules barring anti-nudity/sexually explicit content, it is often allowed to remain on such sites, revealing a lopsided enforcement/censorship).
As stated before, once a message has been removed from its original context and goes viral, it can be hard to pinpoint the intent of that first post. This is a problem for those whose “hate speech” statements are isolated, changing the point it relays. Similar to the aforementioned Abe Lincoln meme, it is also a problem when independent users post their opinions about news events. Unlike reading publications produced by trusted sources that strive for journalistic integrity, a public forum claims to “fact check” its content while being a setting wherein contributors could be your local pastor, a businessman looking to promote his commerce, your aunt, the twelve-year-old who lives down the street, or the neighborhood criminal. Thus, the irony of public mistrust in “news” is partly found in the shift in sources the same public follows. It isn’t possible for a forum to keep tight reins on all content, and making such claims only further discredits society’s view of broadcasting outlets as a whole.
As such, social media serves a unique purpose. On one hand, it becomes the quick, meme-driven way to introduce ideas to the public (more on this in a bit), while asserting a false sense of security that such sites have the infrastructure to maintain any control over what is posted, which portrays the appearance of truth in reporting when in reality it isn’t possible to ensure with such a platform. The result is a breeding ground for false information disguised as truth, one in which nearly 70 percent of the American populace, as stated earlier, claims as its newly established source for headlines. This creates disastrous scenarios, such as one that was blocked in the nick of time during the already-tumultuous summer of 2020, when a meme nearly went viral indicating that—due to COVID-19—there would be no 2020 election. While the site was able to remove the meme (suspending many accounts in the process) a rumor like this could have sent a tense and already-rioting public out of control. Yet, the only reason the meme was pulled down was the disastrous potential it held. Others that—for whatever reason—might be allowed to remain can cause vast damage. Yet, the rules of these forums admittedly allow some posts to remain despite their false status, when they are deemed to be made of non-serious intention. This is a subjective call, often made by digital algorithms, with the capability of over- or under-censoring with unlimited possible consequences.
To further illustrate, recall that Facebook does not claim to be a news outlet, yet it’s one of the leading sources users are turning to for coverage of events. Facebook states only that it is a community goal to “[reduce] the spread of false news…[not always by removing it completely, but reducing] its distribution by showing it lower in the news feed.”[xii] Since Facebook itself holds no liability for user posts, the entity admits that sometimes the removal is based on feedback from third-party fact-checkers who report to Facebook that the news is false. In turn, Facebook doesn’t conduct its own investigation. This means that, even if news posted is true, anyone claiming that it’s false could be named as a fact-checker, report the message as false, then possibly even launch a counter report debunking the initial (possibly true) story.
What a mess.
(This is what results from making all interpretation of truth subjective to individual scope and launching public-media platforms wherein everyone—vetted or not—has a voice.)
In this way, social media serves well any sources wishing to sow misinformation in the public arena. Those who want to see the public confused, disempowered, or accepting political candidates or policy that isn’t in society’s best interest can sway the public’s view by adding myriad memes, or by sending out memes with the plan of taking them down as “untrue.” What a tool. And when followers of social media already have the notion that real news is a fading concept—that the story is always changing and that, in general, news outlets can’t be trusted—a “why try?” idea is fostered, and the public grows weary of seeking anything real. So, they slowly surrender, unable to distinguish the voice of certainty from the millions of others, and relinquish control to a Big Brother who will filter out what they need to know and feed it to them in a quick, ready-to-eat meme (which, consequently, contributes to society’s newfound inclination to accept news at a quick glance).
After all, if people aren’t sure it’s credible information to begin with, they certainly don’t want to invest much of their valuable time in reading any fine print on the matter.
UP NEXT: NOW THERE YOU GO AGAIN, HEADLINING “FACTS”
[i] Ben Popken, “Google Sells the Future, Powered by Your Personal Data.” NBCnews.com. May 10, 2018. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/google-sells-future-powered-your-personal-data-n870501.
[ii] Naveen Joshi, “What Is Big Tech and Why We Should Care,” Allerin.com. August 21, 2019. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.allerin.com/blog/what-is-big-tech-and-why-we-should-care.
[iii] Mark McLaughlin, “Hate Crime Bill: Hate Talk in Homes ‘Must Be Prosecuted.’” The Times, UK. October 28, 2020. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hate-crime-bill-hate-talk-in-homes-must-be-prosecuted-6bcthrjdc.
[v] Orwell, 1984, 19.
[vi] Bethany Blankley, “New U.S. House Rules to Eliminate Gender-Specific Terms such as ‘Father, Mother, Son, Daughter.’” Highland County Press, January 3. 2021. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/New-U-S-House-rules-to-eliminate-gender-specific-terms-such-as-father-mother-son-daughter-/2/20/63644.
[vii] Robert Reich, “Facts Are Under Siege. Now, More Than Ever, We Need to Invest in Journalism,” The Guardian, December 2, 2019. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/02/facts-are-under-siege-now-more-than-ever-we-need-to-invest-in-journalism.
[xi] “Objectionable Content: Hate Speech.” Facebook.com. 2021. Last accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/objectionable_content.
[xii] “False News.” Facebook.com. 2021. Last Accessed March 3, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/false_news.