Major tech companies showed their might after the attack on the U.S. Capitol by shutting down President Trump’s accounts and trying to do the same with those who incite violence among his supporters.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
People talk a lot about Big Tech, and certainly the past few days show just how powerful these companies are. First, Twitter and Facebook suspended President Trump’s access to his biggest online megaphones. Then Apple, Google and Amazon cut off Parler, a social media site popular with Trump supporters. And joining us now to unpack all of this is NPR’s tech correspondent Shannon Bond.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right, so we should first note that Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are all among NPR’s financial supporters. All right, so, Shannon, what do you think these pretty aggressive moves tell us about Silicon Valley right now?
BOND: Well, Ailsa, you know, when Facebook and Twitter cut off President Trump, it really put the spotlight on something I think we’ve known for a long time but are just seeing so starkly, which is how much power these Big Tech companies wield…
BOND: …Because we conduct so much of our lives online. So there were the examples you mentioned but also others that go beyond the question of speech, really, to the bottom line. Stripe and PayPal cut off the ability of the president’s campaign and his supporters to raise money and take payments. The e-commerce company Shopify shut down an online shop connected to the Trump that sold merchandise like Make America Great Again hats and another shop owned by the Trump organization that sold things like golf accessories. And so these decisions, they are raising some really big questions.
CHANG: What are some of those questions?
BOND: Well, maybe the biggest one is all about access. So Amazon, Apple, Google – they have a lot of power over kind of what we think of more of the infrastructure of the Internet. In Apple and Google’s cases, they – you know, they decide what apps can go into the app stores. So they decided this weekend to block Parler, the alternative social media site that Trump supporters had flocked to. And that means it’s much harder to get Parler on your smartphone, which is, of course, where most people use social media.
And then even more significantly, Amazon kicked Parler off its Web hosting service, so it’s gone dark. You can’t access it at all. Today Parler sued Amazon. And basically, you know, we’re really realizing, seeing very tangibly just how much power Big Tech has to decide which companies, which brands, which businesses can effectively exist online.
CHANG: OK, sure, that is a lot of power. But isn’t all of this bound to put these companies even under more scrutiny going forward?
BOND: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely fair. And I spoke with Ben Wizner at the American Civil Liberties Union. He said the same thing. He’s really concerned about these individual companies’ power. Here’s what he told me.
BEN WIZNER: And it may be that by exercising their right, their constitutional right to decide who can use their products right now, they’re going to bring a different kind of regulatory focus down on them about whether we should have let these companies get this big in the first place.
BOND: So, you know, this isn’t going to go away, Ailsa. I mean, remember; these companies, they’re already under a lot of scrutiny. Facebook and Google are facing antitrust investigations. Now we have Congress promising new investigations here.
BOND: So I think the spotlight just continues.
CHANG: Well, I mean, turning to President Trump, he got off – he got cut off from Twitter and Facebook, now Parler. It was a momentary alternative, but that’s gone for now. Where will Trump go, do you think?
BOND: That is the big question. There are plenty of upstart sites that want him. He might even start his own outlet. I think, Ailsa, it’s safe to assume he is not getting off of the Internet for good.
CHANG: I think that is safe. That’s NPR’s Shannon Bond.
Thank you, Shannon.
BOND: Thanks for having me.
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