I have never read anything by Alex Jones or InfoWars, nor have any desire to read any of his conspiracy theories. However, I do care if 2.4 million of his followers on YouTube want to see his material and are now unable find it. It is their basic right as Americans to have unimpeded access to the material of their choice. But what some tech companies are doing today takes them away from operating as open platforms to becoming big media companies even though they are, by and large, legally immune from responsibility for user content. They cannot claim both the exemption under the guise of being just a neutral utility then turn around and use editors and algorithms to pick opinion losers and winners.Just yesterday I personally received a notice from Google disallowing an ad I placed on its platform, one that has been running for weeks, with a cryptic notice mysteriously referring me to the guidelines for political advertising. Only it was not political advertising at all. I placed an ad for a political game, Two Seventy, that I built with friends for fun that allows people to reenact campaigns. But Google’s computers saw the names of political figures and, bingo, I was censored, given no one to call and asked to fill out a form to try to lift this unfair restraint on my speech. This is what will happen with increasing frequency. The automated bots on online platforms can become roving censors unable to understand the true context of what they are reading and, yet, wielding enormous power to delete, downgrade or hide words, pictures and information.Until now, the big tech platforms like Google, YouTube, and Facebook stayed out of censoring. They preached the benefits of an open and connected society. If they were going to delete material, it would mostly be on a very limited basis, using a scalpel, not a machete. Sometimes they even tolerated too much freedom on their platforms and were fined for accepting fake drug ads, and for failing to police their platforms of sex trafficking and other crimes. They also have not always been vigilant enough to catch bots and fake accounts. They made some mistakes that they could and should fix to the best of their abilities.
But the wholesale removal of material from widely followed, fully disclosed, and completely accountable personalities crosses a dark line that could send a chill down the spine of anyone who would want to express exactly what they think and post it on the internet. Over the last decade, we gave these online platforms the keys to our information kingdom. We let them become more powerful than any newspaper or TV station. Now their response to being thrust into the political limelight is to become potential censors of our news and even opinion information.