Net Censorship on the Rise

Most people seem to assume that tech giants like Google and Facebook are invincible.

It’s true that these companies have built an incredible “technology moat” that the competition needs to cross. These guys are light years ahead of the competition in terms of tech and ecosystem.

However, I think they have a serious chink in their armor. A growing weakness that could get worse…

Censorship

Google, Facebook, Twitter and even Apple have recently started simultaneously censoring content.

You’ve probably heard about Alex Jones being banned from all these sites. But he was only one of at least 800 alternative news organizations and blogs that were purged permanently.

Independent media sites like Anti-Media were among the recent victims. Anti-Media had more than 2 million followers on Facebook before its account was deleted.

I’ve read this site before, and it’s a legitimate project. There was no need for Facebook to shut it down.

Facebook’s move has crippled Anti-Media’s business. But it’s fighting on and moving to blockchain-powered Steemit.com, where it can earn STEEM cryptocurrency for its posts.

TheFreeThoughtProject.com is another site that was recently banned. I happen to read this site occasionally, and it’s a legitimate independent news site. It had 3 million followers on Facebook. Then Facebook purged it.

These groups have the right to express their opinions. They weren’t doing anything illegal or immoral. The fact that social media platforms are snuffing out their voices is disturbing.

Inevitable Consequences

I first noticed Facebook’s bias during the 2012 presidential election. I was a Ron Paul supporter that year. During debate season, I’d go on to Facebook and search for Ron Paul groups to join. And I found nothing. Not one group showed in the results. The other candidates showed hundreds.

I learned later that there were large and active groups of Ron Paul supporters on Facebook. They just happened to be invisible during a critical time in the primary race. Facebook eventually fixed the problem and blamed it on a bug.

At first, I bought the bug explanation. Then I noticed that when I posted a few Ron Paul videos on Facebook, the posts showed only on my page and not on the primary feed (where I posted them). As a result, nobody saw those posts. Many other users have posted similar stories since.

And, disturbingly, government is now openly directing policy.

In a recent interview, Senator Ron Wyden made it clear that if tech giants don’t remove “unacceptable” content like Alex Jones’, “there should be consequences.” He’s talking about forcing tech companies to remove political speech.

Read the interview… it’s disturbing. He is threatening to expose social media sites to legal damages for user-generated content. It would cripple any site that allows user comments or discussion.

I’m not a fan of Jones, but this is getting ridiculous. How have we gotten to the point where certain voices are not fit to be heard?

This is big government working with big tech to restrict content. We should all be disturbed by this.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. A recent poll of conservatives showed 32% are considering leaving Facebook or have already left. Two-thirds “believe social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are purposely censoring conservatives and conservative ideas from their platforms.”

Google has changed its search algorithms to remove “fake news” and “conspiracy theories.” It’s also purged thousands of “fake news” channels and videos from YouTube or removed the creators’ ability to make money. But I can tell you from personal experience that a lot of quality, if controversial, stuff is getting thrown out along with the garbage.

This development has the potential to crush free speech online. Eventually everyone will be paranoid about getting banned. People won’t post anything controversial or outside the mainstream. The conversations will be 100% politically correct and not critical of the establishment.

It would be a huge loss for free speech, at least until alternative platforms came along…

Huge Opportunity for Free Speech Startups

Google, Facebook, Twitter and others who have decided to go the censorship route are taking a tremendous risk. They’re angering a large part of their user bases.

They’re also angering a large part of their own workforces. It’s bad business to alienate a large portion of your users and workers. The fact that they’re doing it means they’re under immense pressure.

Social media platforms got to where they are by offering everyone a platform to share their views. These companies are now endangering their relationship with users by selectively censoring content.

So even though Google, Facebook and Twitter have billions of users, they’re opening themselves up to competition. And I’m on the lookout for promising startups that believe in free and open expression of diverse political views.

A few of these new competitors, such as Minds.com and Steemit.com, are using decentralized blockchain technology to avoid censorship and maintain neutrality.

It’s another promising use case for crypto technology that we’ll be watching closely.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Adam Sharp
Co-Founder, Early Investing