On Thursday night in New Orleans, Breitbart News hosted a live town hall focusing on “big tech,” and warning that free speech is under attack from the industry. Given the revelations of some censorship and questionable security practices, it is no surprise that Silicon Valley’s tech giants are under fire from the self described conservative news outlet. The site’s founder Andrew Breitbart, who passed away in 2012, once famously said “I am committed to the destruction of the old media guard.” He believed the establishment media held too much inherent bias and sought to level what he believed was an unfair playing field.
Had Breitbart lived to see his once small publication rise to the levels of notoriety and reach it has today, some believe he would be unhappy with its direction. That direction was captained up until early 2018 by Steve Bannon, who left Breitbart shortly after being fired from the Trump Administration as a Chief Strategist. But Andrew Breitbart also famously said that “politics is downstream from culture” and so it is hard to imagine he would not have taken at least some aim at the cultural behemoth that is Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and other social media and technology platforms that hold so much sway over our daily lives.
“Big tech is the biggest threat to free speech at this moment in time, and there is no fiercer advocate for the First Amendment than Breitbart News,” said Alex Marlow, Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, in the announcement of Thursday’s Town Hall.
“Never has so much power been concentrated in the hands of so few people, and Silicon Valley elite have, thus far, been able to operate with virtually zero transparency,” Marlow said. ” ‘The Masters of the Universe’ are unfathomably influential, secretive, and they are surveilling all of us right now, stockpiling our data for their own purposes. It’s time we broaden the discussion.”
The event, which was live-streamed on Breitbart.com and Facebook featured a panel moderated by Marlow that included provocative conservative commentator and author Ann Coulter, “Clinton Cash” and “Secret Empires” author Peter Schweizer and Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.
Schweizer described the Silicon Valley business model this way “When you first look at Google on the surface, it’s a great company. They give you this incredible search capability, this access to information basically for free, in the sense that you’re not paying a fee for it, but what you always have to keep in mind, the old saying, ‘The extent for which they can do something for you, they can do something to you,’ and then the question becomes is what are Google’s goals and ends?” claimed Schweizer. “We know they’re a business, we know these guys have become fabulously wealthy, that is certainly part of their goal. There’s a business, they want to make money, but there’s always been lurking this sort of Utopian sense of social mission. However you want to define it, that Google has.”
“We’ve had glimpses of it, but we don’t have a full picture,” he continued, adding, “There’s no question they’re manipulating us. The question is why. Some of it, of course, is to monetize, but the other part of it resembles this sort of social mission, this desire to steer us into directions that we may not want to go. To get us to embrace certain ideas or our children to embrace certain ideas and values that they think are important, and the manner in which they do that is precisely what we’ve been discussing.”
“The panel will discuss anti-consumer practices by big internet monopolies like Google and Facebook — and the effects of these practices on free speech, consumer privacy, and competition,” the Town Hall announcement added.
Epstein spoke to why he began to look further into the potential for manipulation explaining, “I started getting curious about Google early in 2012 when the company notified me that my website had been hacked. Who, I wondered, had made Google the guardian of the internet, and how on earth was the company blocking access to my website through Safari (an Apple browser) and Firefox (a browser run by a nonprofit company?) Later that year, when I read about recent studies on the power that search rankings have to influence purchases, I began to wonder about whether search engines could manipulate opinions and votes.”
Live events like these are still relatively new for Breitbart however the site promises there are more to come. Marlow told the New York Times in March the New Orleans event is “the latest evolution in how to consume Breitbart content.”
Criticism of major technology communications platforms aren’t likely to simmer down in the near future, whether it be from right leaning outlets like Breitbart or those on the left. Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton, told POLITICO on Monday “The entire platform has gotten away from them, and they mishandle every problem that comes their way.” Reines and others with the Clinton campaign also told POLITICO that anger and confusion over Facebook’s role in the election is widespread among Democratic campaign veterans, all the way up to the former nominee herself.
Have we as a society — not just the American one but the entire world — given over too much control to a few individuals? Ones who wield an immense amount of control over our communications, commerce and our sources of information? Have we made them Masters of the Universe?
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