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An Important Point About Big Tech

I wanted to call your attention to this story in the Wall Street Journal from several weeks ago. It is behind the paywall, but the long and short of it is that Google, Facebook, and Twitter have all stopped fielding reviews for user data from Hong Kong after China imposed its new security law.

That is good.

But I continue to think we need to distinguish the companies here.

We have probably all now experienced this phenomenon — you have a conversation with someone or are texting about something with friends and suddenly you see ads for the thing you’re talking about.

My sometimes guest host, Chris Burns, was talking to my father-in-law about a financial management firm while we were all at the beach together. Now Chris is seeing that company’s ads on Twitter and my father-in-law is seeing them on Facebook. Allegedly, the companies would tell you it is because one of them searched online for that company to get the name right and now both their phones are tied to the same wireless hotspot so they both get ads based on that search.

Just yesterday, my wife and I were at dinner talking about our daughter who wants to start selling her artwork online, but not through Etsy. I mentioned Shopify and then began seeing ads for it on Instagram.

A while back, my middle sister was texting my oldest sister and me and started seeing ads on Facebook for insomnia after she texted she was tired and couldn’t sleep. There are all sorts of theories as to why these things happen. If I surveyed friends and family, I think it would be over 90% believing the apps for Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. are either listening through the phone’s microphone or scanning your text messages.

Part of this could be the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. But I think there is more to it than that.

I certainly think there are surveillance mechanisms through IP tracking, your web searches, etc., but I think hackers would have exposed any tech company tapping our microphones. The coincidences in search all point to deeply integrated surveillance of our lives for the purpose of generating advertising. I think the tech companies all owe us better explanations and I do think government needs to treat privacy and the collection of data as something worth exploring. Privacy is going to be the next big battle.

It is happening in the press right now. There is a deep and bitter hatred towards Facebook these days from much of the tech press. The press is overwhelming hostile to Facebook, but oddly more reserved when it comes to Google and Twitter, both companies that deeply mine our life’s data for resale value to advertisers.

In the past few years, both Google and Facebook have sponsored my Resurgent Gathering. Twitter, to be honest, is a company I do not respect and think has made the world a worse place. I have not even wanted to explore having them sponsor my conference.

What I find terribly interesting is that many of the same tech reporters and others who are openly hostile to Facebook turn a blind eye to Twitter. The skepticism, at first blush, is premised on privacy and Facebook being such a dominant player. But the reality is much of the criticism comes because Facebook is unwilling to drive conservatives away from its platform.

It is for this reason that I think conservatives need to be willing to distinguish between tech companies in a way the left/tech press is not.

Facebook, as a company, has problems. I think data transparency and privacy issues are areas of concern with Facebook. Likewise, its “supreme court” on content troubles me. As I have written before, the US has the broadest free speech protections on the planet. Facebook allowing individuals from other countries to set content restrictions for Facebook will inevitably make Facebook’s speech rules less free. There are real areas of criticms.

What should not be an area for criticism is Facebook’s willingness to allow people the left does not like onto their platform. On a near daily basis, the area of criticism from the press has everything to do with Facebook being a tech company not controlled explicitly by and for the left.

In 2008 and 2012, Facebook generated inordinate praise from the left for Barack Obama’s victory. Entire careers were established for people using deep data analytics from Facebook to help Democrat campaigns. Books were written. Mark Zuckerberg was a progressive hero.

Then 2016 happened.

Facebook had people willing and able to help both Clinton and Trump’s campaigns take advantage of Facebook’s abilities to target people for voting. Trump’s team outperformed Clinton’s. Additionally, Russian agents spent about $20,000.00 on targeted ads on Facebook to stir up dissent. Between the two and Facebook’s refusal to engage in mass purges of Trump supporters, the tech press has turned on Facebook.

On a daily basis, one liberal reporter tweets out the top posts at Facebook that people engage with. It is inevitably Ben Shapiro or President Trump. Other progressive reporters then fan the flames demanding regulation of Facebook because conservatives have a “reach advantage” on the platform.

When Facebook does take content down, like the video of Dr. Stella Immanuel, the left just attacks them further for not taking down more while the right attacks them for daring to take down anything.

All the tech companies out there have problems. But Apple is dependent on China. Amazon allows Chinese counterfeiters to undermine American companies with fake products. Twitter allows Chinese propagandists to use their platform to lie about the United States. Google desperately wants to help China build a search engine. Only Facebook has refused to do business in China and has been aggressive about blocking the Chinese from its servers as China seeks to punish dissidents in Hong Kong.

Conservatives would be wise to be cautious about painting with too broad a brush when it comes to tech companies. Facebook is not with us, but unlike Twitter, it frequently shows it has given conservatives and conservative platforms much greater leeway to both thrive and engage users. Facebook is willing to give conservatives a fair hearing and is not willing to outsource its tech to China.

Today, as Congress grills the CEOs, I would like to know why myself and others have found our websites degraded in Google search, if only temporarily. Last week, several readers told me they could not find The Resurgent on the front page of Google’s search after actually searching for “The Resurgent.” I tried it and likewise was unable to find it. Others, however, tried it and it worked. Subsequently and after tweeting about it, the problem disappeared.

Other conservative outlets have had the same problem from Newsbusters to Breitbart. Google employees openly claim they can shape Google’s algorithm toward their biases and we know Google is openly hostile to the right.

Twitter, too, is openly hostile to the right and uses its rules to censor and block the right in ways it does not on the left. Twitter has routinely allowed the left to post hateful content calling for violence when it takes down similar content from the right.

Apple has shown increasing hostility to people of faith, gun owners, and more all while coddling up to China as it tries to profit off the Chinese communist regime. Likewise, Apple has hired human curators to shape its news portal and a number of them (before they killed their LinkedIn pages) came from leftwing outlets. They now push out news from leftwing sites to shape people’s views.

Americans do need answers. But conservatives fail when we treat “Big Tech” as one homogenous entity. It is not. If we are not willing to recognize some of the companies are better than the others, we risk their unwillingness to ever be fair.

Privacy needs to be a big focus. Bias is a real concern. Let’s just exercise some discernment.

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