Big Tech’s battle against disinformation can start with a long look in the mirror.
While tech executives have often warned that unfounded claims on social media damage our democracy, they’ve been the loudest peddlers of misinformation against Parler, an up-and-coming social media platform.
Corporate executives at Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook all claimed Parler did nothing to stop the riots at the United States Capitol. This was their justification for effectively de-platforming Parler and its 15 million users. These claims even became the foundation of a Congressional investigation into Parler’s role during the riots.
The investigation’s findings so far are bad for Big Tech and vindication for the small startup.
In a letter to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Parler revealed that it was monitoring users to identify potential threats, despite claims from Big Tech executives that Parler failed to moderate content. Not only did Parler identify dangerous content, but it also warned the FBI more than 50 times about potential threats against the Capitol.
Parler also highlighted the arrest records from the Department of Justice showing that Facebook was mentioned by alleged rioters nearly 11 times more often than Parler. YouTube, a product of Google, and Instagram, a product of Facebook, received more than double the mentions of Parler, as did Twitter.
The reality is the opposite of the narrative that Big Tech corporations quickly spun after Jan. 6. At the time, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg speculated -- without evidence – that small platforms like Parler were the platforms of choice for the rioters. Google and Apple cited Parler's alleged failure to moderate content as the justification for its removal.
Why did these corporations each take steps to disparage and de-platform Parler when their own platforms were just as culpable – if not more?
There are both profit and ideological motives. Big Tech, which overwhelmingly donates to left-wing politicians, could kill two birds with one stone by snuffing out the platform of choice for many conservatives.
Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon each spread disinformation about Parler to justify its elimination from the internet. Yet Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are all still on the Apple app store. (YouTube, conveniently, has returned to the top of the charts.)
As a reminder: The decisions to purge Parler were made in a single weekend. Somehow, three massive tech companies, their lawyers, and public relations staff each managed to make these independent decisions within 48 hours. Coincidence or conspiracy? We may never know.
We can, however, find out if there are better ways to prevent social media from being used to coordinate riots in the future. But we can only find these answers if the largest social media websites are investigated by Congress, as well. Parler asked Congress to include Facebook, Google, and Twitter in its investigation. Congress should follow the advice.
If Big Tech wants companies to be punished for failing to moderate content, then let’s have that discussion. Google-owned YouTube failed for years to adequately moderate creepy comments on child videos. The New York Times called the platform “an open gate for pedophiles.” Twitter was sued in January for failing to remove child pornography. A full accounting of Big Tech’s culpability on this and other matters is needed.
If the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee wants to prove its investigation into Parler is a serious effort to stop future misdeeds rather than a punitive exercise against a right-leaning company based on misinformation from its competitors, it must expand its investigation to include Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Then, perhaps, we can find a fair standard that we can apply to all companies – big and small.
Richard Berman is the executive director of the American Security Institute, a nonprofit responsible for ChallengeCensorship.com.