Commentary: Government won’t shut down the 2nd Amendment — but Big Tech could

A large and growing issue in America and, really, around the world, is the incredible power and wealth concentrated in a handful of tech companies that dominate nearly every aspect of life.

Have these companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, grown so massive that they are monopolistic and too-powerful gatekeepers in the flow of news, information and commerce?

It’s time to start thinking about the consequences of a few firms amassing so much power and what it could mean for individuals and smaller companies that may not be politically popular. 

Former Sen. Orrin Hatch, in a recent opinion column in Newsweek, made a very compelling case that these companies – the “techno oligarchy” as he called them — need to be brought under control. Every American concerned about the immense power of these Big Tech monopolies should read Hatch’s column.

Hatch wrote:

In January, we witnessed the transfer of power from one president to the next. But we simultaneously witnessed proof of another transfer of power—from elected officials in D.C. to tech companies in Silicon Valley.Consider the events of the last month. Social media sites banned the sitting president of the United States from their platforms. A purge of conservative voices on Twitter ensued. Amazon Web Services expunged Parler, a conservative social media site, from the internet. Just days later, YouTube blocked public access to a Senate hearing on COVID-19.These events confirmed what many of us have long known: true political power no longer resides in Washington, but in Silicon Valley. Big Tech now effectively decides who has the right to speak, who has the right to assemble online and who has the ability to build a business in the digital age. For many Americans, Twitter’s terms of service agreement now has more power over what they can and cannot say in the public square than the First Amendment does.As David Sacks rightly observed, social media companies have privatized our free speech rights. Through a combination of surveillance, speech policing and economic censorship, private companies are undermining the virtues of a free and open internet and relegating many Americans to second-class status. A dark future awaits if government fails to rein in these monopolies.

These companies have centralized more power and more wealth than any firms in history.

Information and data are more valuable than oil or gold and these firms are the gatekeepers. They determine who gets heard and who does not; who is successful and who is not.

As I’ve written previously, the Internet age was initially hailed as a great equalizer, as a force the would decentralize concentrated power and big bureaucracies. It would disrupt large, centralized organizations.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. Certainly, the information world became much more fractured. But a handful of companies, especially Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook, created on-line services and platforms on which billions of other individuals and companies could provide information, services, conduct transactions, and communicate in groups and networks. Those few companies now set the rules as the gatekeepers of much of the global flow of information and commerce.

Thus, instead of dispersing power and control of information and commerce, the digital world has centralized incredible power, control and wealth in a very small number of companies.

If these firms were benevolent masters of the universe, if they were impartial platforms, treating everyone fairly and not picking sides, then perhaps their dominance would be tolerable. But, as Hatch pointed out, they’re not. They are owned and mostly staffed by left-leaning, wealthy people who aren’t bashful about using their immense clout to further their political and social ambitions.

There are dozens of examples of Big Tech cancelling speech and commerce it disagrees with, especially in the political world. But it could get a lot worse. For example, the Biden administration wants a lot more regulation over guns. It’s questionable, however, how much he can get through Congress.

Big Tech, however, could shut down the gun industry overnight if it wished. It could shut down servers, refuse on-line transactions, eliminate on-line presence, and make pariahs out of anyone who purchases a gun.  

What government can’t do, Big Tech could do easily.

I’m a small farmer and a lot of leftist interest groups believe eating meat is evil and farming is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. If the meat industry becomes politically unpopular, its biggest danger isn’t big government. It’s Big Tech. And that goes for any number of businesses and industries engaged in activities deemed politically incorrect, especially as it relates to climate change.

Big Tech can cancel anyone. “The power of Big Tech now rivals the power of the federal government itself,” Hatch wrote.

Here’s what Hatch suggests: “To guard against economic censorship, policymakers might also consider classifying firms like Google or Amazon as ‘public accommodations.’ These sorts of enterprises, which include hotels and restaurants, are required by law to provide their services to people of all backgrounds, with limited exceptions. Or the Big Tech companies could be treated as ‘common carriers’ akin to phone companies or railroads, which are required to provide their services to all customers willing to pay a fee. It would be unthinkable today to turn off someone’s water or electricity, or deny someone passage on a boat or airplane, because of that person’s political beliefs. It should be just as unthinkable to turn off that person’s access to basic web services—but sadly, our laws don’t yet provide this kind of protection. Congress must put in place such protections now to prevent the establishment of a new digital hierarchy that places conservative viewpoints at the bottom of the social pyramid.”

It is ironic and remarkable that what was supposed to decentralize society and pull down massive bureaucracies has instead created the most immense monopolies and concentrations of power and riches in the history of the world.