“Blood and glass" and the power of Big Tech

“Blood and glass" and the power of Big Tech

A little more than ten years after the start of the Arab Spring — a popular pro-democracy revolution helped along by Facebook and Twitter — the world's largest social media platforms this week banned the US president for inciting deadly violence in the United States.

If ever there were an illustration of the simultaneous promise, peril, and more importantly the power of social media to shape our lives and politics, this is it.


Not surprisingly, the Trump ban — and the decision by Apple, Amazon, and Google to expel other right-wing platforms where Trump supporters had plotted violence — has raised a host of thorny questions about how to define free speech, how to regulate tech companies, and what comes next at a delicate and dangerous moment in the "world's oldest democracy." Let's decode some of it.

This isn't, legally speaking, a "free speech" debate. The Bill of Rights in the US Constitution offers no inalienable right to post on Twitter or Facebook, much less to be published, say, by Simon and Shuster. What's more, free speech laws generally stop short of permitting incitement to violence, the primary reason for the tech companies' recent actions.

But it is about the staggering and seemingly arbitrary power of technology companies to shape what is, in practice, the main public square of the 21st century.

Agree or not with the tech companies' decisions here, we don't know much about how those decisions were reached, or by whom. Well beyond Trump's supporters, critics as wide-ranging as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian dissident Alexey Navalny, and the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union pointed out the dangers of arbitrary tech censorship, or the potential powerlessness of people with far less power and recourse to fight back than the US president.

Part of the reason that this is even an issue is that the tech companies have gotten so big in the first place. If Facebook had 200,000 users rather than 2 billion, it wouldn't matter much. So implicit in all of this is the question, again, of if/how to regulate tech companies, and whether to reduce their power to control speech and markets in ways that may inflict harm on society.

Three regulation models. Globally, there are basically three main approaches to tech regulation at the moment. In China, tech companies — some of the world's largest — are privately-run but expected to act as the loyal arms of an authoritarian state, advancing its interests at home and abroad (sometimes even with help from Silicon Valley). In the EU, where by contrast there are very few tech firms of global scale, governments set strict rules on privacy, speech, competition, and transparency which companies must adhere to in order to gain access to a lucrative market of 500 million relatively high-income people.

Lastly, the US — cradle of what are still the world's most influential tech giants — has taken a hands-off approach: tech companies have until now been left largely to regulate themselves, and enjoy certain protections against liability for material posted on their sites. That light touch is what helped them become giants in the first place.

Where does the US go now? In recent years both mainstream US political parties have warmed to the idea of stronger regulation of tech companies, though for different reasons. Republicans allege liberal bias in Silicon valley, while Democrats are primarily worried about policing hate speech and protecting privacy.

Last week's events have supercharged both sides' concerns: Republicans are crying foul over the "deplatforming" of their supporters, while top Democrats see those actions as too little, too late. "It took blood and glass in the halls of Congress" for tech firms to act, said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a leading voice on tech regulatory issues.

Of course, as a result of last week's Georgia Senate runoff, it is now Democrats who will assume (razor-thin) control over Congress along with the White House, putting them in a position to start advancing their vision of what better tech regulation should look like.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

After Biden's first visit, do his European allies feel that America is back?

I think they do. Wasn't particularly surprising, we've heard that message before. But now it was, sort of more concrete issues. I'm not certain there was, sort of major, major, major progress. But there was the beginning of a dialogue on trade and technology issues with Europe, clearly on security issues with NATO, and quite a number of other issues with G7, and general satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting with Putin. So, altogether good.

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Listen: Former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder weighs in on US President Joe Biden's first trip abroad, which included a very important first stop at the G7 summit in the United Kingdom, and the way forward for the US and its closest friends. Did he convince allies that "America is back" and ready to resume its leadership role in global affairs? And if so, does it even matter if Americans still need to be convinced that US engagement in the world is vital? Daalder speaks with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares updates on recent policy developments:

With the Supreme Court's recent decision, is the Affordable Care Act here to stay?

Yes, this was the Court's third ruling on the Affordable Care Act upholding its constitutionality. This challenge was brought by Republican attorneys general who argued that the repeal of the individual mandate tax undermined the court's previous justification for allowing the law to stand. They were unsuccessful, yet again. And the political salience of the Affordable Care Act has really diminished in the last several years, with Republicans moving on to fight other issues and the Court signaling very strongly they don't want to get involved in overturning this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act will be here at least until Congress wants to legislate on it again.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.

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