It is a simple fact that Silicon Valley is substantially to the left of the American center. It is also a simple fact that when leftists build companies, they tend to use them not just to accumulate wealth but to advance their core values — as is their right. Indeed, conservatives often do the very same thing. Just ask the principled and courageous Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby. So when I see Apple or Salesforce.com protesting Indiana’s religious freedom law or Starbucks trying (and failing) to start national conversations on race, I see Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. I disagree with them on substance, but I fully recognize their right to control the companies they built.
But for conservatives, this reality presents a very practical problem. Social media is not distributed evenly across the political spectrum. Thus — when push comes to shove — Twitter, Facebook, and Google will default to the Left, sometimes intentionally and sometimes because ideological monocultures are simply unaware of their own biases.
When Twitter established its much-maligned “Trust and Safety Council,” stocked it with leftists, and banned popular conservative writer Robert Stacy McCain, it raised eyebrows. When Twitter unveiled a form that allows customers to report a user for being “in disagreement with my opinion,” the bias alarms started to ring loud and clear. Coming on the heels of its decision to strip Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos of his “verified user” status, it seems that Twitter is now consciously placing its thumb on the ideological scales.
But Twitter’s not alone. No one should forget this vignette from a long New York Times profile of the Obama campaign’s “digital masterminds:
The campaign’s exhaustive use of Facebook triggered the site’s internal safeguards. “It was more like we blew through an alarm that their engineers hadn’t planned for or knew about,” said St. Clair, who had been working at a small firm in Chicago and joined the campaign at the suggestion of a friend. “They’d sigh and say, ‘You can do this as long as you stop doing it on Nov. 7.’” (Facebook officials say warning bells go off when the site sees large amounts of unusual activity, but in each case the company was satisfied the campaign was not violating its privacy and data standards.)
The Times added an exculpatory parenthetical, but if the campaign’s use of Facebook wasn’t problematic, why did company officials want it to cease after election day? If it was problematic, why not stop the campaign’s activity before the election?
Then, last fall, Mark Zuckerberg was caught on tape apparently telling German chancellor Angela Merkel that “we need to do some work” to combat alleged “hate posts” directed at Muslim migrants. When asked again, “Are you working on this?” Zuckerberg responded, “Yeah.” But does anyone believe that the German definition of “hate posts” will be compatible with any reasonable definition of free speech?
Twitter and Facebook aren’t alone in their apparent bias. Last December, Slate published a lengthy piece attempting to explain why Google search results tend to “favor Democrats.” The chart below shows the positive and negative links on the first page of Google results. The eye-popping outcome? Google search loves Bernie Sanders:
To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that ideologues are consciously and intentionally manipulating Google. As the Slate writers note, “The bias is more probably an organic, emergent result constituted from a complex prism of quantification involving hundreds of signals and increasingly complex and opaque artificial intelligence.” But it is highly problematic nonetheless, and Google may soon become even more problematic as it appears set to “rank websites based on facts not links.” Does anyone trust Google to be able to separate fact from fiction?
The nation’s internet giants have enormous power to shape the narrative.
I could continue with additional examples of alleged bias, but the picture is clear: The nation’s Internet giants have enormous power to shape the narrative, they’re largely run by leftists, and there is already evidence that conservatives have taken a hit.
What can be done? Sadly, there is no easy answer. Without viable commercial alternatives, conservative market power is largely confined to the self-destructive decision to simply say no — to deactivate Facebook. Of course, if a person is off social media, their ability to reach the public is severely constrained.
You can’t leave Facebook for Instagram because Instagram is Facebook. Snapchat isn’t the answer. Reddit has its own problems with censorship, and while Tumblr has mainly had issues blocking so-called NSFW tags, it suffers from the same latent problem as any other social network — liberal ownership. Moreover, each and every institution in Silicon Valley faces relentless pressure from social-justice warriors to make their products “safer” for the entire range of leftist identity groups.
Without market alternatives, conservatives can at least persuade and — on occasion — shame. As I’ve experienced firsthand in the academy, calling out double standards can on occasion yield real results. When people live in an ideological monoculture, even liberals of good will can get lost in their own ideology — seeing one side as righteously indignant and the other as merely hateful. But when persuasion fails, shaming is sometimes necessary. There are times when even social-justice warriors struggle to justify their intolerance, and the public outcry is enough that capitulation is the path of least resistance.
In the meantime, it’s imperative that entrepreneurial young conservatives not only work to build their own tech platforms but also penetrate the existing titans of Silicon Valley. We’ve lamented the success of the leftist “long march” through America’s academic, corporate, and cultural life, but two sides can walk that walk. The ultimate answer to liberal corporate power isn’t boycott or public debate. It’s the slow and steady countermarch, beginning applicant by applicant and entrepreneur by entrepreneur.
It only takes a few brilliant minds — like Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates — to change the game entirely. Conservatives can innovate as well as liberals, and while the landscape is bleak, an online upheaval is only one good entrepreneur away.