Alex Jones became the victim of censorship on the Internet this week when a few big companies ganged up on him and took his content down. Apple, Facebook, Spotify, Pinterest and YouTube took down his pages, podcasts and live streams:

Apple confirmed Monday that it had removed five out of six of Jones’ podcasts, including the infamous “The Alex Jones Show.”
Facebook has also removed four pages that belong to Jones.
Apple and Facebook said Jones violated hate speech policies on their respective platforms.
YouTube then removed Jones’ official channel because he continued to livestream on other channels despite a 90-day ban.
Pinterest also removed the InfoWars board, while Spotify took down his most well-known show completely.

This seemed like a coordinated effort by these companies to censor Jones for what they call “hate speech.” These days it’s very easy to block and ban people on social media for “hate speech” as what is considered to be “hate speech” is very subjective which allows for arbitrary rules (“community standards”) to be defined. Anyone who doesn’t conform to the thoughts and ideas that these companies want to promote gets censored and kicked off of their platform:

[…] Silicon Valley big-tech companies made themselves the gatekeepers of ‘goodthink,’ de-platforming anyone who runs afoul of their arbitrary ‘community standards.’

Alex Jones, the host of InfoWars, has often been derided by establishment media as a conspiracy theorist. Yet on Monday, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook proved right the motto of his show – “There’s a war on for your mind!” – by blocking or deleting InfoWars accounts from their platforms, saying he allegedly engaged in “hate speech” and violated their “community standards.”

Simply put, these corporations appointed themselves arbiters of acceptable political thought, and censored Jones for failing to comply with arbitrary political standards set in Silicon Valley boardrooms, not at the ballot box.

I have a lot of experience with being censored and blocked because of those so called “community standards.”

Shortly after Alex Jones got censored, Twitter also suspended several accounts:

Several Libertarian figures, including the Ron Paul Institute director, have found their Twitter accounts suspended. It comes after tech giants went after right-wing journalist Alex Jones, banning his show from their platforms.

Radio host and editorial director of antiwar.com Scott Horton, former State Department employee and author Peter Van Buren, and Dan McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, found their twitter accounts suspended on Monday, according to Antiwar.com.

Van Buren blogged about his account getting suspended on Twitter:

After two days of silence, Twitter sent me an auto-response saying what I wrote “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.”

I don’t think I did any of that, and I wish you didn’t have to accept my word on it. I wish instead you could read what I wrote and decide for yourself. But Twitter won’t allow that. Twitter says you cannot read and make up your own mind. They have in fact eliminated all the things I have ever written there over seven years, disappeared me down the Memory Hole. That’s what censorship does; it takes the power to decide what is right and wrong away from you and gives it to someone else.

I lost my career at the State Department because I spoke out as a whistleblower against the Iraq War. I’ve now been silenced, again, for speaking, this time by a corporation. I am living in the America I always feared.

Even on the relatively new platforms, such as Minds.com, that claim to have come into existence because of the censorship on other platforms, people still get censored regularly. Similarly about a year ago, Cloudflare, a company whose goal purportedly and ironically is to “help build a better Internet” and “protect websites from all manner of attacks,” itself took a website offline after it’s boneheaded CEO Matthew Prince thought “they are assholes.” Here’s what he had to say about it:

Earlier today Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer. We’ve stopped proxying their traffic and stopped answering DNS requests for their sites. We’ve taken measures to ensure that they cannot sign up for Cloudflare’s services again.

This was my decision. Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough.

Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. […] I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. […] It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.

Having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous. I’ll be posting something on our blog later today. Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.

Yes that’s right, you fucking moron, you should not have that kind of power and nobody else should either. Centralized power corrupts, and this much centralized power corrupts absolutely as we’re seeing every day now. And it’ll only get worse if this is allowed to continue.

For example, according to The Intercept, Google is talking to the Chinese government to offer a censored version of their search engine in China:

Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, The Intercept can reveal.

The project – code-named Dragonfly – has been underway since spring of last year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans.

Teams of programmers and engineers at Google have created a custom Android app, different versions of which have been named “Maotai” and “Longfei.” The app has already been demonstrated to the Chinese government; the finalized version could be launched in the next six to nine months, pending approval from Chinese officials.

In 2007 I blogged about Google censoring information in China. It’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, admitted back then that Google’s decision to censor its search engine in China was bad for the company, but not for the reasons you’d hope for. They only admitted that what they did was bad when they saw that they couldn’t get the business opportunities they were hoping for by censoring information for the Chinese government. In Brin’s words, “On a business level, that decision to censor… was a net negative. […] perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense.” It seems that now Google’s current CEO Sundar Pichai is trying again to work out a deal with the Chinese government that would make financial sense for Google, at the expense of basic morality.

And it’s not just Google because even Facebook has been talking to the Chinese government about censoring information and they are even working on tools that will allow the Chinese government to easily monitor and censor information on their platform. Luckily in this case, employees at Facebook revolted against these ideas:

Over the summer, several Facebook employees who were working on the suppression tool left the company, the current and former employees said. Internally, so many employees asked about the project and its ambitions on an internal forum that, in July, it became a topic at one of Facebook’s weekly Friday afternoon question-and-answer sessions.

Apple went even further and gave the Chinese government complete control over its iCloud storage a few months ago:

On Wednesday, Apple officially handed over its iCloud operation in China to a local state-run company, along with all encryption keys to unlock local user data. The switch will give the Chinese government unfettered access to the photos, emails and contacts of over 240 million iPhone users in China.

Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD), the company taking over Apple’s Chinese iCloud operations, is owned by the government of the Guizhou province in southwest China.

The tightened cyber law also forced Apple to block Apple News in China and to quietly delete VPN apps, proxies that allow China users to bypass internet censorship, from the local iOS App Store.

“All of which is to say: this sort of decision puts Chinese people who are using Apple products in danger today, but it may put far more people around the world in danger tomorrow,” he warned.

If you’re an employee working at any of these tech companies, you should be ashamed of yourself. I know I would be. And I would have quit my job just like some of those Facebook employees. You’re helping to make the world a worse place to live in.

Fortunately there does seem to be a trend these days of employees at large tech companies who would rather quit their jobs than work on questionable projects. For example, apart from Facebook we’ve also seen employee revolts recently at Amazon, Google and Microsoft:

At Amazon, employees are up in arms about the company’s decision to sell its Rekognition facial recognition software to police departments and government agencies. The technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify, track and analyze faces in real time, and Amazon claims it can recognize up to 100 people in one image and identify “people of interest” for purposes like government surveillance. In May, an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) showed Amazon was actively marketing and selling the facial recognition software to government agencies.

Amazon workers weren’t having it. In an internal letter to CEO Jeff Bezos last week, employees mentioned the ACLU report and their fears that the software will be used to harm the most marginalized.

In a January blog post, Microsoft touted its pride in supporting ICE’s homeland security work with its cloud services. The Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy for people who cross the border illegally made headlines in recent weeks for separating more than 2,300 children from their families. […] Last week, more than 100 Microsoft employees signed an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella protesting the company’s $19.4 million contract with ICE.

“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” the letter says. “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

In March, tech news site Gizmodo first reported Google’s decision to employ AI to support a controversial military pilot program called Project Maven. The initiative aims to improve drone footage analysis by auto-classifying images of people and objects and could be used to make drone strikes more accurate. Google’s involvement sparked about 12 employees to resign.

“At some point, I realized I could not in good faith recommend anyone join Google, knowing what I knew,” one resigning Google employee told Gizmodo in May. “I realized if I can’t recommend people join here, then why am I still here?” (In related news, the company quietly removed most mentions of its longtime “don’t be evil” motto from its company-wide code of conduct in late April or early May.)

After news broke of Google’s involvement with war technology and the Pentagon, more than 300 tech industry employees signed a petition addressed to Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM with one premise: Tech should not be in the business of war.

“Many of us signing this petition are faced with ethical decisions in the design and development of technology on a daily basis,” it says. “We cannot ignore the moral responsibility of our work… We represent a growing network of tech workers who commit to never ‘just follow orders,’ but to hold ourselves, each other, and the industry accountable.”

Although this is a positive development and I’m glad to see that basic morality still prevails sometimes, we can’t rely on this happening often, let alone all the time.

The problem that we need to solve as soon as possible is the centralization of all these services, where a small group of large corporations have so much centralized control that they can make and break whatever they want on the Internet. In fact, as we’ve seen in the case of Alex Jones above, they can even team up and attack individuals in a coordinated effort.

There’s a constantly increasing group of people worldwide who’re working on decentralized and peer to peer alternatives to the platforms that the big tech companies control. For example, as an alternative to Twitter we now have Mastodon, and as an alternative to YouTube we now have DTube and PeerTube. These new platforms are decentralized, sometimes distributed and sometimes also peer to peer, which means less centralized control and thus more control in the hands of the individuals. As Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said:

The web has got so big that if a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites you go to, they have tremendous control over your life. If they can spy on what you’re doing they can understand a huge amount about you, and similarly if a government can block you going to, for example, the opposition’s political pages, they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.

I think the only solution to these problems is to design and develop alternatives to these platforms that are fully decentralized and peer to peer. Back in 2006 I blogged about how I see such platforms working in the future and I’ll have more to say about this soon.