Climate Wars: David v. Goliath In Cyberspace

  • Date: 03/06/20
  • Clarice Feldman, The Pipeline

Silicon Valley Goliaths, using the technology and market forces at their disposal, have shut out of the marketplace Davids opposed to their preferred opinions on climate change.

In his 20007 book, An Army of DavidsGlenn Reynolds, the founder of Instapundit, wrote optimistically that an army of ordinary people (“Davids”) could use technology and the market to beat the Goliaths of “Big Media, Big Government and other Goliaths.”

Thirteen years later, big media is on the ropes but the Silicon Valley Goliaths, using the technology and market forces at their disposal, have shut out of the marketplace Davids opposed to their preferred opinions. Not the least of their favored views has been the notion that we are in an existential crisis of climate change for which the only remedy is killing reliance on traditional energy sources. 

Last week in an effort to curb the manifest bias in social media platforms, President Trump signed an executive order preventing online censorship. The justification for now treating social media as “publishers” responsible for content — instead of “platforms,” which are not — stems, inter alia, from their behavior in stifling the free exchange of views inconsistent with those of their owners and staff.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology. Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms. As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see. As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the Internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes. It is essential to sustaining our democracy. 

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse. Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

The website Wattsupwiththat greeted the President’s move as an opening for climate change skeptics who’ve been abusively treated by these outfits. I anticipate the order’s enforcement will meet with significant challenges along the way, but in support of the president’s claim, there is ample evidence of both the abusive treatment of climate change skeptics and the impact this has had on public debate and policy. Examples abound of censorship by Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, and You Tube.

Apple no longer allows its iPhone to access an app called Inconvenient Facts which challenges Al Gore’s views on dangerous climate change. Reddit moderators have banned climate skeptics from the “/r/science” feature which has millions of monthly visitors. Wattsup documents countless incidents of social media censorship by Google, twitter and Microsoft. Twitter is the worst in its view. It bans tweets whose content it omnisciently determines is “inaccurate. “At the same time it runs and sometimes promotes ads without marking them as paid ads or putting the word “promoted “ in tiny font.

Google is only slightly better, censoring and banning messages, including ads “in the middle of a run,” none of which contain misrepresentation, but conflict with the views of its apparatchiks. The censoring of skeptic ads, even after approval, seemed significant just prior to the Paris conference re-enactment. Microsoft and LinkedIn banned messages, sometimes at their onset and other times in the middle of ad campaigns. Sometimes they did not outright ban them, but kept them in review “indefinitely.”

Is the simultaneous banning by multiple big social media companies evidence of marketplace monopolistic collusion, the author asks, noting these companies did enter into various agreements with the European Commission and German government to suppress some content? Adding to this suspicion of collusive practices is the fact they often hire the very same “fact checkers” and censors. If so, such collusion could subject the firms’ officers to prison sentences under 15 U.S. Code Sec. 24.

And then there’s YouTube (owned by Google). It is the “platform” that carries videos on everything from White House pressers to how to trim and tie a beef tenderloin or make your own silly putty. “1,300,000,000 use YouTube. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! Almost 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every single day.” You Tube is adding “fact checks” to videos that dare to question the climate change credo. 

Wikipedia is the recipient of a significant grant from Google, so if you see collusion in the fact that YouTube will tag some climate change skeptic videos with text from Wikipedia stating “multiple lines of scientific evidence show that the climate system is warming” you may not be off the mark. (If the solar minimum happening right now indicates the system is in a cooling phase, will they remove the text, confess error, or just change the text from “warming” to “cooling”? It will be interesting to watch, I think.)

Adding to the injury to YouTube viewers seeking information and posters advocating their position is the secrecy with which the policy was made effective.

The Heartland Institute, for example, a conservative think tank that posts videos of its staff and others questioning climate change, told BuzzFeed News that it noticed the change a few weeks ago and had not been notified by YouTube. Spokesperson Jim Lakely declined to comment on the policy or its impact.

PragerU, a nonprofit online “university” that made some of the other affected videos, says YouTube’s policy shows its political bias. “Despite claiming to be a public forum and a platform open to all, YouTube is clearly a left-wing organization,” Craig Strazzeri, PragerU’s chief marketing officer, said by email. “This is just another mistake in a long line of giant missteps that erodes America’s trust in Big Tech, much like what has already happened with the mainstream news media.”

YouTuber Tony Heller, who also makes climate denial videos, described the policy on Twitter as YouTube “putting propaganda at the bottom of all climate videos.” (He did not respond to a request for comment.)
It’s not just misleading climate videos. The same climate blurb was appended to dozens of videos explaining the evidence and impacts of climate change.

This access-point censorship not only hurts those censored persons and messages. Since Google controls 92.2% of all online searches, and clearly considers views other than its own on climate “disinformation,” it is able to keep alternative views and evidence out of educational and public discussion and consideration.

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