When internet platforms are the judge and jury
Outspoken netizens on social media have found themselves at the mercy of big corporations
The start of this year does not bode well for freedom of speech advocates. Consider this thought experiment. You are a citizen of Mythomia. You enjoy decent internet speeds but a group of organisations dominate the social media space. Your leader communicates with the populace via social media. One day the organisations decide they don't like the politics of the leader and cut off all means of communication with the populace. How would you feel about that?
- Back in the real world Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and others did that this month to a major country's leader. Next week it could just as easily be yours. A business should not be able to have such power over a country for the simple reason that a business is not elected by the populace, nor does the populace have any direct control over them. There is one exception, as a customer you can choose not to use any of their services. You can move off Twitter to Parler, off YouTube to Rumble, and so on. You can also choose not to buy anything from Amazon and cancel any services like Prime.
- In an amazing display of hypocrisy Twitter, while de-platforming thousands of conservatives, complained when Uganda blocked them from the country for a day issuing the following: "We strongly condemn internet shutdowns -- they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet."
- Mozilla's chairwoman Mitchell Baker, from the company that provides the Firefox browser, recently added fuel to these flames by declaring that additional actions are required based on whatever her definition of "bad actors" might be. This stance would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Mozilla Foundation's website where it states that it "works to ensure the internet remains a public resource that is open and accessible to us all". That last sentence should be perhaps amended to read "to all who agree with us".
- These are all examples of the disturbing and emerging trend of organisations that are supposed to be providing platforms, but if you disagree with their viewpoints you are no longer welcome on their "open" platform, their "open" payment gateway, their "open" banking services and other examples. At a deeper level the general idea the original internet brought, the open sharing of ideas and information, is also being degraded and controlled. This has been obvious in places like China and Saudi Arabia, but until recently the thought that this could also occur in what are termed Western nations was inconceivable. Where all this ends up remains to be seen, but 2021 will indeed be the year that sees the social media giants curtailed in some way, just how much remains to be seen.
- There are of course ways around some restrictions. On Android you can "sideload" the applications by finding the relevant .apk file, copying it to your phone and running it. Another option that will work for Apple, Android and others is to create a shortcut on your phone pointing to the desired site. This is known as a "browser-based app".
- Let's say you want to link to Parler but Apple has blocked their app. Start-up Safari and navigate to parler.com. Tap the share icon (the button at the centre or the footer on the bottom). Scroll up and the Add to Homescreen. Put a name in the shortcut and use that in future to pull up Parler. On Android you can do the same in Chrome but tap the menu icon (three dots in the upper right corner) and tap Add to Home Screen. Give it a name and use in the same way. This will work for any platforms and sites that have a public website accessible via a browser. If you use a different browser than the two examples above there may be some slight variations.
- In the more mundane world Samsung has announced their new phone line, the S21 series. This is another incremental change in features with a new CPU in all models, 10x optical zoom at the top end, Android 11 and lower entry prices to buck the seemingly ever-increasing trend to higher ones. There is also a new user interface but all in all not a large number of changes and as far as I can tell so far, the graphene batteries didn't make it into this model. The S21 Ultra is rumoured to replace a Note device but I've also read that Samsung is not abandoning that model just yet.
- Readers will remember an earlier article on the decline of PC sales. Thanks to Covid this has seen a turnaround. A record 90.3 million PCs were shipped in Q4 of last year, up 25.4%. This tops out a three-quarter sales growth curve. There have been freight and shipping issues but Lenovo sits at the top at just over 29%. HP, Dell and Apple follow at 2, 3 and 4 on the list. Sales are believed to be based on the number of people working from home during the past year, deciding that a new PC was required.
James Hein is an IT professional of over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.