Platforming Risks

Friday January 29

Over the past few months, we have witnessed the ”Pushmi-Pullyu” of Big Tech controls and their political influence/power of digital platforms, legislative hearings on their control, public outrage, alternative platforming, censorship, etc. etc. Some may recall that Hugh John Lofting freely wrote the fantastical stories of Dr. Doolittle for his children from the British trenches of WWI. While we are not living in a fantastical story the inherent conflict represented by opposing heads on the llama should make us all wonder how these forces eat at the same time…and, curiously, how do the forces purge afterwards? I should say now: this is not a political commentary. It is however a perspective of resilience as pertains to the risks of digital platform reliance.

It would seem easy to write about this right now after high profile platforms have made history-making decisions over the past few days. BUT the recognition of their broad authorities and critical capabilities has been a recognized risk for many years; this is not new.

Philosophically digital platform reliance is not unlike any other concentration of power. For example, John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, made the statement famous “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[1] We have probably heard this a few times in our professional careers; and sadly, some of us have witnessed this firsthand. In the same letter to the Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887, he noted that “great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.” What does this have to do with resilience and digital platform risks? Glad you asked…

These statements do not mean those in a position to have great influence will always be bad. They do mean the probability is high enough that a society that does not have anything in place to protect itself is going to suffer negative consequences.

Noting the ACLU’s warnings of Big Tech’s ‘Unchecked Power,’[2] Jack Davis from the Western Journal states, “For months, President Trump has been using social media platforms to seed doubt about the results of the election and to undermine the will of voters. We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions – especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”

Moreover, Mr. Davis continues, “Gregory P. Magarian, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said he is uneasy with the ability of Twitter to send any voice into limbo. “I want a wide range of ideas, even those I loathe, to be heard, and I think Twitter, especially, holds a concerning degree of power over public discourse,” he said, according to The New York Times.”

Back to Mr. Dalberg-Acton, he said “history is the arbiter of controversy, the monarch of all she surveys.” I wonder how history will arbitrate the current digital platform circumstances.

Collectively…citizens, business leaders, employees/employers, industry, government officials, and yes, Big Tech, along with the rest of the world reliant on digital platforms, are all at risk. What if our ability to market, develop new products, share research, and proclaim new discoveries, announce new policies and laws, speak to the nation, lead a revolution, etc. are silenced? Imagine if Moses could not tell the people where they were going; Abraham Lincoln could not tell the world of the evils of slavery; King George VI could not give his country and the world hope while confronting one of history’s greatest evils; Martin Luther King could not affect one of the greatest revolutions in history…Washington, Gutenberg, Luther, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Plato, Jesus, religious leaders, and on and on and on. Imagine if they were silenced by unchecked power.

Imagine if your business lost its voice; so too would your resilience be lost. Having the ability to communicate with the market using the latest tools of digital marketing is critical to many enterprises. While difficult decisions to draw the line and de-platform a business clearly need to be made in extreme cases, what if a group of people small enough to take a cab ride together have the absolute power to de-platform millions of small businesses for any reason whatsoever, or even worse, arbitrarily to advance political power?

This would raise the risk premium on starting any business that substantially depends on the web and result in a de facto picking of winners and losers even at the investment stage. Unless your business and its leadership looked and thought exactly like that small number of people thought they should, even raising capital might become impossible. Even mature businesses would face the ever-present threat of immediate extinction, akin to the risk of arbitrary state action by a corrupt government we used to associate with “other” nations.

And the options for individual businesses to hedge this risk become the same. In the absence of a diversity of digital infrastructure options, making sure you do precisely what is demanded of you by the owners of those infrastructures becomes necessary to stay in business. Leaving aside the political issues, my concern is it will simply make our nation’s economy more brittle and vulnerable, one business at a time. I leave one parting Doolittle quote: “You should never believe anybody who goes around telling the truth. They’re not to be trusted.” (Mathew Mugg, Dr. Doolittle, 1967) END

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Curtis Bartell is the President and CEO of Covenant Park Integrated Initiatives, Inc and Majority Partner of Covenant Park Preparedness Systems Integration, LLC.

[1] Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, April 5, 1887 Transcript of, published in Historical Essays and Studies, edited by J. N. Figgis and R. V. Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907)

[2] ACLU Breaks with Liberal Establishment, Warns America of Big Tech’s ‘Unchecked Power’ After Ban of Trump and Conservatives, Jack Davis, Western Journal, Published January 10, 2021 at 10:41am

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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