Apple and Amazon: Adding Fuel to the Fire

Apple and Amazon: Adding Fuel to the Fire

We have no interest whatsoever in getting into a long debate over the First Amendment, the rights of media corporations to limit speech on their platforms, or the apparent efforts over the last few days to silence voices on only one side of the political spectrum.  Those questions may or may not be above our pay grade, which is to say that we may, at some point wish to address them.  For the time being, however, they are beside the point.  The question right now isn’t whether the tech companies – Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. – have the right to ban the President, to silence his fans and followers, and to shut down alternative social media apps that they find problematic.  The question is whether they are right to do so, or if by so doing, they are opening a whole new can of worms.

Our very simple non-constitutional-lawyerly opinion is that they have the right to do whatever they want, but that doing whatever they want is going to cause far more problems than it solves.  The thing that neither the tech giants nor their political allies seem to understand is that by singling out the President and his supporters, they are playing with fire.  And when we say “playing” with fire what we mean is “adding fuel” to it.  The people who showed up to the Capitol to cause trouble already believe that they are targeted, persecuted by various mainstream organizations throughout the country.  The surest way to exacerbate or legitimize their concerns is by targeting them, by “censoring” them.  We get that media platforms don’t want their digital properties to be used by those who plot violence or foment insurrection.  But we also think that, practically speaking, all they’re doing is enabling President Trump to make a martyr of himself and to convince his fans that this was the Big Tech “conspirators” plan all along.

We believe that this is especially true in the case of Parler, the alternative to Twitter used by many Trump fans and followers who gave up on the mainstream sites long ago.  As the Wall Street Journal describes below, Big Tech decided that it was not enough to boot the so-called radicals off of their sites, they decided to kill the alternative site as well:

Apple Inc. AAPL 0.86% and Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 0.65% halted support for Parler, dealing a major blow to a social-media service that has soared in popularity among conservatives and escalating a campaign by tech giants to regulate content they see as dangerous in the wake of the mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Amazon said Saturday it would no longer provide cloud-computing services to Parler, and Apple suspended the company’s app from the App Store. Both companies said Parler hasn’t demonstrated in recent conversations that it can adequately address threats of violence on the platform.

“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity,” Apple said in a statement. “Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety.”…

Parler executives told The Wall Street Journal it has been working to bolster its content-moderation efforts and sharing such information with large tech companies concerned about its practices.

In the past few days, Parler doubled its team of volunteer moderators—called “jurors”—to more than a thousand and instructed them to search “hot” hashtags for incitement, a more proactive approach than what was used previously, said Jeffrey Wernick, Parler’s operating chief. The company had also instructed its jurors to hunt down any content suggesting violence within the comment sections of its more highly trafficked sections, and planned to hire employees to bolster these efforts, according to Amy Peikoff, chief policy officer of Parler.

However, Parler executives said, the tech companies said those efforts haven’t gone far enough. Apple told the company it found its response insufficient, according to the latest app notice, saying that Parler had to demonstrate the “ability to effectively moderate and filter the dangerous and harmful content” on the service.

“This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place,” Chief Executive John Matze said in a Saturday post on Parler.

What is happening to Parler is important, not just because it’s happening, because the monopoly giants are exerting their influence to kill an operation they don’t like for political reasons, but also because of the companies who are carrying out the execution.  You see, Apple and Amazon are the biggest and most powerful tech companies in the world, but they’re much more than that as well.  They are also the darlings of the political Left, which adores them for their left-leaning social policies and proclamations, which are, in many cases, dubious at best.  They are big; they are powerful; and they are also incredibly hypocritical and duplicitous.

If you take a look at my new book, The Dictatorship of Woke Capital, what you’ll notice is that three companies are parodied on the cover, three companies that are considered leaders in environmental, social, and governance reform and that are, as a result, favored by ESG investors.  They are, of course, Apple, Amazon, and Disney, three companies that talk the talk but don’t necessarily walk the walk.

Apple, for example, is up to its neck in nearly every major social controversy that occurs these days.  In addition to being one of the cleverest and slickest “greenwashers” in the ESG world, it also has a long and ugly history of exploiting laborers, including, most recently, the charge that it benefits from slave labor in China’s Xinjiang province.  In the present case, however, Apple’s biggest issue is that its fortunes are inextricably tied to the fortunes of the Chinese Communist Party.  Or, as I put it in the book:

Not only is China Apple’s largest manufacturer, but it is also Apple’s second-largest market. Apple’s rise to become the biggest and most valu­able company in the world was fueled in large part by its growth in China.

The CCP, of course, knows this and knows that Apple can’t afford to make it unhappy or upset its leaders. Just since 2017, Apple has, at the request of the CCP: removed the New York Times app from the Chinese App Store; removed Skype from the Chinese App Store; removed more than 400 VPN (Virtual Private Network) apps from the App Store; moved all of the user data for its Chinese iCloud users to a server owned by a Chinese company (in accordance with a new Chinese law); and, most ominously, removed the Quartz news app that was covering the Hong Kong protests and blocked an app used by those protesters to organize….

And while Cook plans to spend $100 million of shareholder funds to address racial inequity and justice in the United States, Apple’s patrons in the CCP hold upwards of one million Uighur Muslims in concentration/reeducation camps in what the Washington Post rightly calls “cultural genocide.”

As for Amazon, its hypocrisy lies closer to home, where it is one of the few big-name companies that read the fine-print on the agenda and policies of the Black Lives Matter organization and still decided to give it corporate funds and to encourage employees to donate as well.  Whereas most corporations – including, for example, Apple – were rightfully wary of the BLM organization and donated their funds to organizations that are active in black communities and dedicated to the principle that black lives matter (note the lack of capitalization), Amazon proudly trumpets its support for BLM.  Once upon a time, you could go to the BLM web site and learn about the organization, its founding principles, and its agenda.  But, as the Daily Mail recounts, the organization eventually got tired of people doing so:

The national page for the Black Lives Matter movement has updated several sections of their website, including the removal of a page that features a paragraph about the disruption of the 'Western nuclear family.'

The grassroot organization - that works mostly in local, chapter-based, groups - removed several pages from their about section in the cleanup, according to an archive of their website. 

Included in the removal was the site's 'What We Believe' page and pages providing biographies of the national chapter leadership and co-founders. Internet archives suggest that the website was updated on September 17.

In short, BLM is a radical organization, founded by socialists who proudly proclaim their affection for socialism and for socialist dictators like Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.  Everybody knows this – web site or not – and the companies who bothered to find out about where their money was going before pledging wisely avoided getting involved with BLM directly.  But not Jeff Bezos.  And not Amazon.

What all of this means, then, is that the activists – both the Trump loyalists and those more generally concerned about free speech – will note well that Apple and Amazon combined forces to take out Parler and to de-platform President Trump’s supporters, even as they openly and unapologetically support Xi Jinping and the CCP and the more radical elements of the left-leaning movement that protested, rioted, and looted all summer and fall.  That’s not going to play well in certain circles, obviously, and is only going to exacerbate the sense on the Trump-friendly Right that powerful forces have aligned to destroy them and undermine their rights.

The catch is that in this instance, they’ll have a case, based on the hypocrisy and selective outrage demonstrated by Apple and Amazon.  And that will only expand the population of those who think that the tech oligarchs are not playing fair and wield too much power.  At this point, Apple and Amazon can’t backtrack – and wouldn’t even if they could – and yet they’ve made themselves a BIG part of a story they didn’t ever really need to be a part of.  And we suspect that they will, at some point, regret having done so.

But then, that’s the risk corporate managers take when they decide to politicize their companies.

Donald Trump’s time in the spotlight may be ending, but the issues raised over the last week, in particular, are only just starting.  And those who feel the adrenaline of righteous indignation today may come to regret it tomorrow.

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