Twitter and Facebook can ban or restrict whomever they want.
They are private companies. There is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about it.
They have done as much to several high-profile conservatives, including most notably Donald Trump.
To be clear, the First Amendment applies to the government restricting speech. Private companies can do what they want to do.
However, it is still the dictionary definition of censorship in which these tech companies are engaging. Whatever the justification, it is the suppression of speech, which poses moral and ethical questions.
Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter and Facebook are the chief culprits, although there are several others in this new era of restricting right-of-center voices.
Twitter, Facebook and Google have declared some speech to be objectionable because it could pose a threat to public safety or, in some cases, it does not align with their values.
Apple, Amazon and Google booted social media app Parler off of the internet for its purist, laissez-faire approach to speech.
Again, all of this is well within those companies’ management direction to do so.
However, there is a discussion to be had as to whether or not what is legal is right. Just because it is within the law does not make it moral or ethical.
That is a discussion worth having, especially if you consider the intersection of private tech companies and how a government for, of and by the people interacts with these companies.
In Alabama, we have bet big on Big Tech in the name of economic development.
In the northeastern corner of the state in Jackson County, Google is investing $600 million in a data center on a former Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant site.
When closing the deal in 2015, Google was guaranteed a maximum tax credit of $50 million. The expected gain for Jackson County was 75 to 100 jobs.
Amazon has been very aggressively planting stakes in Alabama.
In 2017, the tech giant invested $30 million for a sorting facility near Theodore.
Last year, Amazon opened its $325 million facility in Bessemer near Birmingham.
Reportedly, that facility received $48 million in incentives from the state of Alabama and an additional $3 million from Jefferson County and the city of Bessemer.
Two more facilities are on the way in Birmingham, one near the existing Bessemer facility and another east of Birmingham, ironically at the site of the old Century Plaza shopping mall, one of the state’s first shopping malls.
Now, a $45 million “last mile” delivery center facility near Bass Pro Shops in Spanish Fort is rumored.
Facebook is also getting in the Alabama game with a $750 million data center announced in 2018. That came with an investment credit of $86.25 million over a decade, according to news reports.
Economic development is a good thing. All these companies, however, are engaging in censorship as of late.
Though these are giant entities and their Alabama footprint is only a small fraction of their overall companies, it does beg the question: Are Alabama taxpayers enabling censorship?
A lot of Republican politicians are saying, “We need to do something about Big Tech’s abuse of power.”
Would they be willing to say to Amazon, Google or Facebook, no thanks? “Your actions have violated the public trust and we do not want to reward such heavy-handed behavior.”
Or would they be willing to overlook the politics and grant those tech companies a pass because after all, they are making a significant investment in Alabama’s economy, which could, in the long run, improve the quality of life for the entire state?
It should not be an easy decision.
You can compromise values for the sake of economic opportunity, or some other state will reap the reward of our elected officials’ principled stand.
All too often, it seems we are not getting an honest cost-benefit analysis of economic development. When you see a news story featuring Gov. Kay Ivey at a ribbon-cutting ceremony touting a $300 million financial investment for the community, what does that mean for the average individual?
What about other ways a significant economic development project impacts a community? Is there a willingness to spend on infrastructure, like widening Interstate 10 across Mobile Bay, for example? Can local school systems weather the influx of new students with additional growth?
It all adds up over time. Meanwhile, those same companies put their finger on the scales to help elect a president and members of Congress with value systems that violate the sensibilities of a majority of Alabama voters.
Given what the country has been through these past few months, and what one would have to assume is the local reaction to this saga, it is a bit curious no one is asking about the internal conflict of economic and political interests underway.
I don’t expect too many civic leaders are eager to answer those questions, either.
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