The war that has, so far, been waged with a veneer of politeness between tech titans and Government is now a very public affair. Google, Twitter and Facebook have all been in the news in the last few days, openly complaining and openly confronting Governments.
In Australia, Google sucker-punched the Government there by paying some publishers for their content, something the Australian Government has been trying to get it – and Facebook – to do for over a year. You can bet that the deals Google has done are nowhere near what the Government wanted but it did allow Google to say ‘well, we’ve done what you asked, now you are just being unfair.’
The Australian Government’s position was not strengthened by the intervention of the US trade body saying that if the companies were forced into doing deals with publishers, it would undermine the competitiveness of two of the biggest, allegedly most anti-competitive companies on Earth.
Facebook is the least vocal of the companies involved but are still publicly dismayed by the Myanmar Government cutting off social media in the country (and more recently, the internet itself). Until very recently, a company taking to public platforms to criticise a Government would have been seen as hugely daring.
Now we expect nothing less.
And if this disrespectful display was not enough, Twitter has taken on the Government of India no less. Asked to take down over 250 accounts, Twitter initially complied, then reinstated the majority, because, it said there was ‘insufficient justification’ to do so.
This confrontation is now a focal point in this rapidly escalating war.
Twitter is, effectively, breaking the law and the Indian Government has threatened repercussions, including fines and possible jail time.
This is the latest and most brazen example of social media believing itself to be above the law. Whatever you think of a particular Government, flying in the face of its utterances is astonishing. The Indian Government has said that the accounts in question must go because they are likely to incite violence. Twitter believes it can disagree, possibly because many high level politicians use the platform.
Across the world, Facebook and others took it upon themselves to block and ban the then US President and whatever you think of the ex-President, it shows just how arrogant social media companies have become.
They are now, with no pretence at politeness, taking on Government. Call it brave or rash but the issue is that once this door is open, what else will pour through it. Nothing nice, we can be sure.