Silicon Valley is finding itself entrenched in battle with the far right over ground rules for the digital world, a conflict that mirrors the polarisation of American politics in recent years.
The recent firing of a Google engineer for questioning the Internet giant’s diversity efforts, which ignited a backlash from the “alt-right” and fuelled charges of hypocrisy, is just one example.
Facebook has been accused of suppressing conservative voices and skewing information presented in its news feed.
Twitter has banned accounts from far right activists for violating its terms on “hate” speech.
Paypal refused to transmit donations to a group in Europe seeking to turn back refugees, claiming it does not support activities that promote “hate” or “violence.”
Even Airbnb cancelled accounts ahead of a white nationalist rally for promoting discrimination in violation of the terms of the home-sharing platform. Activists on the extreme right have responded with an outcry against the tech giants and have begun migrating to alternatives for social networking and money transfers.
In Silicon Valley, “you’ve got a bunch of people who are interested in technology who would prefer to be apolitical,” said Bob O’Donnell, consultant for Technalysis Research.
O’Donnell acknowledged that the big tech firms may allow bias to filter into their business operations because “Silicon Valley and northern California are heavily Democratic and heavily focused on political correctness.”
Alan Rosenblatt, a digital strategist for left-leaning groups, said alt-right activists are frustrated because they have been unable to exploit online platforms as much as they would like.
“It traces back to the whole ‘fake news’ issue” starting in the 2016 election campaign, Rosenblatt said.
Rosenblatt said social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were correctly working to crack down on disinformation, such as the erroneous report about a child sex ring in a Washington pizza restaurant in an effort to tarnish candidate Hillary Clinton.
President Donald Trump, he argued: “is the greatest enabler of the alt-right. He gives political coverage to their attacks on diversity and workplace fairness.”
Tensions have flared at Google over the firing of engineer James Damore, who published a “manifesto” which claimed “biological differences” were a key factor in the low percentage of women in technology jobs. — AFP