By Dougal Burrowes, Volunteer
The last few days have been big for big tech; Facebook, Alphabet (Google) and Twitter have all released their financial results from the second quarter. Since last year, Facebook’s weekly usage has increased by 8%, Alphabet’s revenues have increased by 19% and Twitter’s by 18%.
This growth should be welcomed. Social media encourages greater transparency and accountability, expands consumer choice and promotes freedom of speech. These are values we hold dear in the capitalist West.
Yet, authoritarian socialist regimes across the world deliberately restrict their citizens’ access to social media. The empowering of the individual that social media enables is contrary to the ideological collectivism of socialist dictatorships. Unfortunately the world is littered with examples of those.
The People’s Republic of China have banned Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, amongst others, forcing users to use China-only media outlets like WeChat and Weibo. Indeed, CNN describe the Chinese censorship programme as “more extensive and advanced than in any other country in the world”. Chinese socialism zealously silences its people, and internet censorship is a large piece of this puzzle. This is also having an adverse effect on enterprise. Chinese companies are being forced to circumvent censorship through a VPN in order to access blocked websites.
Unfortunately, but predictably, the situation in China is replicated in other socialist countries. The National Union of Workers of the Press of Venezuela discovered that 115 media outlets have been closed down since 2013. In April 2019, the Venezuelan government disrupted access to major social media sites and blocked BBC and CNN from displaying images of protestors. In Cuba, the Freedom on the Net 2018 report criticised the lack of internet freedom and described Cuba as one of the “most repressive environments for information and communication technologies”.
Despite the rise in social media usage in the UK, state supervision over internet freedom is not absent. In April 2019, the Government published the Online Harms White Paper which set out the government’s plans for a regulator on internet content. This would force websites to remove ‘bad content’ (e.g. hate speech) and even block or fine sites that do not comply. Our friends at the excellent Adam Smith Institute have fervently opposed such measures, writing in response that “the Government should be ashamed of themselves for leading the Western world into internet censorship”. They rightly conclude elsewhere that this report is “at its core, illiberal, and incompatible with English ideas of harm and freedom”.
Journalist’s fears over internet freedom were also heightened when Jeremy Corbyn, supporter of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, warned British free press that “change is coming”. Both main political parties seem committed to cracking down on free speech, online and elsewhere.
More than ever, we are faced with the threat of curbs to internet freedom from all across the world. Social media is a great output to exercise accountability and freedom of expression; and it is this reason that it is under threat in socialist countries worldwide. We must ensure this form of government intervention finds no foothold in this country too.