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August 17, 2022

Wednesday Morning Rant [Joe Mannix]


It's not just politics

The stories of collusion and outright conspiracy to quash free speech within Big Tech and on its platforms is not something that would be considered "news" to anyone who pays even casual attention to the world or current events. Between the "fact checking" and the coordinated "shadowbanning" (or outright banning) of subversive voices, the botnets and more, the ideological censorship has been making headlines for a long time now.

Beyond ideological and free speech considerations, however, are industrial considerations. Behaviors like colluding to set prices or interfere with the market (that is, the formation of a cartel) are illegal for a reason and it has nothing to do with the political preferences of the operators. It is illegal because it restrains trade, harms citizens, harms other market participants and prevents competition. Antitrust laws exist because of the danger monopolies pose to the level playing field that is required for a competitive system to function effectively.

Fellow Moron "ellipsis" mentioned an article about exactly this: an allegation of conspiracy to pick winners and losers in the market, involving the adult entertainment platform OnlyFans. OnlyFans is a fairly new player in the market and has grown tremendously over the past several years, to the detriment of its established competitors in the field. If this was on the up-and-up, then fine - may the better product win. That's life in the big city. There is a lawsuit underway, however, which alleges that OnlyFans bribed Meta (Facebook) employees and executives to ice the competition for them.

The alleged mechanism for this is the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). The GIFCT is an organization created by Big Tech designed to stop the spread of terrorist accounts and information. When something is flagged as "terrorist content" on the GIFCT watch list, the status will be propagated to other platforms and will be automatically shadowbanned, reducing the content's reach. The suit alleges that OnlyFans conspired with Meta to flag posts from popular, non-OnlyFans performers on their platforms in the GIFCT system, resulting in crashing popularity for major draws to OnlyFans' competitors and creating a market opening for OnlyFans. In essence, the suit alleges that OnlyFans and Meta used the GIFCT - a non-government, industrial organization - to target and suppress individuals who brought traffic to sites competing with OnlyFans, and did so in an opaque way to avoid accountability.

The GIFCT and other alleged participants in the scheme deny any wrongdoing and reject the premise of the suit.

This story - despite the unseemly industry involved - underscores the often-forgotten side of the Big Tech speech and commerce suppression problem. Even when ideology and politics aren't factors, they can still play kingmaker and choose winners and losers in the market. Whether they actually did it in this case will be determined in court (assuming the courts don't just defend Big Tech reflexively), but the systems to do exactly what has been alleged are in place.

There is a reason that we have laws against monopolies and cartels. The negative effects on a free, fair and open system - for speech, for industrial competition, for commerce, etc. - are too great. If we had a functional government, the Big Tech monopolies would have been broken up long ago.

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posted by Open Blogger at 11:00 AM

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