Tim Dieppe comments on the recent censorship of Christian publications and ministries, critical of LGBT ideologies, by Big Tech companies.
Amazon cancels transgender critical book
This week it emerged that Amazon has delisted a bestselling book which is critical of transgenderism. Ryan T. Anderson’s book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, was published in 2018 and uses natural law and scientific arguments to critique transgenderism. I have read it myself and found it well researched and argued, and very helpful. The book has been a bestseller on Amazon and Washington Post lists. The book is now not listed on Amazon websites, or by other related booksellers, including second-hand bookseller website AbeBooks. Other sellers are also prohibited from selling the book through Amazon.
The publisher of the book, Encounter Books, has released a statement which makes clear that it has not received any explanation from Amazon for the delisting. It also states:
“If Amazon, which controls most of the book sales in America, has decided to delist a book with which some of its functionaries disagree, that is an unconscionable assault on free speech. It will have a chilling effect on the publishing industry and the free circulation of ideas. It must not be left to stand unchallenged.”
The author has also made clear that he was never informed of the removal of his book, and that he has had no response from Amazon representatives to inquiries about it.
Amazon has questions to answer
Amazon’s market share of the e-book market in the US is 80%. It’s share of the physical book market is 53%. Lockdown measures will only have served to expand Amazon’s market share. When companies get this big, they dominate the market. If a small physical retailer refused to stock a book it would not be a problem. When the single dominant seller by a long way does that, questions need to be asked.
But Amazon is not answering any questions. A group of Republican senators has written to Amazon asking it to explain why this book was removed after being on the platform for three years. The letter states:
“Amazon’s shortsighted censorship of this well-researched and thoughtful contribution to modern American discourse is not just a decision made in poor taste, but an assault on free speech that carries weighty implications for the future of open discourse in the digital age.”
All that Amazon has said is that it reserves the right not to sell certain content and that the decision was not made lightly. The book is said to have violated an undefined “offensive content” standard. Meanwhile, Hitler’s Mein Kampf remains available on Amazon for next day delivery.
If Amazon didn’t dominate the book market, then there would be nothing to see here. We could find another bookseller. But Amazon has such a significant hold on the market that a decision by Amazon to erase a respected book which criticises transgenderism does raise issues for free speech and open discourse, as the senators said.
The decision by Amazon is undoubtedly ideologically motivated. Books supporting transgenderism have not been censored. This book is not some cheap dig at transgenderism; it is well thought through and academic in style. It seeks to reason out how we should think about the issue. It does not use inflammatory language, still less incite hatred or violence. Many far worse books are available on Amazon.
Facebook cancels Christian LGBT critical ministry
This comes hot on the heels of news that Facebook has, without warning, deleted the page of Christian ministry Core Issues Trust. Core Issues Trust helps people who want to be helped to change their sexual attraction. It has been targeted by LGBT activists who do not like hearing testimonies of brave and confident ex-LGBT Christians. The statement from Core Issues Trust says:
“Facebook appears to be promoting (albeit indirectly) a political viewpoint that actively discriminates against persons who are formerly LGBT and the organisations that support them.”
Once again this is a form of censorship by a gigantic tech company. Facebook has around 52% of the UK social network market share. It is used by people to follow organisations like Core Issues Trust and Christian Concern as well as friends and many other organisations and news services. Many people use Facebook as a primary source of news. Since Facebook is such a dominant platform it has an obligation to preserve free speech. If it was a small website this would not apply.
Big Tech has monopoly power
My colleague, Carys Moseley, wrote about the power of Big Tech back in January. Twitter banned Donald Trump from its platform which shocked politicians all over the word. Subsequently there was a coordinated attack by Big Tech to take down rival company Parler which was successful. This shows that Big Tech can be ruthless in enforcing its monopoly power. That means it’s time for regulation.
Most countries recognise that monopolies can give businesses too much power. The Competition and Markets Authority in the UK can prohibit mergers and takeovers if they will result in the business having too much market share. It can also bring criminal offenses against individuals who commit cartels offenses and investigate breaches of anti-competitive agreements.
Amazon and Facebook are platforms rather than publishers. They provide a marketplace for people to sell books or to express their views. If the dominant platforms censor certain views then we have viewpoint discrimination and a restriction of free speech. Imagine there were a dominant broadband provider which cancelled service if you expressed disagreement with transgenderism. Regulation would be needed to prevent such discrimination.
Small businesses should be able to make decisions about what to publish or what business to take without regulatory pressure, but monopolies need to be constrained by regulation. This is especially the case when it comes to political speech on platforms which people use to follow the news.
Regulation of Big Tech companies could come in the form of enforcing free speech. Only last week, the UK government announced that it will appoint a universities free speech champion and require universities to actively promote free speech. A similar requirement could be imposed on Big Tech.
Earlier this month, a leaked video showed Nick Clegg, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and now Vice President of Head of Global Affairs at Facebook, quoting international leaders complaining that private companies have too much power. He says:
“But there has been quite a lot of disquiet expressed by many leaders around the world from the President of Mexico to Alexei Navalny in Russia, and Chancellor Angela Merkel and others saying, ‘Well this shows that private companies have got too much power and they should be only making these decisions in a way that is framed by democratically agreed rules.’
“We agree with that, we agree with that. Mark [Zuckerberg] could be very clear about that. That ideally we wouldn’t be taking these decision on our own. We would be taking these decisions in line with and in conformity with democratically agreed rules and principles. And at the moment, those democratically agreed rules don’t exist. We still have to take decisions in real time.”
The need for such regulation is urgent. Already Facebook is being accused of being used for political manipulation in elections. If people obtain their news and views from Big Tech sources, then there needs to be a requirement to promote free speech. The evidence at present is that these companies are rather seeking to use their power control what views are allowed on their platforms.
Facebook forced to apologise
Earlier this week Facebook was forced into an apology after a powerful coalition of MPs and peers, coordinated by the Free Speech Union wrote to Nick Clegg objecting to the company’s censorship of a well-known journalist. This shows what can be done to enforce free speech on Big Tech. The fact that it needed to be done and that it required a powerful coalition to pressure Facebook also shows that pressure needs to be bought onto these companies.
The government has done well to require universities to promote free speech. The next step is a similar requirement for Big Tech.