Alexander Hall

Contributing Writer

Latest from Alexander Hall

One Big Tech company has embraced the opportunity to cash in on the impeachment proceedings. From breath freshening “Impeachmints” and “National Embarassmints” to anti-Trump scented candles and shirts, Amazon appears to be making money from hatred of the current president. 

Twitter has booted conservatives and liberals for citing facts, but it goes out of its way to bring back blatant anti-Semitism. Reclaim The Net observed that Rev. Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, was today “temporarily kicked off of Twitter.” He was also “temporarily restricted” from Twitter from Jan. 3 up until mid-January when his account was completely booted on Jan. 18. Shortly thereafter, however, his account was reinstated, and a Twitter spokesperson reportedly told Reclaim The Net that “The account was caught by our spam filter in error and has been reinstated.”

Facebook has taken some free speech stances that drew heavy criticism from fellow Big Tech companies, liberal commentators, and now the Democratic primary frontrunner. Former vice-president Joe Biden told The New York Times editorial board “that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately” for Big Tech companies. The Times called that provision “pretty foundational” to the internet. Biden spoke with The Times editorial board as it tried to determine which candidate to endorse as an organization. In the 80-minute discussion, Biden hammered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and threatened to repeal the legislation that was intended to protect free speech on the internet. 

If it wasn’t scary enough being monitored by random strangers, a former Microsoft contractor reportedly claimed some private calls could have been accessed by the Chinese government! An anonymous former Microsoft contractor came forward and alleged that Microsoft’s grading program to transcribe and vet users’ audio “ran for years with no security measures.” The audio was sourced both from Skype conversations and Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant equivalent of Apple’s Siri. The anonymous contractor also explained how working in any territory ruled by the Chinese regime is hazardous in itself, stating that “Living in China, working in China, you’re already compromised with nearly everything."

Reddit’s leadership has declared war on “bad actors who are trying to manipulate Reddit.” In a Thursday post to the Reddit Security subforum titled “Updates to Our Policy Around Impersonation,” Reddit representative u/LastBluejay, verified by the platform as a “Reddit admin, speaking officially,” made upcoming policy changes known. “Impersonation,” while noted as “one of the rarest report classes we receive,” will be watched closely in the coming year.

One of the internet’s foremost tech journalists blasted the owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal as the “largest menace to the modern world.” Recode co-founder and New York Times contributor Kara Swisher wrote in a tweet on Jan. 8, 2020, “If you had to pick one person who has been the largest menace in the modern world, spreading hate and disinformation that has disastrous results everywhere he goes, Rupert Murdoch or, as I like to call him, Uncle Satan, would top the list.”

Twitter chose to feature the rant of a food CEO blaming President Trump for Canadian deaths from a downed jetliner in Iran, while ignoring how that CEO’s own company was reportedly linked to the deaths of more than 20 of his fellow Canadians. The Twitter Moments section highlighted Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain sharing “his personal opinions on the US government's action against Iran.” Twitter Moments added that “McCain says he is ‘livid’ and in ‘mourning’ after a colleague's wife and son were killed in the crossfire.” He was referring to how a Ukraine International Airlines jet that was downed over Iran. The Iranian military “acknowledged early on Saturday that it had launched the missiles that brought down” the jetliner ”killing all 176 people on board.” Many of the passengers killed on the flight“were Canadians,” Twitter Moments noted in the tweet.

Want to be a successful YouTuber? Better bow down to diversity and inclusion demands and stop with your “unconscious bias.” YouTube released a video blog “Create Inclusive Videos to Reach More Viewers” via its YouTube Creators channel back in November proposing that if creators wish to be viable and successful on the platform, they need to pay up with some inclusion and diversity. The host and YouTube partner, Dr. Knatokie Ford, introduced herself as the Founder and CEO of Fly Sci Enterprise -- “an education and media consulting firm focused on leveraging the power of storytelling to promote social change.” 

At least one person on the conservative side appears to understand the importance of free speech on social media. President Donald Trump touted the critical importance of social media in the face of a biased liberal media. Trump praised nationally syndicated radio talk show host of “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Rush Limbaugh on Jan. 6, 2020 as one of many sources of truth that break through liberal media gatekeepers and noted the importance of social media. “People are getting it,” said Trump. “They really get it, and because of social media and my Twitter. Without Twitter, I think we’d be lost. We wouldn't be able to get the truth out.” 

As deceptively edited videos and memes go viral, the Internet's leading social network has had to make a tough call as the 2020 election approaches. Facebook’s Vice President of Global Policy Management Monika Bickert wrote a company blog “Enforcing Against Manipulated Media” on Jan. 6. The blog was written to announce upcoming safeguards to protect against “people who engage in media manipulation in order to mislead.” 

Britain is racing to become perhaps the most politically correct dystopia as it announces new threats to punish Big Tech companies for “harmful content” produced by users on their platforms. “Britain is set to hold social media executives personally accountable for antisemitism and other harmful content posted on their networks with company bosses liable to face jail time for serious breaches,” The Jerusalem Post wrote.

In a stunning list reviewing the most dangerous internet denizens of the past decade, Wired listed President Trump first among oppressive foreign leaders, terrorists and others. Wired painted a foreboding cyberpunk future of the new decade -- a world where “authoritarian governments have turned the internet to their own purposes in the form of propaganda, disinformation, and cyberwar” and “[e]xtremists have coopted [sic] and corrupted social media to spread hatred and advocate violence.” It even cited how Big Tech companies “that once seemed like innovative underdogs now loom over the economy as vast, unaccountable monopolies.

Big Tech censorship has reared its head online and in media, and if reports are to be believed, tech companies may also be targeting their own employees to silence dissenting opinions in the workplace too. An employee alleged, according to The Washington Post, that Amazon threatened her with termination for merely critiquing the company’s environmental policies. “[I]f I continued to speak up, I could be fired,” the employee said.

One of the top YouTube creators, PewDiePie, warned that the site is under threat — from the very people who run it. PewDiePie addressed questions from his fans in a Dec 28 video and questioned the future of the entire platform and its relationship with its creators. “It’s not impossible but it doesn’t seem that likely that YouTube is just gonna be the top website forever” he mused. He later that the platform has alienated its creators with “anti-YouTuber” decisions that “it’s gonna take them a lot to come back to a better point with the community.”

Hate crimes are tragic. Now they are typically followed by calls for government crackdowns on speech. In the wake of the attack on a Hanukkah celebration at a Rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, weekday morning CNN Newsroom co-host Jim Sciuttointerviewed a local Jewish community leader named Steve Gold. When Sciutto asked what can be done to solve this going forward, Gold, the co-president of Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County suggested censoring free speech on social media platforms. 

The photo sharing platform Instagram has launched the rise of many influencers ranging from aspiring models to artists, but now it is restricting what products these influencers can be paid to promote. “Across the Facebook company, we are updating our policies to include clearer rules for the paid promotion of certain goods and services such as vaping, tobacco, alcohol and diet supplements,” Instagram Business Team wrote in a Dec. 18 blog post. “Branded content that promotes goods such as vaping, tobacco products and weapons will not be allowed,” while “goods such as alcohol or diet supplements will require special restrictions."

LGBTQ Privilege? YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the company consults with the LBGTQ community to make sure they don’t feel they are being censored. Wouldn’t it be nice if conservatives had such a seemingly favored group? Wojcicki spoke to Eugene Lee Yang of “The Try Guys” on Dec. 16 regarding YouTube’s harassment policy update and apparent efforts to appease the LGBTQ creator community’s concerns. “Every single time we make a change,” she emphasized, one of the factors measured is “the impact on a set of LGBTQ creator videos.” 

Some in Big Tech have made swipes at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his company’s free speech stance on political ads, and the hits keep on coming. The CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey unfollowed Mark Zuckerberg handle “@finkd” in a set of circumstances that were mysterious but may have been intended as a public display. “Dorsey followed a twitter account, @bigtechalert, which exists only to report on the following and unfollowing activities of CEOs of tech companies,” Inc. reported, before adding shortly afterward that “Dorsey unfollowed Mark Zuckerberg, which was promptly reported by BigTechAlert.

It’s the future you probably didn’t ask for -- being nagged by Artificial Intelligence to stop being “offensive” and “bullying.” Instagram touted its new anti-bullying Artificial Intelligence program in its Dec. 16 blog about  the social media giant’s “long-term commitment to lead the fight against online bullying.” Instagram claims the AI program “notifies people when their captions on a photo or video may be considered offensive, and gives them a chance to pause and reconsider their words before posting.”

Facebook is taking another shot at improving its fact-check process, by adding a large group of part-time contractors to help sort information from disinformation. In an attempt to assuage the concerns of conservatives and free speech advocates wary of Big Tech bias, Facebook will be partnering with YouGov to select a politically diverse community of reviewers.