“It silences reasonable voices and then it radicalizes more extreme voices, which would have a really, really bad polarizing effect,” he said.
Anderson said that while he understands when small bookstores or bookstores with a special focus decide not to carry certain books, Amazon has near-monopoly power. The company controls about 80 to 90% of all e-book sales and advertised itself and built market dominance as an “everything store.” It put many small booksellers out of business, then cited “an unarticulated content policy” to remove books retroactively, he charged.
Anderson suspected the removal of his book was related to a congressional vote on the Equality Act. If this becomes law, it would recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, akin to race, in anti-discrimination law.
In his view, it is “an abuse of market dominance to try to control public speech, in particular on a matter of huge public import.” Companies like Amazon and YouTube have become “so dominant in their spheres that there really aren’t alternative options,” he said. While the notoriety of the delisting incident gave Anderson’s book a sales boost, he warned that this was likely temporary and the removal would affect which books a publisher chooses to publish in the future.
“What publisher is going to want to publish a book, knowing they might miss out on the market controller who has 70% to 80% of market share, right?” he asked. “We won’t even know what books never get published, which authors censor themselves, which publishers spike proposals, all out of fear that Amazon won’t sell it.”
Also joining the roundtable was Carl R. Trueman, a fellow at the EPPC Evangelicals and Civic Life Program, a professor at Pennsylvania’s Grove City College, and the author of several books. He worried he was censored for his Aug. 7 lecture livestreamed on the YouTube channel of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Immanuel Baptist Church. The livestream was repeatedly flagged for violating terms of service. It was first halted for alleged copyright violation, due to background music, then halted again for alleged content violation, “apparently relative to something I had said.” He believes the actions stemmed from a complaint from an online viewer, rather than an algorithm.
“The lectures are now up in an unedited form, which would seem to indicate that nothing I actually said violated content,” he said. In his view, YouTube automatically assumes the guilt of many subject to complaints and does not give them opportunities to respond.
Trueman said a similar incident took place in May when he was giving the same set of lectures to a Christian high school faculty in the U.S. South. The lecture was advertised on Instagram accounts but the accounts were suspended, reportedly until all references to Trueman and his lecture were removed.
“It’s also very interesting that these big tech groups have such power to disrupt what are really fairly bland and what I would regard as run-of-the-mill presentations on topics of pressing public interest,” he said. He speculated that he faced these difficulties because of the content of his speech and of his 2020 book, “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.”
“I historicize and relativize the kind of debates we’re having about gender in the public square. That doesn’t fit with the dominant narrative that wants to see these things as fixed and as historically transcendent and wants to demonize anybody who doesn’t hold to that emerging dominant narrative as somehow bigoted and problematic.”
Trueman said his work “challenges some of the myths by which the political progressives in the U.S. want to reorganize our society.”
(Story continues below)
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Organizations that are de-platformed could lose important work, data, and social contacts.
Holdenreid said it’s surprising how few people back up their contacts list and videos. People and organizations dependent on YouTube could lose “hundreds or thousands of hours of content” if they are locked out for alleged content violations.
Holdenreid said his Napa Legal Institute has produced white papers examining the risk of de-platforming. Terms and conditions of major services can be easily abused to remove many groups. One Napa Legal Institute report said that faith-based organizations or faith-based voices were being silenced, de-platformed, or censored “at a rate of at least once a week.”
He also offered some advice for organizations at risk. They should identify core services that are dependent upon ‘Big Tech,’ develop a short-term plan to respond if there are service interruptions, and develop a long-term plan to reduce dependence on platforms that have been, in his words, “particularly egregious against faith-based voices.”
Faith-based leaders should “develop media relationships” and have a list of reporters likely to disseminate news of any de-platforming or service interruption.
Organizations should also evaluate possible threats to their financial services that hold bank accounts or process donations. For some individuals and groups, access to financial infrastructure, donor infrastructure, and communications structure is at risk.