Imagine Martin Luther without the printing press? You would never have heard of him.
In the providence of God, Luther came to prominence just at the time that the Gutenberg printing press was invented. His 95 Theses was one of the first printed books. As a result, the Reformation doctrines spread throughout Europe. No matter how much the court and church in England tried to prevent the new ideas coming in – they could not be prevented. Through the ports of Eastern England and Scotland, ships from Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the Baltic states brought in Lutheran books and pamphlets. The ‘virus’ of Christianity could not be contained – through the traditional methods.
Fast forward a few centuries. When mainstream media were increasingly seeking to shut out and shut down any manifestations of Biblical Christianity, along came the Internet. Like the printing press it came with curses as well as blessings. Pornography, heresy and evil were enabled – but so was the preaching of the gospel. If the printing press had been entirely controlled by emperor, king or pope then the dissemination of the Reformation ideas would have been hindered if not halted. The Lord in His sovereignty overruled and the printing press became a primary means of spreading the gospel.
Today the Internet started off as a platform which anyone could use. It has now developed to the stage where for most of us it is an essential utility – like electricity or water. Along with the Internet came the development of the biggest and most powerful corporations the world has ever seen – the Big Tech quintopoly of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Alphabet (Google). As Amol Rajan, BBC journalist, asked; ‘They are the editors of the Internet. They have more power than any politician or journalist in history. The question that matters is not have they made the right editorial call, but rather is it right that a handful of Californian billionaires should hold such sway over the 21st century public domain?’
They have been able to amass this incredible wealth, influence and power (as I write, for example, Google are taking on the Australian Government – it is a fight in which the government is seen as the ‘David’ in a David and Goliath struggle). Much of this has developed due to the 230 exemption in US law. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 provides legal protection for any website provider – and ensures that they are not responsible for the content. In effect the Big Tech giants were handed legal immunity. They cast themselves as providers, not publishers. In old-world terms, they provide the paper and the ink, they do not publish the books.
Now that they have amassed billions in resources and a virtual monopoly on social media on the Internet, they have changed their tune. Suddenly they have decided that they are responsible for at least some of the content – although conveniently for them – not legally. This has all come to the forefront when these companies all decided to ban President Trump and then go even further by blocking one of their smaller rivals, the Parler platform. Why does this matter?
Because all of a sudden, we have non-elected, non-accountable billionaires determining what is moral for the whole world – influencing our politics, economies and education and health-care systems. If you want to know in detail how this works then can I suggest you read Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism, which is a detailed, heavy and fascinating exposé of Big Tech.
What disturbs me is how blasé so many Christians are about this – and how unaware of the dangers. There are those who argue that ‘they are private companies; they can do what they want – the market will decide’. But that does not work when they are the market and when they are not subject to government legislation – or are the ones making that legislation. ‘Well, if you don’t like it – then go form your own social media platform’ is the trite answer. People have tried. Parler was a growing example of a platform that was taking on Twitter. So they got together and shut it down. It was quite depressing reading some Christians saying ‘Well, it was right wing and enabled violence, so they should have shut it down’. These Christians only knew it was ‘right wing’ because Big Tech told them so – and conveniently ignored the fact that the Capitol Hill riots were planned on Facebook and Twitter!
Do we really want to live in a world where woke Californian billionaires tell us whether we can preach the gospel on the Internet or not? Where godless unbelievers and idolaters can tell us what we can publish and if and how we can broadcast our services? Imagine if en was subject to an atheistic monopoly publisher who would only let us print if we fitted in with their ‘community standards’? It’s time for us to wake up and smell the disappearing ink. We need to seriously be considering alternatives and making sure that there is an alternative to the One World Internet. Personally, I’m getting out of Big Tech as much as I can – Duck Duck Go as a search engine, and Gab as a replacement for Twitter seem to be working so far. But we need more. Perhaps to be free of the power of Big Tech the church needs the equivalent of its own printing press?
David Robertson is the Director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com