What happened was that the network platforms turned the originally decentralized worldwide web into an oligarchically organized and hierarchical public sphere from which they made money and to which they controlled access. That the original, superficially libertarian inclinations of these companies’ founders would rapidly crumble under political pressure from the left was also perfectly obvious.
Back in 2017, many Republicans still believed the notion that FATGA were champions of the free market that required only the lightest regulation. They know better now. After last year’s election Twitter attached health warnings to Trump’s tweets when he claimed that he had in fact beaten Joe Biden. Then, in the wake of the storming of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters, Twitter and Facebook began shutting down multiple accounts — including that of the president himself, now ‘permanently suspended’ from tweeting. When Trump loyalists declared their intention to move their conversations from Twitter to rival Parler — in effect, Twitter with minimal content moderation — Google and Apple deleted Parler from their app stores. Then Amazon kicked Parler off its ‘cloud’ service, effectively deleting it from the internet altogether. It was a stunning demonstration of power.
It is only a slight overstatement to say that, while the mob’s coup against Congress ignominiously failed, Big Tech’s coup against Trump triumphantly succeeded. It is not merely that Trump has been abruptly denied access to the channels he used throughout his presidency to communicate with voters. It is the fact that he is being excluded from a domain the courts have for some time recognized as a public forum.