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And Yet You Use Those Evil Big Tech Platforms. Curious!

It’s common for right-libertarians to attack — with some justification — the stupidity of those who equate opposing a law or government agency with opposing some value or goal in its name. Wanting to abolish the Department of Education, for example, doesn’t mean you’re against education. But right libertarians are guilty of a somewhat related fallacy themselves, as we will see shortly.

Another, similar fallacy, of which pro-capitalist apologists are disproportionately guilty, is exemplified by the social media retort “anti-capitalists with iPhones LOL.” Matt Bors mocked this fallacy with the widely circulated cartoon in which a peasant says “We should improve society somewhat” — to which a right-wing troll in a well replies “Yet you participate in society. Curious! I am very intelligent.”

Implicit in the troll’s reply is the assumption that if we will the range of benefits which are currently available, we necessarily also will the current institutional arrangements by which they are delivered. But this argument would rule out any critique of social structures or institutions in any society, since the only way to receive benefits in any society is through the social mechanisms which deliver them. A defender of the Soviet planned economy might have challenged a free market advocate in identical terms: “And yet you live in a house, wear clothes, have furniture and appliances, etc., all of which were produced in state factories responsible to the industrial ministries, in accordance with a Five-Year Plan. Curious!”

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, in two articles at Reason a few days apart, demonstrates both fallacies in spades. In “Democrats Hate Facebook. Republicans Want To Ban TikTok. The Bipartisan Backlash Against Big Tech Is Here and It’s a Disaster” (August 13), she writes:

Ordinary people have begun to treat the internet, and the opportunities it has created, as a nuisance. Even as their products have transformed nearly every aspect of everyday life, large tech companies have been subject to increasingly negative public perception and attendant political attacks.

She contrasts this mood to a brief period in the spring when Americans appeared to appreciate what the industry had done for them.

…as the U.S. shut down and stayed home in response to the coronavirus, it looked like American tech companies might be making a reputational comeback. With everyone trapped at home and indoors, Big Tech provided a lifeline, connecting Americans to food, entertainment, work, and each other. But America’s temporary truce with Big Tech wasn’t to last. Nearly five months into the pandemic, it appears any newfound goodwill earned by Silicon Valley has already been burned.

“There was a small window of time where everyone was grateful that technology was allowing us to continue to function as a society despite our inability to gather in physical spaces,” Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman tells Reason. “And yet that gratitude wore off so quickly. Everyone just went right back to hating on internet companies and forgetting all the great things we’re benefiting from today.”…

…Even as Big Tech has benefited ordinary people in countless ways, political backlash to the size and power of America’s largest technology companies — what some insiders call “techlash” — is coming stronger than ever….

Think about all the ways digital tools and tech companies have ensured access to up-to-date and diverse information during the pandemic. Think about all the online streaming services, interactive video games, e-book purveyors, podcast makers, and apps that have been keeping us entertained. The many kinds of free chat services letting us keep in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. The online educational tools he