The gasps were audible when the media first accused Facebook of suppressing right-wing news in their trending feature, but few Internet denizens took the time to consider how many other vital virtual properties were taking their own stands without anyone really realizing it.
Some screamed “censorship,” others applauded Facebook’s efforts, but everyone sat up and took notice at the moment that Internet corporations officially became a tool with the power of political and social influence.
Increasingly Influencing Real Life
Although Facebook’s news scandal made headlines, it’s not the only major virtual company to be taking a stand against the things it finds wrong in this world.
Google has declared that it will no longer run ads for payday loan companies, due to those companies’ unfair lending practices that typically involve interest rates exceeding 300 percent. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, payday loan companies find a third of their customers online, which is probably why one of their trade groups has called Google’s action “discriminatory and a form of censorship” according to the New York Times.
Even though Google and Facebook might feel almost like public utilities these days, they’re far from government entities or publishers. So despite the reception of these recent moves, no one has really been censored in the proper sense. Facebook and Google are private companies and have the right to control all the content on their various services, no matter who likes it. They have long policed advertisements from companies like escort services, for example, and no one accused them of censorship for those efforts.
Interesting Timing for Google
Google’s move against payday loans comes at an interesting time. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is currently investigating the practice and is planning to issue a new rule to make payday loans less noxious within the coming weeks. However, this process is slow, and payday lenders will undoubtedly fight back with high priced lawyers and lobbyists to drag reform out for months or years. Google managed to change the payday loan game with a few keystrokes.
The power that giant virtual corporations now wield may be more incredible than users have ever imagined. What’s going to be interesting to watch is how involved these companies may become in movements for social change in the near future now that they’re really realizing the full extent of their own power.