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Could a Seattle Law Hobble Amazon’s Unaccountable Censorship?

John West discusses Amazon’s vulnerability in Seattle with Kara McKinney at Tipping Point

Recently, John West, Managing Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, offered some thoughts at Tipping Point about Seattle legislation that could stymie Big Tech’s growing tendency toward viewpoint discrimination:

Everyone is wondering what we can do about Big Tech censorship and it turns out there is a law on the books in progressive Seattle just waiting to be used.

John West, “Big Tech Discrimination with John West” at Tipping Point (February 25, 2021)

He’s referring to this law which forbids discrimination on the basis of, among other things, political ideology, seen as:

any idea or belief, or coordinated body of ideas or beliefs, relating to the purpose, conduct, organization, function or basis of government and related institutions and activities, whether or not characteristic of any political party or group. This term includes membership in a political party or group and includes conduct, reasonably related to political ideology, which does not interfere with job performance. – Chapter 14.10 – FAIR CONTRACTING PRACTICES

In response to a question from host Kara McKinney as to why Seattle first developed this law — and whether it would benefit today’s growing number of deplatformed people (deplatformees?) — West responded,

You know, it’s a little obscure as to why Seattle first adopted any protections for political ideology but I think you are right. In the early Seventies it was probably to protect people on the left. But “political ideology” is broadly construed. Anything dealing with your views of government and … it’s very broad. The Big Tech companies based out of Seattle don’t really know about this law and they don’t know what could happen under it…

It either allows you to file an administrative complaint with the City of Seattle or to sue directly without getting anyone’s permission and if it’s a tech compan y that’s headquartered here like Amazon, you could be located anywhere. This isn’t just for Seattle residents. In fact, the Seattle law itself doesn’t have a residency requirement to raise the issue.

John West, “Big Tech Discrimination with John West” at Tipping Point (February 25, 2021)
Unpacking a delivery

Amazon, headquartered in Seattle and enjoying 83% of the book market, might want to pay attention. Its censorship has become pretty freewheeling of late.

Consider COVID-19. Amazon dropped a Canadian-authored book whose main offence seems to have been that it stated well-sourced and widely-known facts about COVID management in Canada that should be embarrassing to the country’s government. The book was reinstated but only after a huge outcry from Canadians. American science journalist Alex Berenson’s book on the same topic was also dropped. But an intervention by Elon Musk rescued his work. Another book on the topic, Coronalessons, was likewise banned but then rescued by Senator Marco Rubio.

Don’t relax. Most endings are not so happy. Many books remain banned by the monopoly bookstore for unclear reasons. As one author lamented “Unfortunately, I am not a friend of Elon Musk or any U.S. senators. However, the First Amendment was not intended to apply only to the rich and the powerful.”

West went on to suggest that Parler, a Twitter + Instagram equivalent which was recently dropped rather suddenly by Amazon Web Services, might be better off to sue in Seattle than in federal courts, as it is presently doing. After a month of darkness, Parler came back on line with an independent web hosting service.

But again, don’t relax. The incident showed many social media users how dependent we are on a handful of very big companies. And how unaccountable such power can be. One accusation against Parler was that users were instigators of the Capital Hill riot on January 6. But court documents show that communications on Facebook played a much bigger role, with few real consequences for Facebook.

The real lesson for the rest of us is that those who have an effective monopoly can be unaccountable. They don’t need to get it right. They just need to throw their weight around.

Still, unless Amazon truly intends intends to leave Seattle this time, its Top People might want to show that local legislation to the legal team.

You may also wish to read: Little-known civil rights law could bring big tech to its knees. Many tech giants have considerable assets and many employees in Seattle’s jurisdiction. An existing Seattle law could provide grounds to sue Amazon, Facebook, Apple and other big tech companies if they engage in political censorship. (John West)

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Could a Seattle Law Hobble Amazon’s Unaccountable Censorship?