LARSON: Political Denial of Service

February 25, 2022


A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber attack is launched to bring down a site offering services to its millions of users. The malicious cyber threat actor could be a disgruntled former employee seeking revenge, a hacker looking to extort the site owner, or a foreign adversary attempting to send a message. But in the orchestrated takedown of Parler, the threat actor was Amazon Web Services (AWS).

A minute before midnight on January 10, 2021 Amazon kicked the social media platform off its cloud hosting service. Citing “posts that clearly encourage and incite violence,” Amazon made the claim that Parler did not have the capabilities to comply with their terms of service, thus leading to their expulsion. This was just after Apple and Google made their decisions to remove Parler from their respective app stores. Big Tech colluded to censor a conservative alternative to Twitter, using their market dominance to crush a competitor. 

While terms of service policies are indispensable, and companies have a limited right to refuse service to certain customers, these corporations targeted an ideologically opposed challenger with swift retribution. Their politically-charged collusion effectively amounted to a novel cyberattack on the availability of a rival’s internet service. This “political denial-of-service” (PDoS) attack is one that both companies and citizens will be forced to heed as the façade of impartiality is removed from Big Tech with every additional affront to our digital public square.

Despite the narrative from Big Tech that Parler was the primary extremist platform used to organize an attempt to upend our democracy, Facebook was actually the social media network most used to organize the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of the liberal organization Media Matters, told Salon that “If you took Parler out of the equation, you would still almost certainly have what happened at the Capitol” and that “If you took Facebook out of the equation before that, you would not.” 

If Facebook was used significantly more than Parler by people charged in the aftermath of January 6th, and there is clear evidence of widespread conversation and planning, why did Parler get singled out by AWS, Google, and Apple while Facebook remained unscathed? The truth is this contradiction is purposeful. These Big Tech corporations are aligned with leftist priorities. They are actively looking for excuses to censor conservatives, and the tale of Parler being the communication wing of an insurrection attempt conveniently fit, at least in their minds. 

Parler is not the first to experience such an attack, nor are they likely to be the last. In September, the web hosting company GoDaddy informed the pro-life group Texas Right to Life that they would have to find a different web hosting service as they had supposedly violated GoDaddy’s terms of service. Another similar incident occurred earlier in January 2021, when GoDaddy kicked off its service, again citing the claim that their terms of service had allegedly been violated. Live Action, another pro-life group, had its ads abruptly removed from Google shortly after the corporation had been contacted by The Daily Beast. Google decreed that the ads, despite having been running undisturbed for months, were making “unproven medical claims.” Back in 2020, MailChimp suspended the Northern Virginia Tea Party account due to “potentially harmful misinformation.” This misinformation was supposedly related to a notification sent to subscribers about a recount rally.

The consequences of these actions from Big Tech are troubling. There is a politically motivated group of technology companies that can disrupt on a whim the technical services of anyone who runs afoul of their anointed vision of right and wrong. The target is usually conservative, but even avoiding that moniker will not provide immunity. Increasingly so, the Overton Window is being hastily re-defined by those with the most leftist of views, leaving even left-leaning liberals and centrists alike in the crosshairs of this authoritarian blob.

It is time that companies, organizations, and individuals of all political stripes wake up to the cybersecurity threat that these Big Tech corporations pose. Service providers with their own liberal political agendas can launch unfair political denial-of-service attacks, bringing ruin if proper mitigation measures are not in place.

The need for competition among technical solution providers who are dedicated to providing agenda-free services could not be greater, but technical solutions are not the only way to combat these new digital authoritarians. There should be concentrated societal pressure put on these corporations after they conduct such attacks. Existing antitrust law must be enforced to rein in these giant political actors, and prudent solutions to issues like Big Tech’s Section 230 immunity must be enacted.

Americans may find themselves at a point of no return if they collectively fail to mitigate the dangers that these Big Tech corporations pose to not only free speech, but to the propagation of a free and open internet as well. It is vital that we wake up to this glaring cyber threat in our own backyard.

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