Opinion | A plea to American IT corporations

MEP from Venstre argues that the rising dominance of companies like Facebook and Apple are threats to a well-functioning market and cultural diversity

First it was Apple’s rejection of Danish author Peter Øvig Knudsen’s hippie books. Then came Facebook’s removal of an innocent beach photo from 1970 and threats to delete Knudsen's Facebook profile if he continued his 'This is not porn' campaign that generated thousands of shares on Facebook.

I am certain that this is just the beginning. Soon new examples will surface, and new protest movements will emerge spontaneously. The ketchup is slowly slithering out of the bottle.  

In response I have, during my meetings with Apple and Facebook, stressed the importance of taking this development seriously – for users, but also for the companies themselves. We find ourselves in a transitional phase where the timidity on social media of recent years is being replaced by an awakening among consumers, customers and producers – and therefore also among politicians.

Successful business strategies of major companies have effectively blinded and sedated us to the emergence of a new norm – a norm we accepted by buying flashy new products.  No-one took the trouble to read the fine print of the 'terms and conditions' presented by giant corporations like Apple, Facebook and Google, and now we are witnessing a natural reaction to a maturing market.

The Knudsen incident is far from unique. Examples are pouring in from countries like Germany and France of authors and musicians who have had their products rejected by e-shops. At the same time, thousands of Facebook-users – including yours truly and many journalists and media companies – have experienced the removal of links without warning. A lot of it happens simply because a pair of female nipples are showing.

”We have objective criteria and are not arbiters of taste,” Facebook has explained. But that is not an incontestable description. When users spoke up about the large number of distasteful photos and groups with jokes about violence towards women prevalent on the social media giant, Facebook suddenly became so-called 'arbiters of taste' and was willing to change its policy.

Should politicians dictate good taste? Of course not. It is up to the individual company to choose their business model, even if that includes puritan outlooks on nudity. But we are also at liberty to interfere when the commercial – and probably culturally unintended – consequences of corporations' rising dominance threaten a well-functioning market and cultural diversity.

So my plea to American IT-corporations is this: realise current trends and actively engage in dialogue with your customers about the norms you are setting. And use competition to your advantage in re-thinking and challenging antiquated models. Personally, I am convinced that the first to interpret this trend will be the winner of tomorrow. Side benefits for us consumers and internet citizens include the preservation of our norms online.

The author is a member of the European Parliament representing Venstre. This op-ed originally appeared last month in Jyllands-Posten