By Mike Tront
With a new wave of political correctness sweeping through America, speech is being stifled at an alarming rate. Expressing unpopular opinions is getting people banned from Facebook. It’s getting YouTube videos demonetized. It’s getting websites kicked off of the servers that host them. It’s getting websites delisted from Google searches. It’s even getting people fired from their jobs.
Currently, the type of speech being stifled is confined mostly to ideas that I personally find wrong, ignorant, and in some cases completely antithetical to the type of anti-authoritarian free society I want to live in. However, I also want to live in a society that allows bad ideas to be exposed to rigorous and open debate. Plus, I’m afraid that once the censorship ball gets rolling, anti-authoritarian libertarian ideas will soon be blacklisted as well.
For now, stifling “objectionable” conservative opinions is the trend of the day. This is being met with stiff resistance and condemnation from virtually everyone on the right. Sadly, this has also led many prominent republicans to look to the government for a solution.
The Republican Solution
After Google fired James Damore, prominent republican talk show host Tucker Carlson had this to say:
Google should be regulated like the public utility it is to make sure it doesn’t further distort the free flow of information.
Carlson isn’t the only republican thinking this way. According to this recent article from The Daily Caller, even otherwise pro-market republicans like Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon are on the anti-free market train in regards to Google and other social media platforms.
So what would it look like if popular social media sites became public utilities? I’m sure if you ask these republicans, they’d assure us that there’d be no government takeover, just a bit more regulation to make things more fair and equal.
Anyone who studies history knows that whenever you give government regulators an inch, they take ten miles! In order to get the level playing field these republicans want, they’d have to empower government to take over the Google search algorithm to ensure a more fair algorithm for right-leaning sites. They’d have to take over YouTube’s monetization policy to ensure every creator gets the same pay rate. They’d have to rewrite Facebook’s user agreement to make sure that no one gets banned for having a conservative opinion. They’d have to take over Twitter’s algorithm to make sure certain people don’t get shadow banned for having unpopular opinions.
What could be more socialist than the government stepping in to level the playing field and make sure all views and parties have equal representation, regardless of the desires of the actual platform owners?
Problems With Government Takeover of Social Media
Just the above words should send a chill down anyone’s spine, regardless of their political affiliation. Even if there was a way for a completely fair and open commission (ha!) to be set up to simply make sure the free flow of information isn’t restricted, does anyone really believe it’ll stay that way? How many times do we have to witness a well-intended government program get perverted for political and financial gains before we understand that government is never a solution?
Once government takes over the search algorithms and social media user agreements, it’s only a matter of time before they’re tweaked to suit the needs of the people and lobbyists in power. In fact, there are numerous exceptions to the 1st Amendment, so why wouldn’t the government alter the search algorithms of all search engines to help stamp out potentially unlawful speech? This would allow government to hide, or even eliminate, vast amounts of content that might fit into such categories as “obscenity,” “false statements of facts,” “fighting words,” “incitement,” and many forms of commercial speech (which is considered less protected.)
Is it really hard to imagine the major news outlets lobbying government to hide independent news outlets because they made “false statements of facts?” (#FakeNews!) Is it really hard to imagine the government hiding or eliminating websites that are generally anti-state under the claim that they may incite people to do violent acts against state actors? Is it really hard to imagine wealthy corporations lobbying government to make it harder for new companies to advertise on social media sites?
Perhaps the biggest problem with government turning search engines and social media platforms into public utilities is that it turns these social media platforms into legal monopolies, thus preventing any further innovation in this incredibly important field.
The Free Market Solution
Competition is the ultimate equalizer. No matter how big and influential a company gets, it will never be immune from the constant pressure of competition. Just in my short lifetime, many corporate giants have been decimated from competition. Giants like General Motors went from being one of the largest companies in the world to filing for bankruptcy. Only a government bailout saved it from going out of business completely. IBM went from being the top computer company on the planet to posting record breaking losses. Sears was once the largest retailer in America. Today it’s fighting to stay profitable while closing stores all across the country. MySpace went from being the largest social media site in the world to being nothing more than a punchline.
What happened to these giants? Why did they fall so far so fast? As companies grow, so do their expenses and potential liabilities. Their workforce becomes bloated. Their infrastructure, factories, and stores become out of date or obsolete. They become targets for lawsuits. Sometimes, even if a company does everything right and makes all the right moves, consumers just change their desires and tastes.
As companies and industries become more profitable, other entrepreneurs are tempted to enter their field in search of some of that juicy profit. These new competitors have the advantage of being much more nimble and adaptable to the changing needs and desires of consumers. They aren’t saddled down with layers of bureaucracy. Even when the top dogs adapt and stay profitable, no one has ever stayed on top forever.
The new wave of social media censorship is just that, new. Already we’re seeing the market react. Gab was created last year as a alternative to Twitter. Gab promises no censorship of its users. DuckDuckGo is a rising alternative to Google. It’s main selling point is that it doesn’t track its user like Google does. Not only does it keep your search terms private, but it eliminates the Filter Bubble that plagues other platforms.
It may seem impossible to imagine any company taking over the markets currently dominated by Google, Facebook, and YouTube, but it was once impossible to predict the fall (and the rise again!) of GM and IBM. There’s no way to predict who or what will knock over these behemoth’s of the Internet, and there’s no way to predict how long it will take. One prediction I will make is that if the government turns them into public utilities things will only get worse for free speech. With public utility status also comes the status of legal monopoly. If you think it’ll be hard for competition to take down popular social media platforms due to their network effects, just wait until they have the power of government behind them as well.
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