Government Is Not Conservatives’ Social Media Friend - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Government Is Not Conservatives’ Social Media Friend

At this point, Republicans take it for granted that “Big Tech censorship” is a profound threat to free speech. It’s not just that Facebook and Twitter disfavor conservatives, the thinking runs; it’s that they are despots wielding state-like control over the pathways of communication.

The large social media websites’ clout is vastly overstated. Platforms that host heterodox views, such as Substack and Rumble, are thriving. Investors (some more serious than others) are backing efforts to build new conservative social media products. The mainstream platforms are challenged by able competitors, such as TikTok and Reddit, and recondite market forces, foremost among them the ever-shifting tastes of the young.

Ironically, the belief that Facebook and Twitter are juggernauts, and that something must be done to topple them, could spur the passage of legislation that only shores up their power.

If a law regulating online speech is to exist, it is far more likely to exist on Democrats’ terms.

Legislators are increasingly of the view that Big Tech is poisoning us with “algorithmic amplification.” That’s a fancy term for “showing you stuff that might interest you.” The moral panic is written right into the names of the bills, which seek to “protect” Americans (we little lambs) from the lure of “malicious” and “dangerous” algorithms (those monsters made of math).

One bill would make social media firms vulnerable to lawsuits whenever a message they host could plausibly be thought to have “materially contributed” to an injury or emotional trauma. Of course, much of what is said on social media could do that. Unable to predict which stupid speech will lead which stupid people to do what stupid things, social media sites would respond to this bill, were it passed, by cracking down on provocative speech across the board.

Still, Facebook and Twitter would have the money and the manpower to comply. They would alter their policies, adjust their algorithms, and weather the lawsuits. For right-wing sites such as Parler, Gettr, and Gab, by contrast, this bill would strike a grievous, possibly lethal, blow.

Another bill, the bipartisan “Filter Bubble Transparency Act,” would give social media users a right to have newsfeed content presented in the exact order, chronologically, that posts are posted. Put to one side that Facebook and Twitter already offer this option. Conservative news and commentary sites excel at attracting engagement on social media. A law that caused people to turn off newsfeed algorithms would more likely harm these sites than help them.

Any law aimed at algorithmic ranking will raise First Amendment issues. One issue will be whether or not the law treats like speakers alike. On the way to blocking Florida’s and Texas’s recent attempts to enact social media speech regulations, a pair of federal judicial opinions questions why those regulations govern only the largest social media companies. “Discrimination between speakers is often a tell,” each opinion says, for unconstitutional “content discrimination” by the government. Conservatives, take note: you won’t get away with regulating the platforms you hate but not the platforms you like.

More generally, Republicans’ desire to tell social media firms what speech to host cannot be squared with those firms’ right to free speech. If a law regulating online speech is to exist (i.e., get passed and stand up in court), it is far more likely to exist on Democrats’ terms.

And what Democrats want is control. As the journalist Joe Bernstein observes, liberal researchers, academics, reporters, lawyers, activists, politicians, and bureaucrats — all the “serious thinkers” who make up what Bernstein calls “Big Disinfo” — can “barely contain” their “desire to hand the power of disseminating knowledge back to a set of ‘objective’ gatekeepers.”

The mainstream media continues to earn conservatives’ mistrust and scorn. Although their “fact-checkers” make mistakes — and can stray far from “fact-checking” — Facebook and Twitter remain places where conservatives can share ideas without that media’s permission. The market, meanwhile, continues to offer new avenues for online expression. The Republicans who want to add a government speech code to the mix are selling snake oil.

Corbin Barthold is TechFreedom’s Internet Policy Counsel and Director of Appellate Litigation. You can follow him on Twitter at @corbinkbarthold.

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