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Ajit Pai Takes On The Coarseness Of Online Speech And Social Media

"Hell hath no fury like a regulator bored."

In an afternoon panel, Erick Erickson yielded the stage to Jesse Blumenthal of Koch Industries for a discussion with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. Pai delivered a message of consistent optimism in free markets to deliver consumer demands far better than anything bureaucrats and regulators can do.

Pai reminded the crowd that his parents came to America with $10 in their pocket and a transistor radio as their only possession, and settled in a small town in Kansas. Growing up from a self described dorky teenager with a bushy mustache to head the FCC, he observed that the Internet is one of the greatest free market successes in history.

Free markets play a vital role in innovation, according to Pai, and government regulators stand in the way. Pai asked the rhetorical question, “Why is it hard for government to be on the side of innovation?” The answer, he says, is that it’s politically easier to be on the side of the small number of people hurt by innovations than those who are helped. In that vein, Pai advocates strongly for permissional innovation as a replacement for preemptive governmental regulation as a recipe for success.

“Hell hath no fury like a regulator bored,” Pai likes to say.

The conversation ranged from the advent of 5G broadband, to rural access, to the tone of online speech. Pai describes himself as a passionate defender of the First Amendment, and says it undergirds everything they try to do at the FCC. Indeed, Pai believes that the only way American civil society survives is through a strong defense of the First Amendment.

That said, Pai worries about the increasing coarseness and tribalism of our culture. Demands for online censorship are on the rise, and users of social media more often don’t want to hear other points of view. A discussion ensued regarding the impact of social media on society. Pai sees good and bad developments. The positive is that you have access to people you wouldn’t normally be able to talk to. The negatives come with the distance from your target combined with the relative anonymity of users. These factors lead to an overall coarsening effect in online speech. While social media allows people to stay connected, Pai says we’d also do well to put down the phone and talk to people face to face.

There may not be a solution. Pai says that government doesn’t have a role in regulating social media, but he does point out that they have a role in starting a conversation about how we interact with each other.

You can follow him on Twitter at @AjitPaiFCC.

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