Donald Trump, Jr. wants to force social media companies to allow conservative opinions. This is a really bad idea.
The chain of potential unintended consequences flowing from such a move would hurt everyone in the long run. Yes, social media companies are censoring conservatives. No, this doesn’t mean we should expand government power even further to somehow fix that.
Conservatives are, if anything, known for overt skepticism on issues that involve the growth of government authority.
History tells us that Republicans won’t be in the White House forever because elections are cyclical. Therefore, making a decision based on something that is ailing conservatives right now should be viewed through the lens, not of the present moment, but of precedent and history.
The question unasked in the article is “how will a use of government authority under this administration be precedent for actions in the future under a non-Republican administration.”
For example, when George W. Bush was using executive authority to do things he wanted to do, some conservatives raised concerns that a Democrat might decide to go farther after Bush was out of office. Those folks were usually laughed at. And then guess what?
When Obama became President, he enacted even more executive orders. Do we so quickly forget this now that “we” have the White House?
The Modern Public Square
But let’s go back to Don’s article. His first paragraph:
As Big Tech’s censorship of conservatives becomes ever more flagrant and overt, the old arguments about protecting the sanctity of the modern public square are now invalid. Our right to freely engage in public discourse through speech is under sustained attack, necessitating a vigorous defense against the major social media and internet platforms.
Of course he’s right that these companies censor some conservatives. But he uses that to pivot to his big point: “the old arguments about protecting the sanctity of the modern public square are now invalid.”
However, when Don says “modern public square” he is, I’m quite certain, making a reference to Packingham. If so, perhaps this tees the ball up for future arguments in SCOTUS that social media companies should be regulated as vast public utilities. Does that concern you? It ought to.
Silicon Valley lobbyists have splashed millions of dollars all over the Washington swamp to play on conservatives’ innate faith in the free-market system and respect for private property. Even as Big Tech companies work to exclude us from the town square of the 21st century, they’ve been able to rely on misguided conservatives to carry water for them with irrelevant pedantry about whether the First Amendment applies in cases of social media censorship.
The “innate faith” in markets isn’t for nothing. Pop quiz: are we forced to use Facebook? How about Twitter? How about Instagram?
And why aren’t we? Do we forget that these companies out-competed others to rise to where they are?
What about Snapchat? It was a later development than some other social media companies. How did it zoom onto the scene if these big monopolies control everything and we have no choice at all?
What about Gab? The alt-right Facebook, it’s been called. I suppose if we force Facebook to not censor political opinions we can also force Gab right?
Facebook is losing users. Young people prefer other platforms. Don’s argument would suggest that, well, I guess they’ll get regulated too?
Imagine how people of the time would have reacted if, 100 years ago, Woodrow Wilson had suggested regulating private libraries to ensure that they were carrying the right selection of books.
Imagine how worse off all of us would have been if, instead of losing public support for their positions as repeated stories about the civil rights movement were covered in all forms of private media, the racist Democrats who held the congressional majority in the 1950s and 60s had decided to start forcing “fair” coverage of the civil rights issue.
This idea opens a huge can of worms.
Drudge Report is a great counter-example, because it’s run by a conservative guy who decides where to send millions of people who faithfully type “Drudge Report” into their browsers every day. Drudge makes or breaks entire news sites and affects the news cycle. Remember how he rose to fame through the application of that government law about internet fairness?
Oh right. He did it all by himself. With a little help from some guy named Andrew Breitbart.
Don also brings up Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s notion that because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields some internet companies from liability for what users do, it can be used to prevent censorship also.
Trying to legislate such a “neutrality” requirement for online platforms—besides being unworkable—would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In practice, creating additional hoops for platforms to jump through in order to maintain their Section 230 protections would almost certainly result in fewer opportunities to share controversial opinions online, not more: under Section 230, platforms devoted to niche interests and minority views can thrive.
Regulate to Avoid Communism? Huh?
More from Don:
As we’re already starting to see, what starts with social media censorship can quickly lead to banishment from such fundamental services as transportation, online payments and banking.
Left unchecked, Big Tech and liberal activists could construct a private “social credit” system — not unlike what the communists have nightmarishly implemented in China — that excludes outspoken conservatives from wide swaths of American life simply because their political views differ from those of tech executives.
His point that conservatives could be shut out of parts of the marketplace is valid enough; I see that happening. But at the risk of “irrelevant pedantry,” allow me to say “so what.”
Let’s say people shut you out because you’re a conservative. Okay. That’s bad, and it does happen. So what?
Is the idea here that we should force all private companies to accept our political views? Is that the new “conservative” idea we are to adhere to?
If I go to San Francisco and demand from a hardcore socialist baker a cake that says “MAGA,” should they have to make it for me?
I can tell you what many progressives would do and have done: they’d force a company to do XYZ and then sue over it. Kind of like Don is suggesting with this article, come to think of it.
And while I too detest a “private social credit” system, that’s a far smaller evil than a government social credit system. And as F.A. Hayek explained in The Road to Serfdom, authoritarian governments spring out of seemingly benign expansions in government power that slowly begin to take over society.
No, the difference between us and China is that we have a Constitution that clearly tells government what it can and cannnot do, and “social media fairness” isn’t in there. Trying to write it in is a fool’s errand because ultimately, you’re creating a double-edged sword you can’t wield all by yourself forever.
Do conservatives want a Democrat in the White House deciding what the internet fairness standard Don Jr. would have us adopt should look like?
What if that future President decided that “neutral” is more on the liberal side of things, skewing the platforms even further left. That sounds like it could lead to… a sort of de facto social credit system. Just like he warns against.
Abandon Principles to Save Them?
And then for good measure a quote from Maxine Waters. Just kidding, it’s still Don Jr. But nix the word “conservative” in this paragraph and tell me she couldn’t have said the same thing:
There is no conservative principle that even remotely suggests we are obligated to adopt a laissez-faire attitude while the richest companies on earth abuse the power we give them to put a thumb on the scale for our political enemies.
“Abuse the power we give them.” You know why WE give it to them? Because we choose to. Want to take it away? Choose not to use the services. Easy fix, fewer long-term major consequences.
If anything, our love of the free market dictates that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the free marketplace of ideas remains open to all.
That reminded me of this from that great conservative effort known as the bailout of 2008. Remember this? Bush said “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market.” Flashback:
The biggest advocate for keeping government out of social media? Perhaps it is, at least in actions, the President himself.
Would he be President if Twitter never existed?
So no, we conservatives should not advocate for government to be the Internet Fairness Police. That’s just not conservative at all.