Most conservatives do not have a problem with private ownership of rifles and handguns, but what about a nuke? Size and power seem to be important in determining the limits of liberty. Does a similar logic apply to social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter?
There is a breed of libertarians who believe that rights and laws should apply equally on every scale. These people interpret the Second Amendment to mean that private citizens should be allowed to own tanks and nuclear weapons.
Those same people would also argue that privately-owned social media companies are entitled to do what they want with their private property, no matter the consequences, even when they have the power to change the outcomes of elections through disinformation and discrimination.
The Robber Barons
The argument is complicated by the unjust antitrust laws that were used to break up Standard Oil and wage war against the so-called “Robber Barons” of the late 19th century.
As Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress has shown, John D. Rockefeller built his oil empire by making better and cheaper products for consumers. The only ones who complained were his inferior competitors. By the time Standard Oil was broken up, the competitors were finally starting to catch up, including an ingenious Swedish entrepreneur and inventor by the name of Alfred Nobel. The antitrust laws, in this case, were not justified.
The Network Effect
The information tech giants are fundamentally different. A phone is worthless if you are the only one owning it. Its value comes from many people having a phone and being able to communicate. This is known as the network effect.
Unlike oil and other commodities, the network effect can be monopolized. Once a social media company has a sufficiently large user-base, it is almost impossible for smaller alternatives to compete because people do not want to leave their network behind.
Unlike Standard Oil, the modern tech giants are targeting their customers, not their competitors. Are they using their technological power to influence elections? Recently, Twitter has permanently banned several highly influential conservative voices like Carpe Donktum.
Similarly, Project Veritas revealed undercover recordings of Facebook employees who openly admitted that they discriminated against conservatives.
Consider the following hypothetical scenario: During the 2020 election, some activists – perhaps Antifa, for example – seek out conservative areas in swing states. Through tactics like intimidation and blocking traffic, conservatives are prevented from voting, and the result is that several states turn blue and hand Joe Biden the presidency. The effect of such hypothetical activism is to change the outcome of an election. Would this be acceptable?
Most people would agree that if organized behavior results in election meddling, some line has been crossed, even if each action in isolation were legal.
A similar argument applies to information infrastructure. Suppose the most influential social media companies have gained a leading position under the false premise of being free speech platforms, only to turn against their customers and use their power to change the outcome of an election. If that were the case, it would require an honest debate about regulation to limit censorship.
Read more from Onar Åm.
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