The left’s recent moves to censor conservative speech online sparked a debate in the ranks of the American right. Conservatives are more than ever aware of the ramifications of allowing the left to continue their efforts to silence opinions on social media platforms, but they are torn on how to deal with the problem.
Conservatives have enjoyed much success using alternative media to subvert the left’s control over the country’s establishment narrative apparatus. But leftist-owned tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google have retaliated by removing conservative content, shadowbanning conservative users, and other methods of censorship.
Some on the right believe that the best solution to this problem is to use the government to regulate these companies to ensure that Americans of all political stripes are allowed to express their views online. As attractive as this option sounds, is it more likely that such actions will promote unintended consequences?
Regulation Might Backfire
The question is this: Will regulating social media companies benefit the conservative movement over the long term? When considering such an action, one must look into the future and take into account what will happen when conservatives are no longer in power.
While conservatives might wish that the Republican party would retain control of the government for the foreseeable future, this scenario is unlikely. Eventually, the Democrats will win back control of the executive and legislative branches. Can conservatives afford to assume that the Democrats will not use the government to regulate right-leaning opinions online?
Of course not.
The left has already shown that they are willing to do whatever it takes to avoid debate. Indeed, far-left activist groups like Antifa routinely use violence to disrupt conservative rallies, and many journalists have become apologists for this organization.
Earlier this year, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) circulated a memo full of proposals regarding government regulation of the internet. According to Reason, the memo advocates for requiring companies to “disclose the geographic origin of all user accounts or posts.” The government would also force platforms to allow only “authentic” accounts on their websites. These are only a few of the regulations that Warner is promoting.
Pushing for government regulation might be tempting in the short term, but it will only be a matter of time before this strategy backfires on conservatives.
The Government Doesn’t Know What It’s Doing
For decades, American conservatives have complained about the incompetence of the government. Indeed, they have argued that the government is not effective in most areas — so why should anyone trust them to levy controls on an industry that connects billions of people worldwide?
When one considers Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, you can easily see that our lawmakers do not understand how the industry works. In a piece for The National Review, David Harsanyi points out that our lawmakers do not appear to have an adequate level of knowledge to ensure that they would regulate the industry effectively.
At one point during the hearing, Zuckerberg was castigated by Senator John Kennedy for Facebook’s user agreement, which outlines the policies and procedures by which the company operates. He brought up the fact that a lot of Facebook’s users are not aware that their advertising services were not free. “The purpose of that user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end,” he said. “It’s not to inform your users about their rights. I don’t want to vote to have to regulate Facebook, but by God, I will.”
Kennedy fails to realize that there is no evidence that Facebook’s documentation was not drafted according to the law. Moreover, the majority of Facebook users do not use their advertising services, and those who do, are fully aware of the fact that they have to pay for their ads. Harsanyi writes: “So if a private entity follows the law but happens to upset the sensibilities of the United States Senate, it will, by God, be punished with some nanny-istic intrusion or byzantine regulation?”
Social Media Companies Will Become More Powerful
The primary complaint that conservatives have with companies like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Google is that they are too powerful. These organizations have more users than any other social media platforms. However, it is not clear that more regulations would put a check on their influence. Indeed, government interference might actually help them.
Many people erroneously believe that larger companies are harmed by government regulations. This is true in some cases, yet, regulations can also make bigger companies more powerful.
Businesses the size of Facebook and Google may not like regulations, but they can easily afford the amount of money required to stay in compliance. Smaller companies do not have this luxury, meaning that social media startups that wish to compete with the giants will be at a significant disadvantage. Indeed, government involvement will make competition that much more difficult as regulations hurt small business far more than big business. This means that it will be nearly impossible for other companies to provide the type of alternatives that conservatives desire.