The writing is on the wall, and Mark Zuckerberg has finally noticed.
Facebook’s litany of failures finally generated enough heat to push Zuckerberg to publish a call for regulation of his company and the social media space in general. I’ve long called for better oversight and accountability for these social media giants and the role they play in our public life, but Zuck’s suggestions ring hollow; like the words of a man whose hand has been caught in the cookie jar, arguing for more sustainable distribution of the cookies he’s already stolen. It’s time to treat these companies not as the plucky startups they pretend to be, but as the corporate behemoths they’ve become.
Zuckerberg argues—unconvincingly—that “we” need additional regulations on speech, more restrictions on how Americans are able to influence their own elections, data regulatory schemes, and “data portability.” There are more than a few problems with this.
First, our representatives have abdicated their role in representing the people, particularly when it comes to their duty to protect and defend our First Amendment rights. Because of that, these tech companies have filled the void and elected themselves the arbiters of “hate speech.” Memo to those reading: corporations run by and filled with leftists are bound to have a different definition of “free speech” than you or I do.
Democrats and those on the Left have always wanted to monitor and muzzle the political speech with which they disagree. From running smear campaigns against Republican donors to using the IRS to attack conservative nonprofits, Democrats are out to use the system to make elections break in their favor. Whether it’s through campaign finance regulations or hate speech regulations, Democrats are determined only to allow certain people to use their money or their influence to engage in political speech. They’re happy to let Patagonia slander politicians, but if Chick-Fil-A wants to speak in favor of traditional families, watch out. Now they’re joined in their work to redefine what is acceptable speech by those who have a similar worldview: Google, Twitter, and Facebook.
The problem before us now is that we have an attempt to limit and then manipulate speech and the free flow of information so that the Left can create a brave new world in its own image. They have no doubt that the ends they pursue are noble and just. And they are just as sure that all who oppose them are evil. Deviation from that opinion is “hate.”
When Zuckerberg calls for transparency and “data portability,” his proposals really mean cementing Facebook’s power and hamstringing any would-be rivals. Zuckerberg is suggesting Congress create a regulatory scheme with which only the biggest and most well-heeled of companies can comply. This is a familiar tactic in industry.
Much like the EU’s GDPR, these kinds of regulatory schemes inherently benefit the established interests. Startups that emerge from garages and college dorms can’t afford the gaggle of lawyers it will take to comply with expensive, resource consuming regulations like the ones Zuckerberg and company will propose. By passing these laws we could entrench the establishment and ensure that the killer app that could out compete Facebook never emerges.
If Congress is actually serious in representing the interests of the American people—and there is strong doubt that they actually are—then it needs finally to treat Facebook, Google, and Twitter like the publishers and telecommunications companies they are.
They aren’t just technologies and they certainly aren’t neutral platforms. They are publishers that decide what is and isn’t allowed or encouraged on their platform. They decide this not only with their often arbitrary and ever-changing “community guidelines,” but also with their algorithms, that choose the posts you see and the ones you don’t. These are not the actions of a neutral tech company, but those of a publisher with a viewpoint and a world view they’d like to see implemented. Our representatives need to stop giving them exemptions that don’t hold them responsible for the content posted on their website and stop letting them get away with squelching ideas that aren’t popular in Silicon Valley.
Congress shouldn’t abdicate its responsibilities to represent and protect the American peoples’ rights to free speech and the free flow of information—and certainly not for the sake of un-elected left-leaning corporatists in Silicon Valley. It’s time for members of Congress to do their jobs by recognizing we have publishing companies and telecommunications companies masquerading as tech companies. This is the only way to protect all Americans online. The future freedom of our republic depends on it.