June 25, 2022

Big Tech Censorship Is a Problem, but More Government Involvement Is Not the Solution

The year may be new, but its problems are old.

The year may be new, but its problems are old. As 2022 gets underway, we find our society yet again grappling with pandemic policies, school closings, and the content moderation practices of Big Tech.

Over the holiday, Twitter kicked Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R, GA) off its platform. Only a few days before that, the company also removed a doctor and contributor to mRNA vaccine technology, Robert Malone, shortly before he appeared on a Joe Rogan podcast to discuss the government’s response to COVID-19 (YouTube also removed that interview). Twitter claimed both accounts were banned for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

These actions have sparked outrage among many on the right who believe social media platforms are censoring their views. Rogan and others encouraged users to migrate to a new platform called GETTR in response.

Many of those speaking out against Twitter’s decisions called for the repeal or reform of Section 230, antitrust legislation to “break up” Big Tech, or, on the most extreme end, for social media platforms to be nationalized.

Do Conservatives Have A Point?

First, it must be pointed out that much of the concern conservatives feel about their plight online is in fact overblown.

A report out of New York University found that platforms actually promote the voices of many right-leaning commentators. “Republicans, or more broadly conservatives, have been spreading a form of disinformation on how they’re treated on social media. They complain they’re censored and suppressed but, not only is there not evidence to support that, what evidence exists actually cuts in the other direction,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Twitter itself recently had to admit that its algorithm amplifies tweets from right-wing politicians more than those on the left. And research from 2020 found that conservative pages beat left-leaning pages in terms of engagement on Facebook. The reality is, very few people are kicked off these platforms at all, much less for mainstream conservative views.

Does that mean social media platforms are fair and consistent in the ways that they moderate their content? Certainly not.

Some platforms (cough, YouTube) are worse than others when it comes to disfavoring certain viewpoints. And as many have pointed out, it’s a complete double standard to ban MTG for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 but not the CDC, teachers’ unions, or any number of other Democratic pundits who have been consistently wrong about the disease online. It’s also worth-noting that Twitter in particular has allowed the Chinese Communist Party and members of the Taliban to remain on its platform, whose ideas and actions have unquestioningly led to far more violence and death than anything a fringe Republican Congresswoman has done.

But social media companies do not have to provide fair or consistent services. Heck, they don’t even have to provide unbiased services. True free speech means that they could create communities that were only for communists or only for nationalists if that were their prerogative. It would be a very dumb business practice (as is much of what they’re doing now), but it’s well within their constitutional rights. (We would all do well to remember that the battle for civil liberties typically must be fought on behalf of those we dislike.)

You get a choice on whether or not you want to use these platforms, and if you do then you play by their rules. That part is only a problem for people who believe they are entitled to the fruits of another person’s labor. Suggesting these platforms owe you an account is theoretically the same as arguing that people have a right to healthcare services. You don’t, and the minute you attempt to use the government to compel private actors to give you something is the minute you become an enemy of the free market and free speech.

Big Government Is the Real Threat, Not Big Tech

In recent days, many have tried to claim that because tech companies have taken corporate welfare dollars, or because they are often being coerced into censorship by the government itself, they are no longer private companies. This is a vastly silly and incorrect take.

All subsidies are wrong and should be abolished. But a company does not become nationalized because they received this money, nor should any supporter of the free market or limited government want that to be the case.

And if Americans are concerned that the government is pressuring these companies to censor certain viewpoints, it makes absolutely no sense for them to think giving the government more power over these companies would lead to less censorship. There’s no logic behind this sentiment.

Make no mistake, the solutions to this problem offered by nationalist types—like Section 230 repeal or antitrust legislation—would only entrench the powers of existing companies and give Democrats—who are pushing for more censorship—exactly what they want. In fact, there’s much reason to think that the pressure currently being applied on these companies by the government is the cause of the current level of censorship practices, particularly over COVID-19 information. Companies will continue to moderate more strictly to avoid being broken up or sued over the comments users write on their platforms. And smaller competitors will not be able to withstand the financial costs of such an infrastructure. This is a recipe for disaster.

Without government regulations (and the ongoing threat of more of them) we’d see far less censorship, more competition in the market, and smaller companies in general. If those are the outcomes we want, then we must attack the root of the problem here: big government.

Ultimately, it is a good thing that we live in a country where private companies can kick politicians off their property. Throughout most of history and most of the modern world, this is a right that most have never known. But, if we want to ensure those companies continue to foster a community of open discourse then the only real solution is to work to limit the government’s authority over them so that these choices are truly made by private businesses and not influenced by state power.

This article, Big Tech Censorship Is a Problem, but More Government Involvement Is Not the Solution, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.