Ensuring Internet Free Speech

Conservatives are being attacked by Google, Facebook, and Twitter (GFT).  Those monopoly platforms are using their power to squash speech that the rich coastal liberals who work at and run those companies don't like.

The evidence is clear, from Google assistants attacking Breitbart, Diamond and Silk being censored, and the use of highly biased "fact-checkers" like Snopes to define what is and isn't fake news.  GFT are weaponizing their monopolies to deny the free flow of information and to baselessly malign voices they don't like while shielding politicians they do like from the truth.

Some conservatives, in all likelihood mostly NeverTrumps, are saying that because GFT are private companies, they don't have to allow free speech.  However, the reality is that GFT are monopolies.  There is no way that some third party could show up and suddenly dethrone any of the GFT members.  To argue that hypothetically such a thing could happen is absurd.

Back in 1895, it was hypothetically possible for some company to spring up and end the American Sugar Refining Company's monopoly – 98% of the sugar industry – but the reality was that that would never happen; anyone with enough money to be a credible challenger knew that the business case for competing wasn't close. 

Keep in mind that if such an investor could be found, he'd realize that he would most likely end up with a competitive market where the profit margins would be lower than they were for the monopoly he ended.  Hence, our imaginary investor would have to be willing to spend a fortune to create a market where his return on investment would be lower than that of the company he is trying to dethrone.  People with that much money aren't generally that stupid.

So too it is today: anyone with enough money to fight any member of GFT for market share knows he could make more money by investing elsewhere.  Hence, unless some amazingly rich person is willing to sacrifice billions in potential profit to restore the First Amendment rights of Americans on the internet, the GFT monopolies will continue forever.

The situation we face with GFT today is analogous to AT&T back in the days when Ma Bell was a monopoly allowing the Democrat-founded KKK to call you but not allowing National Review to.

We've learned that unbridled capitalism isn't good.  We need to bust trusts and protect workers at some level.  Laissez-faire capitalism isn't consistent with our values, contrary to claims that those with the gold should be able to make all the rules.  That doesn't mean that capitalism isn't good or that economic liberty shouldn't be protected – only that there is a compelling interest in protecting competition in a capitalistic system.  Monopolies distort capitalism by eliminating competition and thereby eliminating the benefits of capitalism over other economic systems.

That's why today you won't find many conservatives who support the sort of capitalism America had in 1895.

Sadly, many conservatives do object to treating GFT like the monopolies they are.  They say private companies don't have to observe the First Amendment and that forcing them to do so would be wrong.  They argue this based on the obviously silly idea that some great white knight will come forth and lose billions of dollars to unseat one or more of the GFT members.

From a purist, "I don't care if we lose so long as we don't do anything that offends my sensibilities" approach, their reasoning makes sense. After all, requiring communications companies to follow the First Amendment could have all sorts of evil unintended consequences...not.

It's just as important to sustain vibrant, unregulated public discourse on issues as it is to maintain competition in the economic sphere.  A people without the truth are like a blind man trying to navigate a minefield – it's unlikely to end well.

However, it's true that using the government to fix a problem should always be the last resort – both because government is usually incompetent and because the government is incapable of nuance, which is why private charities are so much more effective at targeting resources to those truly in need.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to the problem that minimizes the government's ability to distort the marketplace of ideas while not oppressing GFT.

The first step in seeing that solution is to ask, what is the objective?  The answer is that Americans are best served by a level playing field where they can hear all voices on an issue and decide for themselves what they want to do.  No one is interested in silencing left-wing voices.  Everyone agrees that terrorist voices should be silenced because they advocate criminal activity.

GFT are distorting the marketplace of ideas by declaring sites and voices that agree with left-wing groupthink are reliable and declaring that voices that speak truth to power are unreliable and must be suppressed.

Essentially, GFT are using their monopolistic power to regulate speech.  If they don't like the speech, they make it harder, or impossible, for people to access it.  If they like the speech, they actually force it into people's feeds or search results.

That monopolistic regulation is reminiscent of the old company towns, where workers were paid in company scrip, which could be spent only at company stores.  Both techniques are designed to control people and ensure that they support the company's objectives.

To end that odious practice, all the government has to do is pass a law saying that GFT can regulate only criminal speech.  A pro-life voice couldn't be censored unless it was advocating killing abortionists.  Conservatives couldn't be censored, but Antifa could, because Antifa advocates illegal acts.

The Democrat-founded KKK could post hateful nonsense about black inferiority, but if it advocated violence, it could be censored.  Nazis could demonstrate their inferiority by claiming that certain whites are better than everyone else, but the minute they called for killing Jews, they could be removed.

Leftists will oppose such a sensible regulation with a passion because GFT regulation of speech is a clear attempt to transfer the nanny state from a government that can't censor speech to "free" enterprise that can.  Leftists are using GFT to make an end run around the Constitution and impose ideological censorship on the American people.

If left unrestrained, GFT will continue to censor speech and corrupt elections by intentionally distorting what Americans know about what's happening in the world.  It's an existential threat to American democracy, because if the people don't know the truth because it's denied to them by the richest of the rich monopolists, the people can't vote intelligently.

Hence, old-school conservatives must come to their senses and realize we're not talking about undue government intervention; we're talking about a government regulation to prohibit communication platforms from intentionally regulating speech.  We can call it Social Web Neutrality: the companies that provide the communication medium of the social web can't discriminate against lawful speech.

Leftists can't win on the battlefield of ideas because their ideas are demonstrably bad.  Hence, in order to thrive, they must deny the truth to as many voters as they can.  If Republicans allow them to do so out of some bizarre belief that informational monopolies aren't as dangerous to the people as economic ones, America as we know it will be in serious danger of disappearing.

You can read more of Tom's rants at his blog, Conversations about the obvious, and feel free to follow him on Twitter.