Mises Wire

How to Solve the Social Media De-Platforming Problem

Is enacting anti-discrimination legislation the answer to social media de-platforming?

Many right-wing commentators are justifiably concerned about social media censorship of controversial content creators. Unfortunately, they advocate for state-based solutions promoting equal access and anti-discrimination measures. Ironically, these conservative pleas are calling cards of the political Left. The reflexive impulse to turn to the State may seem like a quick fix in the short-term. Government interventions, however, always have nasty implications decades after passage.

Unbeknownst to them, these well-intentioned conservatives are playing into the State’s hands. Once in power, there is nothing to keep leftist bureaucrats from using a new free speech bureaucracy for their own political ends. In order to solve this riddle, we must first understand that Big Tech’s behavior is not the product of spontaneous actions on the free market. In fact, it is the result of the U.S.’s overly politicized economy.

Recognizing the Enemy: Participatory Fascism

For starters, we must recognize that the current tech environment is not operating under a free market. There is plenty of government privilege being spread around.

Big Tech’s relationship with the State is Exhibit A of participatory fascism—the public-private smorgasbord of government interference and nominal private ownership of property. Economist Robert Higgs expands upon the concept of participatory fascism:

For thirty years or so, I have used the term “participatory fascism,” which I borrowed from my old friend and former Ph.D. student Charlotte Twight. This is a descriptively precise term in that it recognizes the fascistic organization of resource ownership and control in our system, despite the preservation of nominal private ownership, and the variety of ways in which the state employs political ceremonies, proceedings, and engagements—most important, voting—in which the general public participates.

In the case of Big Tech, it’s clear the State does not own the means of production, but it does exercise indirect pressure through threats to fine companies or pass draconian laws. Unfortunately, many on the right wing overlook this and fall for the siren song of government control.

The State’s perverse incentives also stretch into matters of platform liability. In his article, Challenging the Lords of the Internet , Justin Raimondo goes into how the Federal Communications Decency Act shields social media platforms from potential torts. By claiming to be “carriers,” many of these social media giants can’t be held liable for defamation, libel, or criminal activities taking place on their platforms. This creates a two-tiered system where Big Tech enjoys cartel-like privileges, and other traditional publishers like Antiwar.com or Mises can still be held liable or criminally responsible for illegal activities allegedly taking place on these sites.

A blogger, Bionic Mosquito, piggybacks off of Raimondo’s points:

Raimondo goes on to discuss the other unique protections offered by the government to these platforms – protections not available to sites like his own. Protections that are offered to a common carrier, like the phone company, which are not liable for the content that passes over their lines or networks.

These social media internet firms are sheltered from liability regarding the content – just as if they were common carriers. Yet, unlike common carriers, they are allowed to (and now, under threat by the government, required to) censor content. But they are not liable for the content that they censor, nor are they liable for the content that they allow. How is this the free market? Is this typical for private property? Heads I win, tails you lose.

A private company may censor content and also be liable for its decisions. Do these social media platforms really fit the definition of a private company? I would say that Raimondo nailed the point that these companies do not qualify as private property.

The privileges Big Tech enjoys are real, and are not the product of a free market. Facebook’s partnership with government-backed think tanks like the Atlantic Council and Silicon Valley’s cozy relationship with the military-industrial complex are lurid illustrations of how Silicon Valley has deviated from its relatively free market origins.

The Solution is Still Free Markets

To solve the issue of de-platforming, we would ideally have a separation of economy and State. That means a repeal of the Communications Decency Act, no regulation of so-called hate speech on the Internet, and less government barriers to entry. A daunting set of tasks indeed.

On a more positive note, there are 21st century tools available to help content creators maneuver their way out of Big Tech’s censorship mine field.

Email marketing and personal branding are providing individuals new outlets to earn a living online. Thanks to these innovations, individuals can make money anywhere in the world. Better yet, people now have the ability to make money without having to deal with politically correct bosses or government censors. Libertarian content creators like Tom Woods have mastered email marketing to build their own brands online without government funding or having to rely on politically correct corporations for a paycheck.

In a similar vein, alternative social media platforms like Gab have emerged to fulfill the desire for a censorship-free social media platform. That being said, Gab does face considerable challenges in overcoming the network effects other established platforms like Facebook and Twitter have enjoyed. It also doesn’t help that businesses like payment processor Paypal and hosting company Joyent are breaking ties with Gab.

But not all is doom and gloom. Certain payment protocols like the Lightning Network allow users to conduct transactions without fear of government interference or being cut off by traditional payment processors like Paypal. In the same token, decentralized storage systems like Gaia facilitate the hosting of content in a way that is free from government censors’ grasp and corporations’ PC agenda.

It’s the State Stupid

The key is that the State not be involved in social media in the first place. In fact, the State is arguably the biggest obstacle in preventing the arrival of Big Tech’s next competitor. This is not a discussion about what platform is going to be the “next Facebook”. What we should really be talking about is a wholesale upgrade to the current social media market. Ideally, this upgrade would come with decentralized features.

The future is decentralized and if we want to speed up this process, the State must butt out of our economic activities.

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Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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