There is an aphorism attributed to noted philosopher V. I. Lenin, “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.” That is, sadly, where a lot of conservatives are on the issue of the throttling of conservative speech by the social media monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Twitter. There is a strain of self-deception prevalent among so-called free market conservatives that because these companies are private corporations that they have the right to control what content is available. This is nonsense. Try refusing to bake a cake for homosexual wedding reception and see what that gets you. From a strictly legal standpoint, these corporations have safe harbor under the Communications Decency Act because they are platforms and open to use by the public. The moment they started curating content…that’s the code word for corporate censorship of speech they don’t like…they become publishers and are liable for what they carry (see Vichy Conservatives Discover That They Have No Problem With Restrictions On Conservative Speech On Social Media).
The impact of social media becoming the exclusive preserve of the left is slowly but surely sinking in on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
Today, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley has a seminal op-ed in USAToday on the subject: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are parasites. Maybe they should disappear: Senator
Social media consumers are getting wise to the joke that when the product is free, they’re the ones being sold. But despite the growing threat of consumer exploitation, Washington still shrinks from confronting our social media giants.
Because the social giants have convinced the chattering class that America simply can’t do without them. Confront the industry, we’re told, and you might accidentally kill it — and with it, all the innovation it has (supposedly) brought to our society.
Maybe. But maybe social media’s innovations do our country more harm than good. Maybe social media is best understood as a parasite on productive investment, on meaningful relationships, on a healthy society.
Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared.
Ask the social giants what it is that they produce for America and you’ll hear grand statements about new forms of human interaction. But ask where their money comes from and you’ll get the real truth.
Advertising is what the social giants truly care about, and for an obvious reason. It’s how they turn a profit. And when it comes to making money, they’ve been great innovators. They’ve designed platforms that extract massive amounts of personal data without telling consumers, then sell that data without consumers’ permission.
And in order to guarantee an audience big enough to make their ads profitable, big tech has developed a business model designed to do one thing above all: addict.
I think Hawley is right in both regards.
Social media platforms are engaged in an invasion of personal privacy that would have made the KGB or Stasi green with envy. If you have Siri or Alexa, your conversations with your family, your sex life, is being recorded, it is being analyzed by strangers–and sold to other strangers–to find out the best way of monetizing your every waking minute. The flip side to that, and we’re seeing it in action on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and YouTube right now, is that with the information on your preferences, people you don’t know can decide that your political views are dangerous or socially retrograde and simply prevent you from encountering material that validates your worldview.
For all social media’s supposed wizardry “connecting” us to content and to each other, we’re not a more literate or more social nation thanks to social media. We are not a happier or a kinder one. We are, in fact, more impoverished, lonely, and despairing.
As for what social media adds to our economy, consider this: high salaries and stock options have encouraged a generation of our brightest engineers to enter a field of little productive value. This is, to put it mildly, an opportunity missed for the nation.
You don’t have to be on Twitter or Facebook for very long to see Hawley proven correct. Instead of giving us away of staying linked to friends and acquaintances in real time, it has given us the ability to harass and berated and threaten strangers. It has given douchebags at places like BuzzFeed the ability to get people fired from their jobs based on a thoughtless comment that was intended to be seen only by a few friends.
Whatever good social media is doing is probably outweighed by the harm. Left alone, that might be a mere value judgment on the part of some Luddites. But given the desire and the ability of people within those organizations to control what you think and believe, I think a strong case has been made for breaking up these companies or driving them into bankruptcy.