The Social Media Censorship Battle
There is nothing like a social media war to inspire nuttiness from all sides, and the latest is the furor over YouTube’s decision to “demonetize” Steve Crowder. Which means the comedian can still post stuff on the platform but can’t raise money directly through it. Should we care? Yes, but the remedy isn’t what people think.
First, let’s dispose of the dumb arguments…
Some folks argue that the social media giants should never exclude anyone. Not so. They exclude a lot of nasties, people like Hamas, revenge-porn posters and white nationalists. You want to go to the mattresses for them? Be my guest, but count me out.
Others say that there is no need for a government response because there are no barriers to entry. But that doesn’t sound right, either. Google employs 100,000 people, many of them high-skilled techies. The company’s search engine has an unmatched ability to dig down into obscure files. Not anyone can launch his own platform.
So would antitrust action help? Not really. All it would do is split one politically intolerant YouTube into two politically intolerant YouTubes. Plus, just how would we divide them up? On the basis of user names, maybe, “A” to “L” in one company, “M” to “Z” in the other. Or the last digit of users’ social security numbers. Only, what would stop the users from getting back together again on the same platform as before?
The point is that, if the social media giants are really natural monopolies, once separated they will tend to get back together again, and it would be a piece of work for the regulators to try to keep them apart.
The politicians who threaten such action no doubt have their reasons. It’s a wonderful way to shake down firms for political contributions, and it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the social media giants are sitting on tons of cash and spending it lavishly in DC. Think how much more money they would spend if they constantly had to court politicians, especially the ones who make noises about antitrust enforcement.
So do we just throw up our hands? No, and the Steve Crowder episode explains why. Crowder is loud and funny, and he likes to make fun of the other side. That’s what got him in trouble. Laughter is man’s way of biting, said Charles Baudelaire.
There’s always someone we’re laughing at, and that person is going to take offense. If it’s a conservative laughing at a liberal, even a liberal who seems to be asking for it, even someone who dishes it out but can’t take it, like the butt of Crowder’s laughter, that’s when the progressive social media censors step in.
They used to say that the only form of free speech in the old Soviet Union was the jokes, and now they are trying to ban the jokes here when they are told by conservatives.
We evidently need some supervision of the social media giants. They wield enormous power, and they operate in darkness, so let’s shine a flashlight on them. If you worry about Russian influence in our elections, worry more about Big Tech.
There is a regulatory model, in agencies like the Federal Election Commission and the Board of Broadcast Governors, bipartisan groups whose members are appointed by both parties. Let’s have a similarly bipartisan Social Media Commission and give it the power to investigate and report on how the YouTubes and Twitters might abuse their powers.
The FEC can prosecute for violations of campaign finance laws, and that’s the last thing we’d want a Social Media Commission to do. It’s overkill, and it isn’t necessary. It would suffice were the commission empowered to investigate the tendentious algorithms and biased policing norms that always seem to favor one side and not the other — and then to shine a light on this with a public report.
The truth is that even Crowder’s stuff is sometimes way over the line. Mind you, I think they’d say the same thing about the Twitter accounts of a lot of television hosts.
And the commission’s members? Appoint people universally respected for their intelligence, fairness and above all… their sense of humor!