Early in 2021, I wrote an article about Focus on the Family being banned briefly from Twitter. On January3rd, 2022, Facebook advertising permanently banned Heroes of Liberty, (publisher of children’s books on historical figures) from all future advertising campaigns. After conservative backlash, they reversed their decision within hours. That same day, Rand Paul announced he was closing his YouTube account due to past COVID videos being removed. The previous day, Majorie Taylor Greene was permanently banned from Twitter and temporarily from Facebook, for expressing her views on COVID and the 2020 Presidential election.
These recent examples of restrictions to our freedom of speech come as a direct result of private media enterprises choosing what is inappropriate content on their platforms. Over the last two years there have been escalating tensions over inconsistencies in the application of their published guidelines. It is likely that government oversight will be applied to major social media outlets if conservatives successfully take over control of the congress in 2022. Interestingly, as far back as early 2019, Facebook has been outspoken in promoting government regulations on content. This request is likely the result of an attempt to mitigate pressures related to setting their own standards.
Running in parallel to these events is Trump’s drive to establish a platform (Truth Social) to compete with Facebook, YouTube, Tik-Tok, etc. as the 2024 presidential campaign approaches.
At A Crossroads
The question becomes how should social media platforms be regulated to insure an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and the designation of inappropriate content. There seems to only be two choices to resolve this dilemma.
Government Takeover of Social Media Policy
I think government burocracy, established to protect America from social media moguls, will ultimately fail. The government will not be able to effectively police social media. Committees will be formed, thousands of pages of policy guidelines will be written, years will go by, courts will get involved, and millions of dollars will be squandered. Politics will invade policy and nothing will get done.
Free Market Competitive Pressure
America was built on capitalism – individuals competing against each other (under a legal foundation) to build a better mousetrap. The solution to Facebook’s disproportionate banning based on their evolving definition of truth could be open market pressures. However, there are at least two roadblocks to this solution. First, many believe Facebook, Tik-Tok and Instagram are not competitors more than they are a collaborating monopoly. It is interesting to note how intertwined these platforms and their leadership are (see an earlier post). One could argue that Trump is coming out with his own platform and there is also Rumble (which Trump is partnering with), Gab, Parler, and MeWe among others, already competing in this space. However, so far they remain too small to be a truly balanced option against the giants. The second problem with capitalistic-based competition as a solution to social censorship is that it will further separate us as a nation. Tribalism reigns in this country and having separate social media platforms, segmented by political affiliations, allow for further isolation between conservative and liberal factions in this country.
To me, it comes down to the lesser of evils. If the choice is either further government intrusion into American freedoms or continuing to rely on market competition, my vote is the latter. I reluctantly believe we need to allow the social media platforms to continue to set their own standard of censorship. The news media needs to be the watchdog on our freedom of expression. (It’s hard to even write these words given the current level of public trust in the media.) Over time, perhaps the alternate social platforms will gain traction and the reality of increased tribalism is an unfortunate outcome given the alternatives.