Scott Tibbs

Tread carefully on social media censorship

By Scott Tibbs, April 16, 2021

Conservatives are right to be concerned with the liberal bias of Big Tech. I have criticized silly censorship policies of both Facebook and Twitter, as well as the moderation practices of the local newspaper's comment section. But if we insert the federal government into social media moderation policies, we could be creating a much bigger problem down the road.

First, alternatives exist. While some conservatives were alarmed at Twitter's decision to forbid the National Archives from preserving Donald Trump's posts there, we are talking about the federal government here. There is no barrier to an entity with a $4.8 trillion budget from building a website to preserve the posts for the historical record. An archive of the President's posts on Twitter will be preserved.

Alternatives exist on a smaller level too. Gab has maintained an account that mirrored the President's posts on Twitter and continues to post the statements that Trump has been releasing since leaving office. Telegram, Parler and MeWe also exist as alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. Blog hosting services and newsletter sites like Substack allow for more long-form writing as well.

Limiting what social media companies can remove could have negative effects that conservatives will not like, especially for social conservatives. If social media is treated as a common carrier, will they be permitted to remove hardcore pornography? Do you really want to log into Facebook and see sex videos in your news feed, or would you prefer Facebook be allowed to continue to remove this content?

There is a difference between content providers and common carriers like phone companies. First, phone companies provide person-to-person communication, rather than serve as platforms for speech. But even with phone companies, your use of their service is not unlimited. For example, search for the word "abusive" in AT&T's terms of service and see the reasons they can discontinue your service. Federal and state regulations prohibit things like "robocalls" and maintain a "do not call" list.

Of course, opposing government meddling in social media sites' moderation policies does not and has never meant that people cannot oppose and criticize what they believe is bad policy by Big Tech. One can believe that platforms do and should have the legal right to ban users for objectionable behavior and also publicly criticize content moderation policy. It is possible to oppose both social media censorship and big-government overreach, and those positions are not contradictory.

Ultimately, no one is happy about the current state of affairs on social media. Some want more strict content moderation, and some want less. Both sides should be careful what they wish for. The answer to this problem is not a top-down "solution" from the federal government or from state governments, but an embrace of the free market. Consumers usually get what they want by voting with their feet.

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