Government Regulation of Social Media? Grow Up, Conservatives!

Steve Bannon, Breitbart chief and top advisor to President Trump, reportedly thinks it’s time to regulate social media like Facebook and Twitter as a public utility.

Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad. The sources recounted the conversations on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give the accounts on record, and could face repercussions for doing so.

Regulating a company as a utility does not mean that the government controls it, but rather that it is much more tightly regulated in what it is able to do and prices it is able to charge. And it doesn’t mean every element of the company would be regulated in that way. For Google — which now calls itself Alphabet and has already conveniently broken itself up into discrete elements — it may only be the search function that would be regulated like a utility.

BIG mistake. But it’s also a reminder. The battle for liberty is not between Republicans and Democrats. It’s not even between Trump supporters and Democrats. It’s between advocates of freedom and advocates of statism.

If you’re in favor of freedom, you want government’s hands off the Internet. And that includes social media. I cannot stand the leftist politics of Facebook and Twitter. But the only reason I cannot stand their politics is because they are largely anti-freedom, anti-personal responsibility, anti-free-market, anti-individual rights. There’s nothing whatsoever liberal about what used to be called liberalism. Yet I take no comfort in the possibility that a government run by Steve Bannon, or Donald Trump, or anyone else, will be regulating social media. I don’t want any government involvement, and neither should you, regardless of your politics — unless you favor dictatorship.

Social media, like the Internet itself, has become very important in nearly everyone’s life. I fully agree. That’s the precise reason to keep the government out of it. It’s the same reason for getting government out of equally important areas such as medical care and education. When statist leftist progressives call for more, more, more government in everything, at least they’re consistent. Conservative Trump supporters like Bannon generally favor less government involvement in medicine and education, especially at the federal level. Why the about-face when it comes to social media? The phrase “power corrupts” comes to mind. Very sad, but not surprising.

Conservatives like Bannon make the same mistake as their progressive counterparts, some of whom eagerly support this measure as they confidently anticipate a return to power. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon’s control over who-says-what on social media will become a leftist Democrat’s stewardship in just 3 or 8 years. Is this what conservatives want?

Many incorrectly assume that when social media companies filter out what they do not like, it’s a violation of free speech. But when you forbid me to speak on your private property, you are not violating my speech. You only violate my speech when you forbid me to speak on my own property, or Internet site, or broadcast station, which I (or others) willingly paid for. There’s a difference, and to anyone who’s not a statist, the difference is obvious.

Market forces have kept Twitter and Facebook from going all the way on curtailing non-leftist speech. They know they will lose profits if they go too far,by limiting their customers to only half of the population. Yet if they go all the way, it’s their right. And they will pay the price in the marketplace of ideas. It’s up to opposing forces to start their own companies.

Grow up, conservatives! The self-responsibility that applies to progressives applies to all of us. Treating social media like social utilities is how the left ruined much of education, transportation, medicine, mail delivery (when it still mattered) and a whole lot else. The Internet has been a bastion of free market capitalism compared to the alternatives. Why do you think it has been so successful? Except when it comes to defeating bad guys and criminals, government is by definition the problem — not the solution. If conservatives no longer believe this, then there’s nobody left to defend private property and free speech.

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