July 21, 2021

LeadershipMarkets & Free Enterprise

Should Conservatives Support Regulating Big Tech?

By: John Sweeney

Should conservatives support efforts to regulate Big Tech? I used to be opposed to the idea, but lately I’ve come to second guess my priors. If it were up to me, Facebook would be nothing more than a digital reminder of friend’s birthdays and TikTok would most certainly not exist, at least not in America. 

I can feel my libertarian friends’ blood pressure starting to rise. Don’t worry friends, I freely admit that my opinions on social media and Big Tech are generally biased, hyperbolic, and mostly the result of sentiment. Your objection to the federal government meddling in private business is noted and almost convincing. But despite my disdain for federal intervention and the federal government , there’s a part of me that wishes to see Josh Hawley wearing a Teddy Rosevelt mask as he votes to pass a law to bust Big Tech into pieces. This may seem like a nightmare to many of you. 

I’m not going to evaluate the merits of repealing section 230 protections for Big Tech companies here because I have neither the space, nor the expertise to do so.  But to pretend like there isn’t at least an argument to be made that Facebook, Google, and the like are qualitatively different from every other private business seems disingenuous. Big Tech’s control of information and the public square is ubiquitous. Unelected oligarchs decide what is and isn’t true, what’s worth reading, and who is worth listening to, according to their increasingly woke worldview.  As long as it’s still profitable of course. 

You have to admit that a company like Facebook—which is designed to be addictive—having the amount of influence that it does over the public square is concerning to say the least.

To make matters worse, on Thursday, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, said the quiet part out loud when she admitted that the Biden administration is coordinating directly with Facebook to identify which posts are spreading misinformation. . Now, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and suggest that this isn’t the first time the federal government has coordinated with Big Tech to achieve its goals. If they are willing to admit to it this time, can you imagine what they are doing that they don’t want you to know about? I shudder to imagine. Big Tech does not behave like normal businesses competing in the marketplace because they are not normal businesses, at least not any more, they are engines for social control.

“If you don’t like it, start your own company.” This is an objection I’ve heard on more than one occasion and in the past have appealed to myself.  But I think we all remember what happened with Parlor last year.  The tech companies that are already established, who are most certainly colluding with the federal government on occasion, have no interest in allowing competing businesses to offer successful alternatives. Free market competition in this space isn’t quite as free as you’ve been led to believe.  

But the question remains, how are we supposed to view and treat companies like Facebook and Twitter, who have a stronghold on public debate and information? Justice Clarence Thomas may have the answer.  On April 5, he announced that the Supreme Court will soon have to consider the amount of power and influence wielded by Big Tech. The way forward, according to Justice Thomas, may be to treat these companies like common carriers or public utilities.

I don’t know if Justice Thomas has the right answer. Perhaps, like some diseases, there is no cure for malignant cancer that is Big Tech. But to argue that Amazon and your local bookstore are the same and should be treated the same by the law should raise eyebrows.