Again? Government Regulation of Social Media?



Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.  – Al Pacino in Godfather 3.

It’s too bad that we’ve allowed social media to become so important, so much a part of our daily lives that when the platform suspends or even bans some users, we’re all up in arms about free speech and call for the government to become involved and regulate these various platforms like they are a utility.

The most important consideration is that these are not utilities. By that I mean that your life is impacted if your electricity, gas, or water is cut off, being suspended or banned from Twitter is not the same. It may be an inconvenience, but it’s hardly life threatening

Yes, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become monopolies, but it’s not like people actually require these services. I’m (unfortunately!) old enough to remember the government mandate to break up AT&T. At the time, they were the phone company in the U.S. and the government came to the conclusion that they were too big and needed to be brought under control. So what happened? The company was split into several regional companies, known as “Baby Bells”. We all cheered. But wait! Instead of having one large monopoly all that was done was that there were a half dozen smaller monopolies created.

At the time I lived in Houston, Texas, and my telephone provider became “Southwestern Bell”. No other competition, just the one company. Isn’t that still a monopoly, at least in the region they operate which covered millions of consumers? Of course it is and later, after a few years what happened? They ended up buying each other out and consolidating anyway. With government approval. Did rates go down? Nope.  But the whole debacle made the politicians look good because of the way they portrayed AT&T as the monster in our homes.

So, I’m against any government involvement because in my view, it never leads to any overall positive outcome. There are some that disagree with me though. Will Chamberlain, a young, obviously conservative lawyer thinks that yes, the government should regulate Twitter. His argument is well made, if not flawed in my opinion. He compares Twitter to being like a public park, where everyone can say (yes with limitations, e.g., you may not incite others to violence) whatever they want. But that’s a 1st Amendment argument, which doesn’t apply to a private entity. The public park is owned by the government (that would be us) and yes, the government could force someone to leave if they were creating a public disturbance (not calling for violence against anyone, but speaking on topics that may offend those passersby). Listen to the linked video and let me know if you agree or not.

And just to put a point on this, it’s not just conservatives that are being banned or suspended. Here’s a article from a conservative outlet that tells the story of a liberal, feminist journalist banned for wrong speak. Her offense? Women can’t be men and vice versa. Not a popular opinion in some circles but does holding an unpopular opinion deserve a ban? Is there a ratio of conservative voices to liberaal ones that have been suspended or banned? I’m sure there is and I would venture a hypothesis that based on the anecdotal evidence, far more conservatives have had this experience than liberals. But I have no data to back my hypothesis.

As I’ve said many times,  there’s a solution for this if you’re upset with Twitter or Facebook or any other social media platform because you believe they are impinging on your right  to free speech (it’s not a right) – walk away.  No one forces anyone to have an account on any of these and there’s no inherent right to have one. Professor Glen Reynolds, of Instapundit fame, just deactivated his account and in my opinion gives the best reason to do so (his complete statement from his site, bolding is mine):

UPDATE: People seem to want more, and although there’s nothing duller than posting a screed on why you’re quitting a platform, here’s the gist: I’ve never liked Twitter even though I’ve used it. I was a late adopter, and with good reason. It’s the crystal meth of social media — addictive and destructive, yet simultaneously unsatisfying. When I’m off it I’m happier than when I’m on it. That it’s also being run by crappy SJW types who break their promises, to users, shareholders, and the government, of free speech is just the final reason. Why should I provide free content to people I don’t like, who hate me? I’m currently working on a book on social media, and I keep coming back to the point that Twitter is far and away the most socially destructive of the various platforms. So I decided to suspend them, as they are suspending others. At least I’m giving my reasons, which is more than they’ve done usually.

I couldn’t agree more. I left Twitter for about a year and a half and have to say that it took me about 2 weeks, after I deactivated my account, to detox from the platform. At that time, is was taking up too much of my day: from waking to going to bed, it seemed I spent most of my day perusing my timeline. Although I’m back on now, I don’t spend as much time as I did then and I’m certainly careful (as much as I can) about what I tweet. If I were suspended? I would probably just deactivate my account again. Professor Reynolds is an advocate for busting up these monopolies, mainly because they have too much power. You can read his recent opinion piece here

So we all have an option if we’re unhappy with the way Twitter, or Facebook, or any others apply and enforce their rules:  walk away.  There may not be another place to go, but then a decade ago who was Facebook and Twitter? Remember MySpace? People fled that platform for Facebook for some the same reasons. Want to change the way they do business? By leaving in droves we can affect their revenue stream. That usually gets the attention of most companies. But then, many of the loudest voices, protesting, on Twitter, their policies, are still around. What does that tell you?





4 thoughts on “Again? Government Regulation of Social Media?

  1. But we do ‘need’ the internet because many things now must be done on line. You say, “So, I’m against any government involvement because in my view, it never leads to any overall positive outcome.” Any? Never? Police? Public health? Milk trucks may only transport milk in their trucks. Check China for what happens when there is no rule.
    I agree that government over-reach is a pain in the ass. But government has a purpose and that is to serve the public’s best interest and while not always, yes it does have positive outcomes. On the role of government, we do not agree. On the value of social media (where you posted your rant), we do agree. It’s optional. I choose to play on.


    • I didn;t say anything about emergency services, or public health. Of course we need government there. I’m just that government involvement in anything digital (the Internet) will inevitably do more harm than good. There are people now, RIGHT NOW, on Twitter calling for the government to nationalize that platform. That’s a terrible idea in my view. Sure, they’d then be held to the 1st amendment, but then what? No one, even me, is able to see into the future to determine the outcome of a government takerover. Oh wait! We have examples around the world of government takeovers don’t we? China.


      • Take a deep breath, Jim. It will all be okay. I bet we agree (or nearly do) on the role of government. We both want our moneys worth, honesty and fairness. Quoting Updike: “I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.” I am not sure what government takeover you refer to. I don’t tweet. So I do not care about that. But for you. I do. (deep sigh)


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