What Should Conservatives Do About Silicon Valley?
Existing laws cover much of what's going on. All it takes is the will to enforce them.
There’s a huge debate going on about Silicon Valley on the right side of the political spectrum. Social media companies and other tech giants are clearly taking sides on political disputes — against conservative outlets. This has led to a few calls for government regulation of the tech giants in the name of protecting free speech.
On the one hand, Silicon Valley has become very powerful. Apple is worth more than $1 trillion in market cap, with Google not far behind. Facebook and Twitter have immense reach across the world. Apple or Google software is on nearly every smartphone. But conservatives have long supported the free market and are rightly suspicious of government regulation, especially when it comes to abusive enforcement.
But there are some lines that should be enforced. A free market requires competition, and both Apple and Google have already flexed their muscles in an anti-competitive direction. A year ago, Google banned Gab.ai, a competitor to Twitter that stood for free speech, on the grounds that it promoted hate speech. Apple had already done so in December 2016, citing those same grounds.
Thus, it may be a case of anti-competitive collusion. The exclusion of Gab.ai on the spurious grounds of “hate speech” goes further than Microsoft ever did in the “browser wars” of the 1990s, and that company had to fight the Clinton-era Justice Department to remain intact after it won a pretty fair competition over Netscape. Incidentally, Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer, itself was passed by Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, over the years. Gab.ai is another case where the Anti-Trust Division of the Justice Department can and should step in.
In a similar vein, the November 2016 tape of a Google staff meeting raises legitimate questions about the company, as does Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s admission that conservatives don’t feel safe speaking out at his company.
Under Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code, an interactive computer service is immune from liability for information provided by other users. On the flip side of that, once a site starts blocking content or taking on any editorial role, it becomes liable for defamation claims. This is something that could be looked into as well — if the principles of a free and open debate won’t convince these companies to not censor conservative voices, perhaps the potential of legal liability for defamation that comes with losing Section 230 immunity will.
There is another avenue as well — one that may be unconventional, and given some free speech implications, more controversial. Social media companies proclaim they support free speech for all. But then some conservative groups, like Prager University on YouTube, are demonetized or censored for “hate speech.”
Meanwhile, as conservatives have their funds cut off for making conservative arguments, flagrant abuse against conservative figures is permitted or slowly rebuked. When CJ Pearson was called the N-word for standing up for American troops, Twitter took days to act, and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch likewise put up with heinous abuse that went unpunished for days. That’s if the companies bother to act at all. The unequal application of abuse policies may warrant a closer look by the Federal Trade Commission for unfair or deceptive trade practices. Every business should be held to those laws.
Here’s the thing — we don’t need new regulations or laws to deal with Silicon Valley’s recent actions. Existing laws cover much of what’s going on. All it takes is the will to enforce them, not only to ensure even-handed application of company policies, but also to create the conditions for a fair competition for alternative viewpoints.