February 3, 2021

Punching Back Against Big Tech

The speech-silencing oligarchs clearly have the upper hand, but that’s because we haven’t yet dropped the gloves.

“If we want everyone in the world to have access to all the opportunities that come with the Internet, we need to keep the Internet free and open.”

So said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

On July 12, 2017.

How times have changed. Zuck and his fellow Big Tech oligarchs have long since renounced their belief in a “free and open” Internet, throwing in instead with the cowards and tyrants who use their power to censor and deplatform those with whom they disagree.

Take Parler, for example. We challenge any red-blooded, Liberty-loving American to visit the company’s now-pathetic home page and read the posts from CEO John Matze, Senator Rand Paul, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and the platform’s part-owner Dan Bongino and come away with anything but a sense that Big Tech is evil.

Rachel Bovard, writing in American Consequences, rightly sees Big Tech as a cabal of “mega-corporations capable of distorting speech, thought, and behavior — not to mention privacy and data property rights — on an international scale, exerting unprecedented levels of influence over billions of people.” She says it’s “a growing threat from mega-corporate power that rivals — and in some cases, arguably supersedes — that of the government.”

Those who love the marketplace of ideas and our Constitution’s First Amendment have certainly been bloodied, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. It just means we need to dispense with our naïve belief that Big Tech is fundamentally decent; that its oligarchs are in any way committed to the “free and open” Internet they championed back in 2017.

As Allysia Finley writes in The Wall Street Journal, “Big tech companies today more closely resemble the old telephone monopolies that Congress sought to regulate as common carriers in 1930s than broadband providers do. They have used their market power to suppress speech and competitors, even while pretending to defend an ‘open and free Internet.’ … Democratic states including California and Washington have since imposed their own net-neutrality policies. Which leads to an idea: While Republicans now have little clout in Washington, those in Florida or Texas might consider imposing their own neutrality rules on Big Tech.”

Finally. A punch thrown in anger.

Bovard, too, can throw a punch. She sees Big Tech companies as monopolistic, and she proposes breaking them up. She also notes that this interventionist approach isn’t necessarily at odds with conservative and libertarian thought. “Generations of classical liberal and libertarian-minded thinkers,” she writes, “have understood that when left unchecked, both democracy and capitalism can be susceptible to tyranny — the former to tyranny of the majority, the latter to tyranny of monopoly or cartels.”

Unfortunately, those in government with any inclination to rein in Big Tech have no power to do so. Senator Josh Hawley, for example, can lead by denunciation — but little else. As he wrote recently in a New York Post op-ed, “The cancel culture agenda will only succeed if we let it. We need live in fear only if we choose to say nothing. In this time of testing, conservatives must not shrink back. We need to stand up for the right of every American to be heard. We need to stand up for the basic principles that join all Americans together — the right to speak freely, to debate openly, and to address our differences graciously without fear of being silenced or punished for dissenting views.”

Hawley is right, of course, but again: He’s a senator. As John Hinderaker points out, the states are better equipped to punch back at Big Tech. “The solution,” he writes, “is to work through the states. There are plenty of states controlled by conservatives — or at least people who believe in free speech — to make this happen. In my opinion, if a critical mass of states, say 10 or 15, enact such legislation, authorizing substantial statutory damages for each violation along with attorneys’ fees, the social media platforms will have no choice but to stop suppressing conservative voices.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would seem to be on board, and his state is acting accordingly. One feature of a pending Florida bill: It bars social media platforms from deplatforming political candidates during an election campaign, with substantial fines.

As The Daily Wire reports, he blasted both the mainstream media and their Big Tech fellow travelers for having conspired to suppress the New York Post’s bombshell Hunter Biden story while claiming, ridiculously, that the story was based on “hacked information.”

“You’re trying to tell me if there was hacked information that could damage me you guys wouldn’t print it? Given me a break,” he said. “You can whiz on my leg, but don’t tell me it’s raining.”

Thanks, governor, for the quote of the week.

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