“Social Media Censorship: A Right, but Very Wrong” was originally published by the Liberty Institute of Freedom and Economics (LIFE).
The recent deplatforming of Alex Jones from Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and many other social media platforms has the people up in arms. Now more than ever, people are calling for the government to force the internet to be a neutral platform, coercing independent platforms to not invoke their freedom of association. While this may come across as a reasonable reaction initially, it is quite clear that government regulation will not solve the problem of the suppression of free speech online.
In fact, this article will prove that government intervention is the problem that is causing the suppression of non-mainstream voices (it is important to realize that Alex Jones is not the only individual to fall victim of this purge. Scott Horton, an editor of antiwar.com and founder of the Libertarian Institute, had his twitter suspended as did Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity). It is government coercion that is compelling these platforms to suppress the voices of individuals on the anti-war right (largely libertarians).
In addition, it is important to remember that just because you have the right to be outraged by the actions of these social media platforms, it is also our right to boycott, to introduce and support competition, or reject social media entirely. The consumer has great power in determining what businesses do. If you want social media platforms to allow individuals regardless of what content they are producing, demand it from the businesses, not the government.
Social Media Platforms Have the Right to Censor
Every company that removed Infowars, Alex Jones, and other figures are ultimately privately owned. They are corporations which allow for private owners to hold stock in the companies. For the State to intervene and force these platforms to host anyone would be a violation of the company’s natural property rights. In the same way a Christian baker has every right to refuse to provide a service for a gay wedding, so too does a social media platform have every right to provide a service to someone with whom they disagree.
A platform is ultimately a service. Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and all the rest are businesses with private owners. It is their right to refuse to serve you. If one violently forces these businesses to serve those they do not wish to serve, then they truly do not own the platform. Rather, “owners” are the holders of fiat property under an administrative state that instructs people on how they must run their businesses. In the same way that Google has the right to fire James Damore for his conservatism, so too do they have the right to refuse to show libertarian content such as that which is produced by Scott Horton and Daniel McAdams or conspiracy theories propagated by Alex Jones.
What About the Government Benefits They Receive?
Opponents of the right of disassociation often say that these social media giants aren’t truly private because they are subsidized by the government. This, however, is an incredibly dangerous idea. Private individuals receive government benefits. We use public roads and other forms of public infrastructure. Our occupations often rest within government-protected industries. Does the government own us because we benefit from their “services?” Of course not. The reason why we benefit from these subsidies is that the government holds a monopoly power on this matter. There is no competition in this affair. If the government has the right to regulate social media outlets, then they logically have the right to regulate us. Since government does not have the right to control us, then they do not have the right to control the social media outlets.
The People SHOULD be Outraged by Censorship
While we are obligated to respect the private property of others (and others are obligated to respect the private property of myself), we are in the right to claim that what these social media giants are doing is morally abhorrent and bad for business. It is a sign of the hypersensitivity of the modern world that people instinctively shut down opposing opinions rather than have conversations and debate with those we may not agree with. In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Censorship Damages the Cause of Liberty
After banning Alex Jones, several liberty figures also had their reach on social media severely limited. In the modern world, social media is extremely important. Facebook is large enough to swing elections now. If Facebook shuts down libertarian and conservative voices, it is their right. But it is also our right to express outrage and to encourage boycotts against the business.
Our society has become too sensitive
The first thing to die in a totalitarian society is laughter. We could see the suppression of “offensive” comedy as the precursor to this sudden clamp down on opposing ideas. The new culture is a result of sheltered individuals who believe that the world owes them. In truth, no one owes you anything. The people have become less able to rationally analyze ideas, so they immediately resort to shutting down voices that challenge their worldview. Regardless of where you stand on Alex Jones, is it really necessary to shut him down for you to be comfortable?
Social Media Censorship is Bad for Business
As a business, it is your goal to gain as large of a profit as possible. Limiting your consumer base is a terrible idea for a business. Facebook stock has been dropping more than Twitter’s stock value dropped in 2015 (Twitter’s stock is also down due to the low number of users right now). This is because social media, which gains revenue by gaining more active users, is limiting the number of users they can host. This is not a sustainable business model. In the same way that you have a right to run a successful business, you also have the right to run a business into the ground which is exactly what social media giants such as Mark Zuckerberg are doing by suppressing libertarian and conservative voices on their platforms.
The Government Blackmailed These Platforms
This instance of censorship, however, did not come entirely from the free will of the platforms. Representative Jamie Raskin (D – MD) is a prime example of this. In a hearing, he asked for Facebook to remove platforms like Infowars.
It would be reasonable to say that one can ask a platform to change their business model, but not a government agent. When one carries the power of the US Federal Government, a request is a threat. If Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and other platforms did not comply with this request, they could expect new regulations, new tax audits, new antitrust legislation, and so on. In other words, the government asking platforms to shut down anti-government voices is, in fact, a threat. It is the threat that one will invoke a monopoly on violence against the private business if they do not bend their knee.
After Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and others shut down Infowars, US Senator Chris Murphy (D – CT) called upon these platforms to shut down even more anti-war, anti-State voices. So the threat against these businesses and to free expression is very real. As the great Justin Raimondo points out, this is extortion.
More Government is NOT the Answer
Now that it is clear that Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and all the rest are removing platforms under duress, it should be clear that government is the problem, not the solution. The government knows that they cannot violate the First Amendment openly. Because of this, they force media companies to act as their proxies.
The Government will not protect you
It is incredibly naive to believe that the government will regulate social media outlets in order to protect you from censorship. Hate speech laws are already in existence in Western Europe and the West Coast of the US. These laws are gaining popularity as well. If the government takes over Facebook, one can be certain that the censorship would get worse. Much of the censorship today is the result of government meddling, after all.
The Government will not eliminate market power
Many claim that we need to lower the barriers to access to competing against Facebook, Apple, Google, Spotify, and the rest of the giants, but antitrust legislation and other regulations only make the large businesses more powerful. These businesses can afford the regulations. Their smaller competitors, however, cannot do this. This is the same problem that America faced in the progressive era. Standard Oil, US Steel, JP Morgan, and so many other trusts supported and lobbied for regulation and government intervention. It gave them more power. New regulations in social media will only strengthen Facebook, Apple, Google, and Spotify.
To Stop Censorship, Free the Markets
We do not live in a free market. Facebook, Apple, Google, and Spotify all benefit from regulations and taxation. We must embrace the right of association. This includes the right of us not to sponsor Orwellian thought police with our tax dollars. We must get the government out of social media so that Silicon Valley will no longer have the market power to censor the people en masse. No legislation will solve this problem. Only the voluntary interactions of private citizens will.