Here’s one for my readers to chew over and then figure out where they stand.

Two New York Times articles by opinion writers on regulation of social media — Facebook, Twitter, Parler, etcetera. The two took opposite tacks.

I tend to fear any government regulation of media. Such regulation has been long standing in China and other authoritarian nations where the philosophy is that everything individuals do should benefit the whole population or else not be allowed.

I’ll let the two writers make their cases, sit back, and see if any one of you has a better idea or a well-thought-out take-down of either writer.

First, Robert H. Frank, an emeritus professor of economics at Cornell University. Here’s his take for regulation:

Some people object to reining in social media on libertarian grounds. John Samples, vice president of the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, says, for example, that government has no business second-guessing people’s judgments about what to post or read on social media. That position would be easier to defend in a world where individual choices had no adverse impact on others. But negative spillover effects are in fact quite common.

individual and collective incentives about what to post or read on social media often diverge sharply. There is simply no presumption that what spreads on these platforms best serves even the individual’s own narrow interests, much less those of society as a whole.

In short, the antitrust remedies under consideration in Congress and the courts won’t stem the abuses that flow from the targeted-ad business model. But a simpler step may hold greater promise: Platforms could be required to abandon that model in favor of one relying on subscriptions, whereby members gain access to content in return for a modest recurring fee.

Proposals for regulating social media merit rigorous public scrutiny. But what recent events have demonstrated is that policymakers’ traditional hands-off posture is no longer defensible.

Now, Peter Suderman. He’s the managing editor at, the libertarian magazine of the Reason Foundation, and (like me) opposes Prof. Frank’s argument:

That [regulation proposal] world is one in which speech is often perceived not as an individual right, but as a public act, in which words and ideas are not your own, but a contribution to the collective. Social media has, in effect, socialized speech.

So it’s no surprise that the rise of social media has coincided with calls for restrictions on speech, both online and off, from narrow campaigns to strip people of speaking gigs or get sites to evict alt-right trolls and provocateurs, or even more broad-based pushes to regulate big tech platforms at the federal level. The omnipresence of social media has increased demand for limitations on speech.

Combating this perception will entail a return to the original, unmet promise of social media — of a tailored experience that serves up what you want, rather than what you don’t. Blocking, muting, unfollowing and even unplugging should be celebrated. Social media should work for you, not against you. More generally, it will require reinforcing, whenever possible, the notion that it’s not only speech that is an individual right and responsibility — so is listening.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

3 replies on “A Late Sunday Post, Because It’s Very Important”

  1. I have pretty much turned off all mainstream media as the information is often too biased and untrustworthy. It was interesting to watch the CBS interview between the almost impeached President and a female anchor. He ended the interview by apparently removing his mic and dropping it to the ground. You can hear and see his frustration and disgust with the mainstream media.

    1. I meant to say that the interview was between the almost impeached President’s attorney and a female CBS anchor.

  2. Anyone interested in this problem should read this article:

    It’s long, but it makes a detailed argument that that the big internet companies have turned our human social experience into their proprietary data. Surveillance capitalism is the result. We can have that or we can have democracy. The unlimited free speech on internet platforms is the way these companies make money. Their programs encourage and amplify disinformation, because it is exciting and makes money for them.

    Read the article. It makes the argument much better than I can, because the author has been studying the problem for 42 years.

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