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 Reason.com, 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.