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Will Complaining About Social Media Bias Lead to Further Regulation?

Would someone like Alex Jones have gotten anywhere near to mainstream media thirty-odd years ago? Maybe. As a one-shot local story about some controversy on local cable. How about 50 years ago? On NBC, or CBS, or ABC? Not at all likely. The big 3 were gatekeepers in those days, because they owned the airwaves and had a cozy oligopoly ladling out the news.

Infowars might have existed, say amongst the haze of smoke in dorm rooms, or in crowded and dirty apartments, or perhaps on a mimeographed fanzine sold or given away at second-hand record stores. Maybe in comic-book form. Infowars!! Can you imagine the covers? The targets might have been different as well. But the conspiracy theories would have been splendid.

So, are social media the gatekeepers of the 21st century media world? It's hard to disagree with that statement, especially given how hard it seems to be to launch a new platform that will successfully compete with Facebook and Twitter, and Google's YouTube. And beyond that fairly obvious question, how upset should we be that they ban (or suspend) Alex Jones. Or at least that some of them do?

What did mainstream media think of Rush Limbaugh 30 years ago, when he started his radio program? Did their view of him differ that much than what people think of Alex Jones today? I don't mean to say that Rush Limbaugh is as crazy as Jones, he's clearly not nor has he ever been. But he was certainly viewed as a crazy for the way he spoke about issues, as much as his policy stances. It was a voice they were uncomfortable with.

But Limbaugh gained listeners and made people money. How much money did Alex Jones make for his hosts and for himself? And where will he go now that he has been banned? Will he sink into oblivion and go deeper into tin-foil-hat theories until he's completely and utterly marginalized? Or will he find another way to communicate with his fans? One suspects the latter and that he will return in various ways.

So, yes Facebook and YouTube and Apple have property rights. They're fine to ban anyone they want to if that's their policy and even if they're hypocritical about the targets of their banning, like Twitter clearly is.

That's the real problem. Everyone in the conservative sphere that are understandably angry about Facebook's and YouTube's and Apple's banning of Jones are implicitly acknowledging that Social Media are so powerful that perhaps they should be regulated.

No, Libertarians, for example, would never say that explicitly. Instead they merely say the answer to angry, crazy hate-filled speech is more speech.

Ok. Reason (the libertarian website choke-full of interesting news and opinion) should host Alex Jones. Really, I'm serious. Give him a prominent feature even if your annual budget is something less than what Google spends per month on vegan sandwiches in their staff dining areas. The Federalist should do likewise. The Washington Examiner. The Washington Times. Breitbart definitely! Come on guys! Daily Caller, where are you??

What? You as owners of private media companies are not interested in publishing Alex Jones? You say it's your right, just like Google and Facebook. But it's not fair. They're so big!

Yes, they are. Whining, however, will bring the Feds, as in administrative state agencies, it seems to me.

And yes, one can make the argument that smaller media functions as commentary on mainstream media, providing competing, or alternative, or in-depth complementary perspectives.

But the increasingly inexorable outcome of this latest scandal regarding Social Media is that we're one more step closer to regulation. Even if much of conservative media does indeed editorialize against such an interventionist policy. Standards and content regulations that might remind older folks of the 60's and 70's seem to be drifting towards us, with bad or crazy guys on both sides giving Congress the perfect excuse to bring yet another part of the economy a little further under the grip of the administrative state.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Connectivity was supposed to give us all voices. Welp, we like the privately-owned public square, especially the really crowded ones, particularly online. Social media changed everything. You could even argue that radio and television had early periods of anarchy followed by increasing concentration.


So, thanks in part to Alex Jones, along with Cambridge Analytica, Russian hacker trolls, and other somewhat dubious scandals, we'll soon be wondering what agencies will be given the task of expanding the regulatory regime to ensure that people like Alex Jones never get another chance to show the mainstream world how crazy they are. And wondering whether that will actually work.

That's scarier than Twitter's Shadow Banning, as disturbing as that may be.

Posted by AllardK at August 8, 2018 2:37 PM
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Discrimination will cure this problem Allard. Discrimination in the market place is illegal in every state. I expect a law suit to be filed before year end claiming just that.

This can be handled as a legal issue rather than a regulatory issue.

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