Now that we’ve sorted out how bad it is that Big Tech has as much power over free speech that it now has, we can move on to what to do about the problem. Before we do, however, let’s sort how the typical, knee-jerk reaction would make matters worse.
The typical, knee-jerk reaction when businesses run amok is for people, especially politicians who want more power, demand that government regulates the misbehaving business. That is a proper response concerning some kinds of business misbehavior. However, “as a rule, regulation is acquired by the industry and is designed and operated primarily for its benefits.”[i] Another general rule is that regulation of industry almost always winds up creating so much red tape that only the big, long-established companies can compete in the regulated business, i.e., small startups that could produce a higher quality or cheaper good or service are at a disadvantage because the cost of regulatory compliance is a large percentage of a small company’s cost structure and a small percentage of a large company’s cost structure. (Perhaps the best proof of this is Mark Zuckerberg’s call for more government regulation of search and social media.[ii]) New regulations almost always cede more power to a government that is already exercising much too much power already and facilitates even more corruption than already exists.
In light of all of that, for the regulation of a business to be warranted, the harm should be very significant, the regulation should very significantly reduce the likelihood of misbehavior, and the benefits of the foregoing exceed the inevitable negative consequences described above plus some unanticipated, “unintended” consequences. The government regulating search and social media would not come close to meeting this test.
As bad as all of the above described negative consequences of regulation are, they are not the worst consequences of government regulation of search and social media. The worst problem with the government regulating search and social media is that the government would have the power to harness some, if not all, of the power to control, infringe upon free speech that Big Tech now has. It is not just that having and exercising that power would be unconstitutional, which it would be, it is that having that much power would ultimately, if not immediately snuff out the remaining flickers of The Enlightenment ideas that are so essential to truth and a free society.[iii]
[i] “…as a rule, regulation is acquired by the industry and is designed and operated primarily for its benefits…” Regulatory capture.
[ii] See “Mark Zuckerberg: The Internet needs new rules. Let’s start in these four areas” and “Zuckerberg Wants to Regulate the Internet. Here’s Why.”