Conservative Plans for Tech Amount to Forced Association

By Veronique de Rugy

Last week, I had an intense argument with a conservative friend of mine about alleged “discrimination” from various media platforms against conservatives. My main point to her was that the constant complaints by conservatives — and their repeated demand that platforms not be allowed to engage in moderating content as these platforms see fit — will inevitably encourage more and more Republicans to support new and unprecedented government interventions in the space. 

Democrats who have always liked the idea of telling private companies what they can and cannot do and say would be more than happy to collaborate with these newly minted conservative friends of intervention. 

It is also hard to support them when so many of their claims of being discriminated against seem questionable. 

But beyond this risk, these constant and mass complaints by conservatives about their treatment by Google and other tech companies strike me as inconsistent. Indeed, in other cases, some of these same conservatives seem to have had no objection to companies restricting access to consumers or expressing their beliefs through their businesses.

Consider the following examples. 

Conservatives, alongside libertarians (with the strange exception of presidential candidate Gary Johnson), have argued that a baker should not be required by law to design and sell custom products for same-sex weddings to which bakers have conscience-based objections. The Supreme Court agreed

With that in mind, I fail to see how it is not hypocritical or inconsistent at the very least for conservatives to turn around and argue that while the Christian baker can choose not to bake the gay couple’s cake, Google and YouTube should not be free to choose how they moderate their platforms and which content they allow on those platforms.

It is also inconsistent for conservatives to argue that somehow they have a right to be on any platform of their choosing, under whatever terms they deem appropriate, but that the gay couple shouldn’t be allowed to force bakers to bake cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Now, I grant you that I am not a lawyer. But on its face these dual stances seem contradictory.

Also, remember how outraged conservatives were when the Obama administration tried to require employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control even when it conflicted with employers’ religious beliefs? In that case, Obamacare required most health-insurance plans to cover birth control without cost sharing. Hobby Lobby, a privately owned corporation, argued that it should not have to cover certain emergency contraception options, such as the morning-after pill and some forms of IUDs, because of that company’s religious beliefs. The Supreme Court agreed with them too

Again, it’s inconsistent for conservatives now to argue that platforms such as Google and YouTube can’t express their own beliefs through the conduct of their private businesses.

I remind my conservative friends that these are private platforms; it is utterly bizarre that they believe they are somewhat entitled to access to any of them. 

First, customers who are unhappy with the services they are provided by these platforms are always free to leave and never return. Second, these platforms provide a service to customers for free. This fact doesn’t justify conservatives’ current sense of entitlement to these services. In my opinion, it should instead make them grateful for whatever access they do have! 

As my friend and colleague Adam Thierer noted recently:

In reality, today’s social media tools and platforms have been the greatest thing that ever happened to conservatives. Mr. Trump owes his presidency to his unparalleled ability to directly reach his audience through Twitter and other platforms. As recently as June 12, President Trump tweeted, ‘The Fake News has never been more dishonest than it is today. Thank goodness we can fight back on Social Media.’ Well, there you have it!

Adam also wrote the following:

What is most outrageous about all this is that the core rationale behind Hawley’s effort — the idea that conservatives are somehow uniquely disadvantaged by large social media platforms — is utterly preposterous. In May, the Trump Administration launched a ‘tech bias’ portal which ‘asked Americans to share their stories of suspected political bias’ The portal is already closed and it is unclear what, if anything, will come out of this effort. But this move and Hawley’s proposal point to the broader trend of conservatives getting more comfortable asking Big Government to redress imaginary grievances about supposed ‘bias’ or ‘exclusion.’

Conservatives should keep in mind that opportunistically using the government to achieve one’s goal will surely backfire. Thierer here is right yet again:

Some conservatives are fond of ridiculing liberals for being “snowflakes” when it comes to other free speech matters, such as free speech on college campuses. Many times they are right. But one has to ask who the real snowflakes are when conservative lawmakers are calling on regulatory bureaucracies to reorder speech on private platform based on the mythical fear of not getting “fair” treatment. One also cannot help but wonder if those conservatives have thought through how this new Internet regulatory regime will play out once a more liberal administration takes back the reins of power. Conservatives will only have themselves to blame when the Speech Police come for them.

What goes for the baker goes for the online platforms. YouTube can’t post your content without your permission, and you can’t post your content on their platform without their consent. What is the right principle? It is this: consent — by both parties. 

 

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Veronique de Rugy

AIER Senior Fellow Veronique de Rugy is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a nationally syndicated columnist. Her primary research interests include the US economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, tax competition, and financial privacy.