In the beginning, many conservatives believe, there was a free Internet. A paradise of forums unfettered by content guidelines or curators was available to anyone, of any opinion, and all day and all night robust dialogue flourished. But then came Mark Zuckerberg.
Something like this myth is the only way to account for the spasms of outrage that overtake conservatives when it comes to social-media censorship, and the aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack has provided spasms aplenty. Earlier this week, Facebook removed Pamela Geller’s 50,000-member “Stop Islamization of America” group, saying that it violated the company’s policy against “hateful, threatening, or obscene” forums. Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was briefly suspended from Twitter, as was videogame developer Mark Kern, who tweeted: “I don’t see why mosques with radical leanings should be excluded from surveillance when the rest of us get our emails collected by the NSA.” And Reddit users reported that threads addressing the ideological inclinations of Omar Mateen were locked, posts deleted, and some users banned. The crackdown comes just two weeks after Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and Microsoft pledged to the European Commission that they would ban “hate speech” on their platforms.
There’s all sorts of right-wing seething, and why not? There’s an unseemly impulse among liberals to reflexively silence people who express opinions with which they disagree. But the myth of a prelapsarian Internet is steering the Right wrong, and it’s time to think differently.
It’s ironic that, as conservatives rage against the overlords of their preferred online realms, they are also, in another context, fighting to shield business owners’ right to free association in the marketplace. Jewish bakers should not have to bake cakes for Skokie’s swastika set, &c. We should permit similar liberty to Mark Zuckerberg, or Twitter’s elusive “Jack.” After all, social-media sites, like the neighborhood deli, aren’t charities. They have certain principles and interests, and they set up rules to forward those principles and interests. Perhaps the rules are dumb, but they’re still the rules, and if you want to play the game, you have to follow them — and if you don’t obey, you’re out. Conservatives seem to have forgotten this. If Twitter does not want Milo Yiannopoulos on Twitter anymore, it does not have to allow him to tweet. Maybe Twitter’s mind can be changed for mercenary financial reasons, but there’s no recourse for Twitter users otherwise.
If Twitter does not want Milo Yiannopoulos on Twitter anymore, it does not have to allow him to tweet.
Owners of social-media sites can rule with an iron fist, and, because of this, conservatives are wasting their time trying to make them change the rules. There are no neutral spaces, and there never will be. Whether the forum is public or private, certain people are going to be in charge, and they’re going to impose certain parameters. The goal should not be to create neutral spaces; it should be to create non-neutral spaces more attractive than existing non-neutral spaces.
That is the success story of conservative media. National Review in the world of print, Fox News in the world of television, and the Drudge Report online carved out spaces that were not in the least neutral, but which handled their “prejudices” in a way that was more attractive than the alternatives.
That’s the solution to the hegemony of the current social-media powers. Facebook is not going to change. Someone who is tired of Facebook imposing its opinions on its users will have to create a better social-media site that is based on conservative principles, and uphold those principles in a way that gives users more freedom.
Conservatives will never make the existing social-media open up to their satisfaction. But they can create their own space in the social-media world and provide a counterweight to the existing ideological monopoly. It won’t be easy. But other conservative media show that it’s possible.