Like clockwork, Silicon Valley’s latest unpersoning, the systematic removal of Gavin McInnes from YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, has led to a renewed interest in building alternative social networks that will take a more welcoming approach to political speech.
These efforts will fail.
I’m not denying that there’s a need for platforms that act like platforms and not babysitters, but conservatives must realize that the market forces in social media right now are not on their side.
Social-media platforms develop as personal-connection software first and become public squares over time. Facebook began as a way for college students to interact with each other, Twitter was a microblogging service, Myspace was for sharing music, Snapchat was for recording things unsuitable for less transient social media. Each had a purpose wholly distinct from politics but eventually attracted political content as it reached critical mass.
Politics is not the core function of any successful social-media platform; it is an unpleasant, thorny externality that emerges whenever political entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to disseminate their message. These entrepreneurs come to the platform not because of a pre-existing vibrant political debate, but to pursue swayable masses. A platform created for politicking would be well and good for the professional political class, but no layperson who tries to avoid politics would actively seek out a platform where political discussion is the core purpose. Attempting to invert the pyramid, by inviting politics first and hoping the masses will follow, is a strategy doomed to fail.
Frankly, I’m not even convinced that a good-faith political social network would attract much of the professional political class, because, at the end of the day, even the type of person who attends a Stormy Daniels book discussion wants a decent mix of dog videos and sports commentary mixed in with their daily dose of murderous partisanship.
And there’s another problem: The early-adopter class of the Internet is a fledging social network’s nightmare. This is because the cohort for whom the current social-media environment is unsatisfactory is probably the most combative and radicalized class of political activists in American life. Not all of them are the genocidal Jew-hating ideologues that the media make them out to be, but a lot of them use political confrontation as the 21st-century equivalent of a challenge to duel. But whereas overzealous duelists used to have to spend a long time recovering from ill-conceived confrontations, modern keyboard warriors need only crack open another Mountain Dew. The social-media market is failing them first, meaning that any new platform will have to contend with these people as its initial user base.
Social media are not immune to O’Sullivan’s Law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” By the time any new platforms that succeed because of a structural innovation — such as Instagram’s image-centric focus, Vine’s short-video niche, or Snapchat’s compatibility with modern decision-making faculties — reach the critical mass necessary to attract political voices, they will have become governed entirely by censorious moderators who consider it axiomatic that cultural free speech is inherently right-wing. And any social medium ideologically predicated on deference to open speech will necessarily attract the right wing.
All of this means that new, free-speech-oriented social-media platforms will be populated largely by a small number of disaffected keyboard warriors, along with the bottom-feeders who report on them in an effort to paint them as representative of the modern Right. And while watching these two camps duel it out is briefly entertaining, that kind of environment does not, will not, and cannot lead to viable social-media platforms.