The Corner

Culture

The Conservative Facebook Wars Are Depressing and Familiar

The Facebook war is raging, and no I’m not talking about Facebook’s alleged war against conservatives. I’m not talking about conservatives’ war with each other over who is — and is not — “selling out” to Mark Zuckerberg in the quest to make sure that Facebook remains open to conservative voices.

Breitbart condemns conservatives who met with Zuckerberg. Conservatives at the meeting roll their eyes at Breitbart. The Federalist’s Ben Domenech wrote a stinging piece declaring that Erick Erickson and Glenn Beck lacked a “spine” and called them “useful idiots” for decrying efforts to “shake down” Facebook and for believing that Zuckerberg doesn’t actually intend to discriminate against conservatives voices.

It’s all so depressing and familiar. The speed in which any conservative effort to influence culture degenerates mainly into a debate about which conservatives are doing it best — and which conservatives are spineless quislings — is accelerating. The instant that Facebook announced that it would meet with conservative leaders, the posturing began. As with most conservative intramural arguments, it was largely devoid of humility, conducted with the volume turned up to “11,” and suffused with contempt.

The thing that makes this debate particularly sad is the reality that — compared to Facebook — each of the competing voices were little more than gnats buzzing around the head of a mildly-annoyed giant. Facebook is a global business worth (as of today) $333 billion, with 1.65 billion total active users. The total conservative activist subset of this user base is dwarfed, for example, by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Facebook following. His 56 million followers make him almost 8 times more popular than Donald Trump, the undisputed social media king of Republican politicians.

Zuckerberg could swat away conservative complaints of bias, and the financial impact on the company would be a rounding error one day’s balance sheet. After all, it’s not like Taylor Swift was upset — 74 million followers — or, God forbid, Vin Diesel — 99 million “likes.” Those numbers make the chest-thumping of “popular” conservative voices seem delusional and pitiful.

Given the staggering power imbalance, the best options for influencing Facebook involve persuasion in the short term and competitive pressure over the long term. In other words, it’s incumbent on conservatives to make a coherent argument as to why it’s either the right thing or in Facebook’s long-term best interests to maintain a free marketplace of ideas on its platform and to screen out — as much as possible — ideological bias in the way that it transmits information. There is no clear best way to make that case, and it is entirely reasonable and natural that different conservatives have chosen different approaches. 

While I can’t judge — since I don’t know the people involved — the best way to influence Facebook, I’m pretty darn sure that throwing around accusations of gutlessness and useful idiocy are far more about deciding who should be deemed First Gnat than they are about actually changing behavior in Silicon Valley. I’ve been around gutless conservatives before — they’re the people who give up, who don’t even try, mainly because they’re afraid of taking even the slightest personal or professional risks — and I wouldn’t call a single conservative present at that meeting spineless or idiotic.

Conservatives have been trying to influence powerful progressive institutions — including the academy, mainstream media, and Hollywood — for generations, and exactly no one has figured out the secret sauce. In reality, there is no secret sauce. Unless and until we can get more conservatives into these corporations or build our own, equivalent competing institutions, we’re just fighting a holding action, and the title of general of the rear guard is of little meaning in the long retreat.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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