Cory Doctorow has written a very silly column in the New York Times, in the form of an op-ed from the future. From the time-traveling column, we learn that efforts to regulate social-media platforms and other technology companies served mainly to stifle online political discussion, did little to reduce the communication of unpopular political ideas, etc. Doctorow, a science-fiction writer, presents no moral case against censorship — it is, we apparently are to conclude, mainly a practical technological problem.
He spells out another possible mode of regulation that he thinks might have proved more effective: More stringent antimonopoly enforcement, he writes, “would have challenged the Big Tech giants, eroding their profits and giving them less lobbying capital.”
There are many people who believe that the world of politics looks the way it does because of spending on lobbying. But that is not the case. Apple, for example, spends almost nothing on lobbying: less than $7 million in 2018. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, by way of comparison, spent almost $95 million. Relatively big-spending Alphabet, the only of the Internet giants among the top-ten lobbying spenders last year, spent about $21 million. Facebook spent $12.6 million. Add those three firms up and you end up with just a little over half of what the National Association of Realtors spent on lobbying in the same year.
The tech firms would have to up the spending quite a bit before catching up to George Soros’s Open Society Policy Center or the American Hospital Association.
Doctorow also offers a textbook example of 21st-century doublethink:
Democracies aren’t strengthened when a professional class gets to tell us what our opinions are allowed to be.
And the worst part is, the new regulations haven’t ended harassment, extremism or disinformation. Hardly a day goes by without some post full of outright Naziism, flat-eartherism and climate trutherism going viral.
The obvious contradiction there goes unremarked on.