Social media firms were in the crosshairs on several fronts in Washington last week. We think it was inappropriate.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he plans to gather state attorneys general next month to discuss what he sees as “stifling” of conservative voices on major social media platforms. Across town executives from social media firms Facebook and Twitter were hailed before Congress for hearings. They were grilled from both sides of the aisle about discourse on their widely used public platforms.
We find all of this ominous. These businesses are not public licensees like telecoms or broadcast stations. They are private firms that built their franchises from the ground up. In that regard they are little different from the company that publishes this newspaper. That is precisely the reason government is out of bounds sticking its finger in their decisions about how they choose to moderate speech on their platforms.
Republicans harangued the social media executives about new algorithms that purge commentary the firms consider hateful, dishonest or otherwise inappropriate. The companies hail from California’s Silicon Valley and their corporate cultures reflect the liberalism that prevails there. Some Republican lawmakers contend that worldview creeps into definitions of what is “offensive” or “true,” resulting in suppression of mainstream conservative commentary.
To which we say: So what? How is that any different from what has gone on at many major newspapers and broadcast networks for years?
The market polices that sort of thing. Liberal bias is the reason Fox News rose from nothing to become the nation’s most-viewed cable news network. It is the reason The Wall Street Journal has been one of the two or three most-widely circulated newspapers in the U.S. for the past 50 years.
If social media platforms purge conservative thought — which as private entities they have every right to do under the First Amendment — they simply invite successful competition. It would be a bad business decision but the platforms are free to make it.
On the Democratic side the odious Mark Warner, senator from Virginia, has come up with his own 20-point proposal for regulating the media platforms. First among the 20 is a requirement that the platforms track and regularly publicly disclose who pays for ads on its platforms.
Warner’s premise is the “problem” of Russian election meddling and promotion of “fake news,” but that is a straw horse. Warner’s proposal is simply a new flavor of an ongoing effort by Democrats to unmask the identities of anyone who places a conservative political ad so Democratic operatives can use the information to harass them and/or their businesses.
We applaud Google for being the one social media firm that declined to submit to the congressional inquisition. The company declined to send an executive of suitable rank to satisfy congressional inquisitors.
One committee tried to make a show of this by placing an empty chair at its witness table along with a placard reading “Google.” But we consider that a badge of honor. Google did exactly the right thing by telling Congress to KMA.
Maneuvering on both sides of the aisle last week amounted to little more than a desire by the two major parties to regulate speech to their liking. This has no place in a free society. It offends the Constitution. Social media platforms and their users should fight this tooth and nail.