No, the Government Should Not Regulate Social Media

Alex Jones is the Dallas-based radio host who runs the website Infowars.com. Altogether his voice is heard by a few million people across the U.S. He’s supportive of the president and has built himself a reputation for promoting wild ideas on mostly political topics.

His name has been buzzing around the web recently for a few reasons. Jones was banned from Facebook and Twitter, and his Infowars channel was removed from YouTube. Apple also removed the Infowars app from the Apple Store. All claim that in some form Jones broke their terms of service.

Some rejoiced in Jones’s banishment, claiming that his “hate speech” and conspiracy theories are what got him kicked, and that he deserved it. Some argued that it was just one of many censorious actions taken against voices of dissent, claiming that Jones and others are only the beginning and many more will also be censored.

Most people don’t care either way about Jones. They didn’t even know he existed before all this. He’s no less a part of their lives now than he was before getting kicked off of social media. But, enough people did know about Jones that his banishment became a nationwide conversation about free speech and the Internet.

I, for one, have never been a fan of Alex Jones or Infowars. There’s one London-based editor-at-large under the Infowars flag, Paul Joseph Watson, who creates content that I mostly enjoy. But I attribute Watson’s work to Watson, not Infowars or Jones. So when Jones was first banned from Facebook and YouTube, I didn’t think much of it because I didn’t watch or listen to him. Then he was removed from Twitter and the Apple Store, too, and I started to hear whispers of regulation. That’s when my ears perked up.

There’s one argument that says since Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc., are essentially extensions of an individual’s voice, these websites are a part of the “public square.” And when a person is removed from this “public square,” it is in fact an act of censorship; an act against the individual’s right to free speech. Then there’s a contrary argument that says Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc., are private companies that can do whatever they like. And people like Jones who find themselves banned can go to another social website instead.

Is there any truth to either of these arguments? Sure, both. Social media is an extension of ourselves and social media companies can do what they want. Banning Jones and others does take away from those individuals’ abilities to address the “public square,” and private companies have the option to do so. Both arguments have truth to them. It’s the proposed solution to these truths (via government regulation, of course) that is troubling.

In mid August, both Republicans and Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee went after Facebook. Both parties asked why the social media giant hasn’t removed certain pages. Republicans claimed that Facebook has an “anti-conservative bias” while Democrats said social media platforms are “bending over backwards to appease conservatives,” according to USA Today. Even though lawmakers accept the fact that immediate legislative action is difficult to take in the social media arena, the bipartisan effort to regulate it highlights the government’s insatiable appetite for power and control.

Regulation is a step in the wrong direction. Current social media platforms will die out (even if it takes decades), others will rise, and the body politic will believe what they want to believe anyways, regardless of what they see on those platforms. Some social media websites will be nice, others will be toxic, and Americans will be free to create and delete profiles and content as they see fit. However, if the government gets its clutches on social media — like so many other things — it won’t let go. Social media platforms as we know them will change. They won’t die out. They’ll permanently be a part of American life, whether we want to be on them or not.

When a non-capitalist government infringes on the rights of the individual — their stock-in-trade — even in a country as free as America, it does so in a way that’s practically irreversible. Look, for example, at how the government got involved with retirement. When the first Social Security numbers and cards were issued in the 1930s, the purpose was to keep track of an American citizen’s account within the Social Security program.

That program was designed to provide “general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits.” So the government forced its hand into the pocket of the individual through taxation, took his money and used it as they saw fit. Instead of letting that individual keep his money to spend as he wished, either to invest or save etc., the government took control, as it is wont to do.

(Note: It’s no wonder why students are taught almost nothing about finance, investing, creating wealth etc. The government controls the public school curriculum, and so it’s beneficial to avoid teaching about those subjects. Adults are then sold on programs that are “free,” “for the common good,” “social welfare,” “progressive.” And all the while the individual is the one who suffers.)

(Back to Social Security.) Since the 1930s, almost a century later, Americans still pay tax into this failure of a program. And it is failing. According to the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), by 2034 Social Security benefits will be cut by 21 percent:

The latest projection has the combined Social Security trust funds that pay retirement and disability benefits running out of cash reserves by 2034. … Even if Congress does nothing to shore up the system by 2034, Social Security will [only] be able to pay out 79 percent of promised benefits until 2090. The last time Social Security nearly depleted its reserves was in the early 1980s, when Congress shored up the program by gradually increasing the full retirement age from 65 to 67 and started to tax benefits based on income levels.

“Even if Congress does nothing” is a telling statement; it proves the aforementioned point of the impossibility of the government relinquishing something it’s in control of. Americans have handed the fate of their Golden Years to the government, which is mucking it up terribly. Instead of disbanding Social Security, instead of exploring options in a free market, the solution is more government intervention.

And this is going to help the problem? Not bloody likely. Similarly, healthcare, education, workers’ and teachers’ unions, welfare programs etc. — all things regulated by the government — have hindered true capitalist progress, true freedom, though “progressives” champion such governmental power.

Another example of irreversible governmental overreach is The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It was fully implemented into law before its thousands of pages of regulations were added. It spawned more than 150 new governmental agencies, boards and programs, according to reporting from The Washington Post. And it is all paid for with the individual’s tax dollars.

In 2016, then presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed to rid Americans of all this if elected, and the naive took him at his word. But there is little to no chance this much control will ever be fully reversed, whether it should be or not. Government bureaucracy is designed to make changing anything painstakingly time-consuming. It’s hard enough to make something into law, and nearly impossible to reverse it once it’s done.

Social media will be no different if the government has its way. Alex Jones being banned should be the canary in the coalmine for anyone who supports individual liberty. Sure, we don’t need to use Facebook. We don’t need to use Twitter. We don’t need any of it. Frankly, it’s silly to me when I see people trashing a platform via the very platform they’re trashing. Don’t use it. Simple solution. Create your own website and build a base from the ground up. Will you have the reach you had on Twitter? No. Will you have to work hard to be relevant? Yes.

My opinion is that privately owned websites can ban whomever they wish. The more they exclude, the more people will stop using them. In the end they’ll learn it’s bad for business because the free market will always correct itself. If someone I follow is banned, there will always be different ways to read, watch, or listen to their content, as long as the Internet remains unregulated. Where I draw the line is when the government gets involved. The day the government gets involved is the day I walk away from it all for good.

Image credit: Wiki Commons

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